Senior executives say U.S. skills gap much more than lack of technical skills

Ninety-two percent of senior executives in the U.S. acknowledge there is a serious gap in workforce skills, according to the State of the Economy and Employment Survey from Adecco Staffing U.S. The survey polled 500 senior executives across a range of industries. Yet, for all the traditional talk about a skills gap in technical and computer skills, 44% of respondents cited soft skills, such as communication, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration, as the area with the biggest gap. In fact, only 22% cited a lack of technical skills as the culprit for the U.S. skills gap: with leadership (14%), and computer skills (12%) following behind.

CBIA's 2013 Hartford-Springfield Business Survey revealed similar concerns about soft skills. Well over half (59%) of respondents indicated they are having trouble finding and retaining qualified workers: primarily, they say, because applicants lack the requisite skills for the jobs. In greatest demand are professional/soft skills: punctuality, interpersonal skills, teamwork, leadership ability, and work ethic: cited by 73% of respondents.

According to the Adecco study, when it does come to the gap in computer skills, Gen X executives: more than any other generation surveyed: are most likely (21%) to believe this is the skill that most seriously affects the U.S. workforce.

As for business implications related to the U.S. gap in skills, the survey found that the majority (64%) of senior executives who believe there is a skills gap feel the greatest threat to U.S. businesses is investment going to companies abroad instead of staying in U.S. Thirty-four percent believe the U.S. gap in skills poses a threat to businesses R&D capabilities.

"It's interesting to see how the definition of the skills gap has evolved from being so heavily focused on technical and computer skills to 'soft' skills related to communication and creativity," said Janette Marx, Senior Vice President at Adecco Staffing U.S. "Educational institutions may overlook these elements in today's digital age, but schools must integrate both hard and soft skill sets into their curriculums, which in turn will help better prepare candidates and strengthen our country's workforce."

Other findings include:

  • U.S. education system needs to better prepare future generation of workers. According to the survey, more than half (59%) of respondents do not believe colleges and universities in the U.S. offer curriculums that adequately prepare students for today's workforce.
  • Apprentice/training programs could be a solution. Among those respondents who said there is a skills gap in the U.S. workforce, 89% believe corporate apprenticeships or training programs could help alleviate the problem. Yet, 42% said the greatest barrier to creating in-house training programs is the cost of development.
  • Manufacturing suffering most from skills gap. Of those who believe there is a skills gap in the U.S, 30% said it most affects the manufacturing industry. Other industries cited included technology (21%) and professional and business services (19%).

Interestingly, as dire as the need is for skilled workers in the U.S., senior executives did not feel the skills gap poses a direct threat to the U.S. economy; only 13% cited it as a major concern. Instead federal spending (24%), global competition (22%) and high unemployment (20%) were cited as the greatest threats to the U.S. economy.

Full findings