Eighty seven percent of companies say they have a skills gap now or will within a few years, according to a report by McKinsey & Co. Companies have long lamented the skills gap — the mismatch between open positions and workers with the right skills to fill them.
Skills gaps appear in IT and technical positions as well as other job categories. To tackle the problem, some companies are turning to training workers, upskilling existing or prospective workers.
“Employers are figuring out there aren’t a lot of software developers sitting out there not doing anything,” says Dr. Shaun McAlmont, president, career learning, at education firm Stride Inc.
To bridge the gap, many staffing firms offer a variety of training programs from a recruit-train-deploy model for IT workers to high school diploma programs for blue collar workers. There are companies that have offered training both online and in-person, although the pandemic sent many of those in-person efforts online as well.
Training does comes with a price tag, though many argue that it can be cost effective in the long run. Proponents cite benefits such as developing workers with hard-to-find skills, building a supply of candidates who have the needed skills, higher retention rates, earning credibility in a community and finding workers among populations that often face barriers to employment.
Demographics at Per Scholas, a nonprofit that provides tuition-free technology training, are 87% people of color; 30% women and 30% younger adults, ages 18 to 25. Its courses focus both on technical skills and soft skills to get its students ready for jobs, says Damien Howard executive VP, social ventures, at the organization.
Technology training is an oft-cited need by employers. Some estimate the lack of proper IT skills may be holding back growth in IT jobs in the US, and it sends companies scrambling for talent.
“We’re seeing a lot of organizations that have to get creative,” says Carly Weiss enterprise sales director, North America, at General Assembly, a reskilling and upskilling organization based in New York that focuses on IT skills. It’s also a division of The Adecco Group.
Some key skills needed today include software engineering, coding, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence, machine learning, UX design and product management, Weiss says.
But not all skills programs focus solely on IT skills.
EmployBridge, the largest US provider of industrial staffing, began its online training program in 2017 and works with online learning and skills training provider Penn Foster to provide training free to its workers as well as to full-time employees of client companies.
“It was a direct effort to be part of the solution to address that skills gap,” says Mandi Segale, leader of associate experience and retention at EmployBridge.
The company offers three programs:
- Better WorkLife Academy
- Life Skills Studio
- High school diploma program
The academy focuses on skills training, and it offers 23 courses that include basic electrical and blueprint reading, industrial math, Microsoft Office courses and welding. The courses were based on the skills gaps being seen and are designed to help workers move up in organizations, taking on more skilled and higher-paying jobs, Segale says.
EmployBridge’s Life Skills Studio focuses on skills necessary for a worker to succeed at work and at home. It covers topics such as budgeting, health and stress management.
And the company’s high school diploma program helps workers earn a diploma. “We saw a large portion of our demographic had not received their high school diploma,” says Segale, who stresses that participants earn an actual diploma and not just a GED. It’s the only part of EmployBridge’s training programs where there’s a small fee to participate; however, statistics show those with high school diplomas can earn $10,000 more per year than those without. And participants can get credit for high school courses already taken.
EmployBridge currently has 29,880 unique students enrolled in its Better Worklife Academy and 19,372 unique students enrolled in its Life Skills Studio.
All programs are done online and participants in the high school diploma program and the skills academy have access to academic coaches.
One benefit of the training is engagement. Retention rates among the programs’ associates are two to three times higher than those who are not involved, Segale says. “They’re staying on an assignment two to three times longer than those that are not.”
Staffing Firms Offering Training
Not all staffing firms offer training to contingent workers.
SIA’s report “North America Staffing Company survey 2020” found that 43% didn’t offer training for temporary workers. Among the 57% that did offer training, there was a variety of approaches. Forty percent offered optional free online training while 13% paid vendors to train, test and/or certify temporary workers. Another 13% provided temporary workers with a full day or more of training, and 12% have trainers on staff to train temporary workers. Five percent cited “other.”
Training is broadly defined, and the types of training provided can vary widely.
Take the recruit-train-deploy model, for example. This is where a staffing firm recruits workers and trains them, typically for IT positions at client businesses. Quintrix Solutions is one such firm that operates a training program in this model. The program comprises 90 days of training and assignments that run from 12 months to 15 months, says Vik Kalra, co-founder and managing director of Mindlance, which acquired Quintrix in February 2021.
