The phrase ‘skill gap’ has become a buzzword, especially with the onset of the pandemic that saw The Great Resignation and companies often scrambling to fill roles and find people with appropriate skills.

Korn Ferry predicts that the technology, media, and telecommunications sector, often the focus of the skill gap conversation, will face a labor skills shortage of 4.3 million workers. This can amount to a loss of nearly $450 billion in unrealized potential by 2030. In the same vein, McKinsey and Co. have also conducted extensive research on skill gaps and bridging them. They found that skills like critical thinking and decision-making were the focal points of companies’ reskilling efforts.

Can DEI hiring practices address the skill gap?

While hiring has been the most common way to increase the talent pool and bridge the skill gap (in line with McKinsey and Co’s aforementioned survey), MIT found that “homogeneous groups are less rigorous in their decision-making — and make more mistakes — than diverse ones.” Therefore, keeping in mind diversity as a parameter when hiring may be a better way to address the skill gap, while also meeting the organization’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) goals and helping it make better business decisions in the long run.

While we usually associate diversity with parameters of race, gender, and sexual orientation, SHRM found that other, often overlooked pools can also provide great value:

  • Older workers. While many companies today tend to hire recent college graduates, older workers can offer value by bringing to the table experience and skills honed over years of practice.
  • Second-chance hiring. Criminal records needn’t hold potential employees back — and many firms are coming to realize that. With the Second Chance Business Coalition’s (SCBC) launch in April 2021, ‘second-chance hiring,’ which focuses on giving opportunities to formerly incarcerated employees, entered the public lexicon. Since then, several companies have joined the SCBC, committing to change public perception of people with criminal records, especially considering that these individuals may be equally or more productive than other members of the workforce.
  • Individuals with disabilities. People with physical and mental disabilities often miss out on suitable opportunities, simply because typical recruitment and work practices are geared towards the more conventional candidate. While the pandemic remedied this to an extent by giving people the option of remote work, neurodiverse people still often face hardships with certain social expectations. While they may have the skills necessary for the job, they do not fit into the popular ideas of company culture. To remedy this, Dell launched its Autism Hiring Program, which forewent hiring conventions like the traditional interview in favor of having skill-based tests for potential employees.

Even as organizations come to recognize the value of hiring diverse candidates, there is a significant challenge to address — ensure that such candidates get fair and unbiased chances to prove that they are the right fit for the job. Blind hiring practices can help, by preventing unconscious bias from creeping into the process.

Reskilling or upskilling to address the skill gap

McKinsey and Co also discovered that reskilling (teaching employees new skills for new roles) and upskilling (helping them gain experience and increase knowledge and expertise in their role) were becoming common in the post-pandemic world. These programs are often facets of employee retention which also help people advance in their careers.

However, in a survey of 32,500 workers globally, PwC found that 50% had faced some form of structural discrimination (such as racism, sexism, and ableism), which held back their careers. Often, employees belonging to marginalized communities get overlooked due to unconscious biases. Companies believe that AI and other similar technological advancements are poised to combat it by identifying employees ripe for reskilling or upskilling without any human bias.

With many companies having, or expecting to have, skill gaps within the next five years, DEI-based hiring combined with reskilling or upskilling could help companies fill open positions while also meeting diversity mandates. Coupled with the change in workstyles made necessary by the post-COVID hybrid workplace, this could mean that DEI hires get better opportunities to absorb the company culture, contribute to the firm, and stay highly engaged, while being able to accommodate their own unique needs and commitments. It’s a win-win strategy that every manager should consider when building a future-forward team.

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