Employers looking for skills that can’t be taught in school

Many employers say they can’t find workers with the right skills even though there are plenty of people looking for jobs. Long-term unemployment remains a problem, and recent college graduates are joining the ranks of the unemployed or underemployed. So what’s the problem?

Some people doubt employers’ claims that there aren’t enough skilled workers out there. But the Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system is taking it seriously. MNSCU is surveying employers to find out how they can better prepare students to find work.

We did our own survey by asking employers in the Public Insight Network what they’re looking for from employees. Turns out some of the skills they’re looking for can’t be taught in schools.

Here’s a sampling of what we heard:

We are having difficulty finding software testers with database SQL experience and English language skills.

-Dan Dahl, software quality assurance for Questar A.I. They have roughly 300 employees.

We are having some difficulty finding the “hard technical skills.” Design. Drafting. Product development. Project management.

-Neil Crocker, president of Schaefer Ventilation

Finding people who want to work and not just collect a paycheck is next to impossible. The skill most lacking is a work ethic. Not to mention, it is nigh on impossible to find a creative mind in today’s work place.

-Mark Hayes, head of Research and Development for a small company

We just recently posted an opening. Our last opening was in February of 2011. We haven’t had many applicants applying. Today I received a resume through email. The applicant had used a form letter he found online and hadn’t “filled in” the blanks. If it wasn’t so funny it would be sad.

-Ann Iverson, works for a small manufacturing company

We’ve hired some terrific people over the years, in a wide range of positions. But one skill is so scarce – and growing more so – that it remains at a premium: The ability to write. I’m not talking about professional copy writing; rather, the simple ability to write a cogent paragraph, to articulate one’s ideas in clear, well-crafted sentences. I’m not sure of the reason for this, but as I talk to my peers, we’re in agreement that writing is on the decline – at least, the ability to write well.

-Brian Herder, Executive Creative Director for a marketing, PR and research firm

Candidates seem to want a lot of money–more than our small business can afford. We have difficulty finding someone who can be creative, flexible, has a broad skill base, and is mature enough to work with business owners.

-Carol Keyes, owner of an occupational safety and health consulting firm

One of the biggest problems I find when trying to hire qualified staff is that individuals who meet all of the requirements are excluded from eligibility based on past criminal records. This is particularly troubling because public safety/criminal justice fields are some of the most popular associates degrees and many who are taking these courses don’t know that they will not be eligible for work based on criminal records.

-Sarah Walker, COO at a large non-profit that working in public safety, corrections, and human services

What we want is a designer with a passion for technology. Since everyone is surrounded by tech, we want people who can solve problems using technology to help make the world a better place, one project at a time. Unfortunately, the schools aren’t keeping pace with the industry. A student coming out of school right now with an interest and passion in solving problems for the web or tech get jobs so quickly and easily…yet very few people focus on it. It’s shocking to me.

-Jason Rysavy, founder and strategy director of Catalyst Studios

Many of these employers offer some on-the-job training, but a lot of it is supplemental, meaning that the employee can’t start without the skills mentioned above.

But a few employers believe in training on the job. Kristen Wasyliszyn, who runs a catering company sums it up, “The best advice I’ve received about hiring is this: hire nice people, you can train the rest.”

Are you an employer? Do you train on the job? Share your experiences here – or in the comments.