Weekly Wrap: Survey Says Half of U.S. Firms Struggling to Fill Critical Jobs

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You heard this last year, but you are hearing it again with even more urgency: despite the record number of people out of work and looking for jobs, employers are struggling to fill positions because they can’t find people with the right skills.

This week, global staffing giant Manpower released its sixth-annual Talent Shortage Survey, and it found that 52 percent of U.S. employers are experiencing difficulty filling “mission-critical” positions within their organizations.

That’s up a whopping 14 percent from 2010, and the number of employers struggling to fill positions is at an all-time high in the Manpower survey despite an unemployment rate that has diminished only marginally during the last year.

The survey also found that U.S. employers are struggling to find qualified talent more than their global counterparts, where one in three of whom are having difficulty filling positions, the highest level since before the recession in 2007.

Top 10 hardest jobs to fill

According to the more than 1,300 American employers surveyed by Manpower, the jobs that are most difficult to fill include skilled trades, sales representatives, and engineers, all of which have appeared on the U.S. list multiple times in the past. The survey also found that the most common reasons employers say they are having trouble filling jobs, including candidates looking for more pay than is offered, a lack of technical skills, and, a lack of experience.

Here’s the Top 10 list of the hardest U.S. jobs to fill in 2011:

  1. Skilled trades;
  2. Sales representative;
  3. Engineers;
  4. Drivers;
  5. Accounting and finance staff;
  6. IT staff;
  7. Management/executives;
  8. Teachers;
  9. Secretaries/administrative assistants; and,
  10. Machinist/machine operators.

Global talent mismatch?

“The fact that companies cite a lack of skills or experience as a reason for talent shortages should be a wake-up call for employers, academia, government and individuals,” said Jonas Prising, Manpower Group president of the Americas, in a press release about the latest survey. He added this:

The tremendous spike in U.S. employers that are having difficulty filling positions tells us that we’re in the thick of the much-anticipated global talent mismatch. As we know from the persistently high unemployment rate, job seekers are plentiful, but employers are engaged in an ongoing struggle to fill positions. Ultimately, the underlying reason for this gap between available talent and desired talent is simple: jobs have structurally changed over time, and the skills needed to fulfill these roles have too. While talent cannot be ‘manufactured’ in the short term, a robust workforce strategy will ensure that companies can find the people to support their business strategy, and that employees have the opportunity to pursue meaningful career paths.”

Yes, that phrase that “jobs have structurally changed over time” speaks to the notion that all-too-many American workers haven’t continued to improve their job skills, leaving them unprepared to really compete for the changing job market as the economy slowly improves and hiring expands.

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Also: Some “unwillingness” to boost wages

Is that the full reason for the talent shortage? Some would say “no,” that part of the problem is the unwillingness of some employers to compete for talent by boosting wages to attract better and more qualified) candidates with so many workers still looking for jobs.

Jonas Prising of Manpower makes this very point, saying about the survey, “There may also be an increasing imbalance between employers willingness to pay higher salaries in what is still a soft general labor market compared to the salary expectations of prospective employees, especially those with skills that are in high demand.”

So, make of this survey what you well. If anything, it seems to reflect the difficult challenges that the U.S. faces rebuilding the national workforce after the long and difficult recession, and, that the national unemployment picture isn’t going to magically get a whole lot better any time soon.

Of course, there’s more in the news this week than yet another employment survey. Here are some other HR and workplace-related items you may have missed. This is TLNT’s weekly round-up of news, trends, and insights from the world of HR and talent management. Yes, I do it so you don’t have to.

  • HR debacle in The OC. If the HR profession gets a bad rap, it’s because of stories like this one from The Orange County Register: “Orange County’s Human Resources Department has routinely approved unjustified raises and promotions, sidestepping county and state rules to benefit its own employees and those of the county’s chief executive office, according to a scathing new report by the county’s performance auditor. Auditors said mismanagement by the county’s Human Resources has made the county more expensive to run and less productive. Auditors said $149.3 million can be saved by changing the way Human Resources does business… (And) Human Resources employees admitted to auditors that they made little effort to review the required explanations for raises and promotion requests submitted by the county CEO’s office or by others in Human Resources.”
  • Huge vacation payouts in California. Many government employees in California are ignoring state rules about accruing vacation time and are cashing it out upon retirement, leading to some huge payouts. The Los Angeles Times reports that, “Managers in California’s government routinely ignore official limits on the number of vacation days their employees can save, compelling the state to cut huge checks — many worth six figures — for unused time off when workers retire…Of slightly more than 14,000 full-time employees who took a lump-sum payout for unused time when they left state jobs last year, 29% received checks for more than 80 days’ pay, according to a Times analysis of data from the state controller’s office.”
  • The company doctor makes a comeback. The workplace wellness push is having some unexpected impact. As the Minneapolis Star-Tribune reports: “(In) Anoka County and workplaces across Minnesota and beyond, the company doctor is making a comeback. Businesses and, increasingly, government entities are sinking thousands of dollars into on-site clinics to try to curb medical costs, boost productivity and retain workers.”Employers are taking this tack — which for most businesses is pretty extreme — that they need to get more directly involved in providing health care for their workers,” said Dr. Bruce Hochstadt, who specializes in on-site clinics for Mercer, a benefits consulting firm…About 42 percent of workplaces with 500 or more employees now have clinics that provide basic immunizations, throat cultures and other care typically gotten at the doctor’s office, Mercer surveys show.”

John Hollon is Editor-at-Large at ERE Media and was the founding Editor of TLNT.com. A longtime newspaper, magazine, and business journal editor, John has deep roots in the talent management space. He's the former Editor of Workforce Management magazine and workforce.com, served as Editor of RecruitingDaily, and was Vice President for Content at HR technology firm Checkster. An award-winning journalist, John has written extensively about HR, talent management, leadership, and smart business practices, including for the popular Fistful of Talent blog. Contact him at johnhollon@ere.net, connect with him on LinkedIn, or follow him on Twitter @johnhollon.


1 Comment on “Weekly Wrap: Survey Says Half of U.S. Firms Struggling to Fill Critical Jobs

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