Kalra says clients typically commit to a 12- to 24-month assignment after the training. Once the assignment ends, client companies can hire on the workers directly — or sooner if they pay a conversion fee.
“This model typically works well when you hire a cohort together,” he says. This means it can particularly benefit companies that need to bring in several workers with similar skills. The workers in the program train together and typically work in a group at the customer site.
So far, the adoption rate for the model has been somewhat slow — Kalra estimates there are fewer than a dozen companies operating such a program — but firms that try the model see a lot of benefits and their adoption rate has increased, he says.
Some are definitely seeing growing interest in the provision of training.
“We are seeing more companies ask for help in creating talent in areas where the talent is scarce,” says Dave McGonegal, VP, strategic client solutions, ManpowerGroup Talent Solutions. And the interest is coming in a variety of ways for all different client needs.
McGonegal cites one example of a ManpowerGroup program that upskilled auto mechanics into data visualization professionals and placed them on assignment. The training took between 12 and 16 weeks.
ManpowerGroup also has a program in place with Rockwell Automation that trains US military veterans to fill skilled manufacturing jobs — the Academy for Advanced Manufacturing .
The company also had a program with Scuderia Ferrari in Milan, Italy, to train carbon fiber engineers — a hard-to-come-by skill, McGonegal says. Training took place at a physical location before the pandemic and several cohorts of workers went through the program.
A marketing/creative staffing firm put together a training program with an eye on the big picture. Aquent’s training program called Gymnasium which began in 2013 is free, online and available to anybody who registers.
“It was sort of born out of one of the core visions and values of the company itself,” says Andrew Miller, program director for Gymnasium. Those core values include celebration of lifelong learning. Aquent’s program offers online, video-based courses in topics such as digital design, web development and user experience.
“In our business, falling behind on skills can be a real dead end,” Miller says. “It needed to be free because that is how we’re going to give back to the larger community.”
Its students hail from all over the world, and Gymnasium has taught approximately 140,000 people at this point with some courses having tens of thousands of students enrolled in them. Miller noted Gymnasium was getting some 200 new students per day during the peak of the pandemic.
Courses range from short, five-minute classes to longer-form ones with three to six hours of video instruction — often completed over days or weeks — for which student can earn a certificate. And the courses are designed with feedback from client companies; in fact, some client companies use Gymnasium to train their own staff.
“We agonize over a lot of the details in our training,” Miller says, and putting together the video courses can be similar to making a movie. Sometimes a course has to be rewritten on the fly when a piece of software being taught is updated. They are also working with high-level talent to teach the courses and must allow for their busy schedules.
Still, having a training program such as Gymnasium adds credibility to the company, Miller says. The Gymnasium also serves as a resource to internal workers at Aquent, such as recruiters, who have questions when making placements.
While Gymnasium is aimed at the long game and helping bolster credibility in the community, it’s not necessarily a direct link between students and immediate placement in a job.
“There’s a misconception that you can take a class and get a job doing that thing,” Miller says. Even students with a new four-year degree don’t automatically step into a role. Still, the training does help propel students forward on their career paths.
Training can also be a path toward bringing in nontraditional workers, says Michelle Sims, CEO of Year Up Professional Services, a public benefit corporation. Sims was also on Staffing Industry Analysts’ list of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Influencers.
Sims’ company connects employers with students from nonprofit training program providers — such as Year Up, a national organization aimed at making sure young adults get the skills they need to reach their full potential.
Eighty-five percent of young adults in the program don’t have college degrees, Sims says. Many are historically excluded workers and others who face barriers to employment. Ninety percent are BIPOC — Black, indigenous or other people of color. And they are typically young adults ranging in age from 18 to 26.
Yupro aims to bridge the gap between training, such as that provided by Year Up, with opportunities. She notes the national Year Up program puts more than 4,000 students each year through six months of classroom education and then six months in a stipend-model internship program. Yupro designed as the next step in the students’ career journey as a full-time employment apprenticeship program where Year Up graduates can earn a prevailing market wage with benefits, receive career coaching and receive social services support. Yupro has filled 117 roles in this apprenticeship program since the beginning of the year.
Sims says her company has been assisting organizations of all sizes, including Facebook and Microsoft.
It’s a Journey
Providing training does require a commitment, and there’s a cost to the company providing the training. But as the skills gap intensifies and remains a challenge, upskilling workers appears as one effective way to help address it.