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4 Real and Workable Answers to the Skills Gap Increasing the educational requirements for today's more demanding jobs is not always the best solution

By Heather R. Huhman Edited by Dan Bova

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

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It's no secret that companies are being heavily impacted by the continued expansion of the skills gap -- the gap separating the needs and expectations today's employers have from the skills workers actually offer. A new "solution," however, is unfolding, in the form of increased educational-experience requirements.

Related: What Tech Companies Are Doing to Bridge the Skills Gap

That solution is clearly needed: In a March CareerBuilder study, more than half of the 2,338 U.S hiring managers surveyed listed increasing educational requirements as a necessity for meeting evolving skill sets. Specifically, more than a quarter (27 percent) of them said they were hiring employees with master's degrees for positions primarily held in the past by people with four-year degrees.

Some 37 percent said they were hiring employees with college degrees for positions formerly held primarily by workers with high school degrees.

Despite these changes, a master's degree alone is still no guarantee of certification for a skilled potential employee or a realistic solution for most companies seeking to reach a diverse, highly skilled workforce.

So, if these are issues your company is confronting, wait before you change the educational requirements for your open positions: Instead, consider the following four alternate ways to obtain the skill sets you need from new and current employees:

1. Get smarter with onboarding.

While hiring managers are focused on landing fantastic, skilled talent, they should also involve themselves with transformng their companies' onboarding programs. That can make the difference between acclimating an "okay" employee versus an "amazing" one.

The onboarding process, for example, should include the training of new employees to ensure their long-term success -- and ultimately, boost employee retention. What "training" here means is stepping away from traditional on-the-job skills acquisition to training for other functions within the company. An employee may come in for a project management position; but learning how to code can enhance his or her professional skill set and ability to transition internally.

Disrupting onboarding can also be accomplished through the use of internal software like Tydy, to simplify the process.

Related: How the 'Digital Skills Gap' Bleeds $1.3 Trillion a Year From US Businesses

2. Offer continuous-skills training.

Increasing education and skill levels shouldn't always be left to employees. Reskilling in the workplace typically occurs in one of two scenarios: A company focuses on hiring for most of the skills a position requires; then it provides training to close the gap.

Or, second, the company reskills within -- working with current and successful, but low-skilled, employees to meet the demand for high-skill positions.

What's smart here is to shrink the skills gap and improve professional growth by paying for training and certifications available outside the company. Free tuition should be offered for courses from advanced education programs at local colleges or universities, or online certification programs.

Another option is training in-house and skill-focused programs offered to employees of all levels by outside consultants and industry leaders.

If a degree is absolutely necessary for advancement, provide those employees the opportunity to go back to school at little to no cost. This often requires maintenance of a certain gradepoint average and a contract specifying post-graduation tenure at the company.

3. Recognize that personality traits trump skills.

According to the December 2015 Job Preparedness Indicator Study by the Career Advisory Boarding, integrity was rated No. 1 among 503 U.S. hiring managers as the most important trait for job-seekers at every level. Other essential traits included work ethic, accountability and a high degree of self-motivation.

While on-the-job skills can be acquired, indispensable personality traits cannot. So, if your company is hiring employees for entry-to mid-level positions, rather than hone in on education requirements, use your interview process to learn more about a candidate's personality traits.

Ask focused questions to ensure that potential hires can detail evidence of their integrity and accountability; or provide your candidates with specific assignments to better gauge their traits.

4. Take advantage of seasoned employees.

Look to your dedicated, highly skilled senior employees when training the next generation of leaders. Develop and implement strong knowledge-transfer strategies and processes to make it easier for tenured knowledgeable employees to pass on what they know to incoming workers.

While hard skills are vital to the success of all levels of a company, proprietary knowledge is something that can be lost with time and job turnover.

Related: Employers Are Demanding Hard Skills Over Soft Skills, and How Millennials Can Help

Establish a mentorship program that pairs new or less experienced employees with their seasoned counterparts and set up bi-weekly meetings and a loose curriculum that ensures the right conversations and training take place. This will ensure that not only skills, but the nitty gritty details of specific roles and practices at your company are passed along to newcomers smoothly and efficiently.

Heather R. Huhman

Career and Workplace Expert; Founder and President, Come Recommended

Waldorf, Md.-based Heather R. Huhman is a career expert, experienced hiring manager and president of Come Recommended, a content-marketing and digital-PR consultancy for job-search and human-resources technologies. She is the author of Lies, Damned Lies & Internships and #ENTRYLEVELtweet: Taking Your Career from Classroom to Cubicle.

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