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United-States: Lack of skills or training?

Translated from French to English

August 4th, 2012

Peter Cappelli, professor at the Wharton School, recently published the book Why good people can’t get jobs.

In an interview from June 4th, 2012, Peter Cappelli observes two elements missing in employability in the United States:

“Lack of skills”

Peter Cappelli explains that in the United States, employers regularly complain about the candidates lacking certain skills. Those employers believe that schools badly train the students or that good candidates ask for too important wages. According to Cappelli, employers expect to hire candidates with three to five years of experience at the level of salary they offer, which is similar among the competition. He observes that the experience in question is often inherent to the activities of the company that wants to hire. Moreover, companies require their candidates to be performant as of day one. As well, many companies refuse to hire people who aren’t already in position. To fill in the positions, they must find them within their competition.

In addition, he explains that a lot of people have been training in different fields to answer the expectations of employers, whether in the medical or management fields. Just like employers, those job seekers are unable to predict the sectors which will need workforce. When a certain sector shows a lack of specialized workforce, it is often too late for potential candidates to answer the demand. Cappelli gives the example of the IT industry. It takes four years to get a degree in software engineering, the wave of hires is then long “gone”.

Cappelli mentions that several companies have automated their hiring process to receive and treat thousands of CVs for a single position. Candidates must reply to a series of questions which most often are of the “yes or no” type. And each “good” answer raises the hiring probabilities. He explains that the first question frequently is about the salary. A too “greedy” candidate will automatically be eliminated, even if he or she shows the right set of skills for the position to fill. As an anecdote, he mentions an employer who received 25 000 responses to his offer for an engineering position which requested “basic skills”. And the software didn’t select any of the candidates.

“Lack of training”

According to Peter Cappelli, the American job market suffers of a lack of training. It doesn’t lack brilliant and success seeking new graduates. A generation away, companies used to regularly train new employees, it was a common practice.

Today it has been abandoned or reluctantly offered. Cappelli goes on mentioning that companies lose money by leaving those positions opened. Why wouldn’t they cut their loss by training good potential candidates? Law firms and consulting companies keep on training their new employees because they know it is worth it in the long run. Cappelli uses the example of a truck company, Conway, which starts by training potential candidates. Later, the company hires those who have succeeded in training and pays for their driving lessons.

Peter Cappelli has taken interest on the hiring model of the Silicon Valley’s IT companies. According to him, start-ups have offered high salaries and other advantages to people who had jobs in well established companies that had trained them. Several start-ups have become giants. Other companies have wanted to imitate them, but today, without a “pool” outside of the Silicon Valley, they’ll keep fighting over the same talents.


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