What are the causes of the skills gap? The jury is still out on this question—with rapidly shifting economic realities, it’s hard to isolate the roots of this phenomenon. But likely explanations do exist for one type of skills gap: the lack of communication skills.
Many employers have noted—and complained about—the communication ability among today’s job applicants. Sure, they can write and engage in pleasant conversation. But their written and oral business communication often lacks a professional tone and can even be incomprehensible at times.
Changing technologies may be the culprit. A large percentage of today’s applicants grew up during the rapid rise of e-mail, texting, IMs, tweets, and social-network statuses. Those modes of communication, primarily informal in tone and efficient in execution, often violate rules of “proper” language use.
This is all fine and dandy when two friends chat socially. But this sort of writing doesn’t cut the mustard for business communication. And that’s where the skills gap appears: companies want staff who can communicate effectively and professionally but can’t find many people able to write complete sentences or speak without using “uh,” “y’know,” and current slang—much less write or speak eloquently about a company’s services or its clients’ needs.
How can you, as an employer, bridge this particular skills gap in your hiring? Consider these two possibilities:
Be sure to vet applicants’ communication skills as early as possible in the application process. If someone can’t craft business correspondence without dropping in an “lol” or “talk 2 u l8r,” don’t waste any more time on him or her.
If applicants have subpar communication skills but shine in other areas—and if you’re willing to take a chance on potential—hire them with the understanding that they will work actively to improve those skills. This option works, however, only when you and your new hire are both committed to realizing this goal.
True, neither suggestion changes your employees’ pre-hire communication practices. But you can take steps to ensure that you bring on board only people who have the skills you require—or the potential to learn those skills, with your support.
Whatever course you take, never undervalue communication skills. Remember, communications skills form the cornerstone of all interactions among staff, clients, and prospects. A skills gap in this area can lead to calamitous results for your company. So take the time to identify—and address—such problems in your hiring process.