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Employers’ Role In The Education-To-Employee Skills Gap

Allie Danziger is the CEO and cofounder of Ampersand.

As the economy tightens and both employers and job seekers adjust to the new normal of the pandemic, companies must prioritize evaluating entry-level employee skills and invest in building skills where needed. The employer’s role in bridging the education-to-employment skills gap is more important now than ever before.

There is no room for error or time for a risky hire. According to Careerpass Network‘s 2022 survey (registration required), nearly half of new graduates actively looking for work lack the skills and confidence to apply. The days of learning business etiquette and acquiring workplace experience the old-fashioned way are gone. Employers must ramp up their approach to hiring, onboarding, skill-building and mentoring.

Here are tips to ensure a better hiring experience, leading to a productive and successful workplace for managers and new hires.

1. Recruit based on coachability and professionalism over degree/experience.

Turnover costs a lot. Invest in your hiring and recruiting process from the beginning, looking for the skills that make sense to your organization. Keep in mind that these are entry-level employees without a ton of experience, so seeing skills and culture fit, rather than hard skills, will be key. Here are a few scenarios to consider incorporating into your interviews.

• To find someone coachable, ask, “Tell me about a time when you made a mistake and had to tell someone about it. What steps did you take?” Listen for if they were honest and took ownership, how they fixed it, and how they recovered afterward.

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• To find candidates driven to succeed, ask, “Tell me about a time when you did not have clear direction on a project and how you handled it.” Did they take initiative? Did they create the plan? Did they ask questions and get more direction? This will give you an idea of how resourceful they are.

• When looking for someone who is organized, ask, “Discuss a time when you were managing multiple projects, tasks or deadlines and then something popped up out of nowhere to surprise you.” Listen for how they handled themselves, taking note of how they prioritized.

2. Ramp up your onboarding process.

Equip your managers with the best resources to successfully train and onboard new hires. Plan out tasks and projects before their start date, and create evergreen how-to videos and guides that include important onboarding logistics that anyone can reference on their own without assistance. Here are some easy onboarding essentials.

• Departmental Phone List. Highlight numbers to call if a new hire runs into roadblocks, such as tech support, who to contact if they’re running late or need printer codes, etc.

• Dress Code. This is especially important as people transition from athleisure to office attire.

• Organizational Charts. Give new hires charts with chain of command protocols appropriate to their job function. Include extras like headshots and fun facts to help them get to know the team.

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3. Understand their passions, talents and long-term goals, then motivate them accordingly.

This generation seeks purpose-driven work, work-life balance, paid time off, flexible schedules, diversity, equity, inclusion, belonging and impact. Take time to explain how what they’re doing on a day-to-day basis is contributing to the larger mission of the organization and, ultimately, their world.

4. Follow best practices for managing Gen-Z employees.

Define a clear work schedule. Set daily routines with work location. Most workplaces today offer flexible office hours, hybrid work or fully remote work, but many are vague in communicating expectations. It’s important to set the standards for when your employees are expected to be available for phone calls, in-person meetings at the office or other ad hoc project assignments.

• Communicate deadlines clearly. Give a clear objective of what is expected by said deadline and an explanation of why the deadline is needed. Once they understand why the timeline is important to the deliverable, they will be more accountable.

Plan to check in at 30/60/90 days. Have the new hire write down their expectations for their first 30, 60 and 90 days. Share your expectations together so you can both see where expectations are aligned (or not) and plan accordingly.

5. Take the time to teach office basics.

The hope is that, by the time a young professional graduates, they should know effective communication skills and accountability. However, many recent grads completed their last few semesters online in virtual classrooms and never had a chance to experience public speaking, in-person team collaboration, job interviews or even a traditional graduation ceremony.

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While these communications skills will naturally develop over time, I recommend managers help accelerate and support those essential soft skills through coaching. Ask your HR department, or hire a professional coach. You could recommend a leadership book or a film or TV show. It can be helpful if both of you watch the same show or read the same book, because you can use it as a language or platform to discuss what they are doing well (or not doing well). Use examples from characters by referencing scenes and episodes that support an exemplary communication style—or display a poor communication method—and explain the character’s successes or errors.

One of the easiest and most effective ways to provide coaching is by sharing your own personal experiences and challenges. I will usually bring up a time in which I struggled with direction, missed a deadline, made a mistake or was experiencing imposter syndrome and discuss how I overcame that and improved. Through coaching entry-level new hires with supportive mentoring and training on the basic skills, I found that new hires were more confident, loyal and driven to succeed throughout their employment.

Companies that are thoughtful and efficient with their new hire onboarding process, and that invest in the development of key soft skills, will see more engaged employees, improved outcomes and better retention as teams feel supported in their personnel growth.

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