One of the biggest challenges companies are facing is the skills gap. While the job market still hasn't fully recovered, there are millions of jobs that aren't being filled. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that there are 4.8 million job openings in America -- the highest level since January 2001.
The skills gap is bad for employers, but it's especially bad for millennials, who are graduating college without jobs. Those who focused on non-technical majors and courses are struggling to find work while companies looking to hire technical talent are under pressure to deliver value with fewer resources. In addition, the lucky few who have jobs are actually doing multiple jobs at once because of our country’s skills gap.
The good news is that the millennial generation -- as it becomes the largest generation in the workforce in 2015 -- has the power to help close this gap.
Since employers are so keen on hiring subject-matter experts, it's no surprise that hard skills are important in their selection criteria for jobs. In a new study commissioned by my company, in partnership with Elance-oDesk.com, we found that in order to fill their job openings, HR managers are prioritizing hard skills. Fifty-five percent of HR managers said they focus more on hard skills when hiring, versus only 21 percent who focus more on personality. Forty-five percent of the HR managers said they expect to become even more skills-focused in 10 years (versus only 11 percent who expect to become more personality-focused).
While soft skills like building relationships and handling workplace conflict are important, companies are much more results-driven now, as they attempt to close the skills gap and keep up with the pace of technological innovation. In addition, in the aftermath of the economic collapse, companies were paying more attention to head count costs.
Hard skills can be developed in several ways. First, you can take various types of classes in order to learn them. For instance, take a class at a local college, a free class online at Coursera.com, or a class taught by an expert at Skillshare.com. Choose a class based on how you learn the best. If you're better in a small classroom than a virtual environment without a teacher, then choose that.
Another way to gain hard skills is by doing an apprenticeship under someone who you respect in your field. Instead of asking for money, help the person in everything that he or she needs to be more successful, without incurring any expenses, while you learn from the best. This hands-on experience works well for many people and that connection can open doors to new opportunities later.
Another way to get hard skills is by teaching yourself. One way to do this is by taking on freelance projects in order to practice your skills and have tangible results that you can leverage into new opportunities. There are also hundreds of free tutorial websites online which can teach you coding and other hard skills that employers are looking to hire for. You might have a friend that can tutor you as well, which is another free alternative to paying for courses.
A lot of millennials don't have money to spend on courses so if you already have a job, your employers might be willing to pay for them so that you are more effective in your job. If not, then it's on you and only you can make that type of investment in yourself -- and it's worth it because you will become more valuable and relevant in your industry as a result.