Part six of an ongoing series based on our recent PPI report: Bridging the STEM skills gap: Employer/educator collaboration in New York
Over the years, when asked what skills they have had difficulty finding in job candidates, New York employers consistently point to the professional skills that are required in all kinds of workplaces. In response to Public Policy Institute surveys in both 2014 and 2017, more than half of employers reported high or moderate difficulty finding critical thinking, communications, and problem-solving skills. The figure below shows that, in the 2017 survey, more than half also reported high or moderate difficulty finding candidates with time management skills, and—notably—multiple respondents wrote in that they have difficulty finding employees who are dependable, even though that was not listed as a response option.
Stanley S. Litow of IBM underlines the importance of these traits in a career-ready workforce. “We’ve had a misnomer for the last decade or more, referring to the job skills required across the labor force as ‘soft skills,’” he says. “These are not soft skills, they’re essential skills—like writing, problem-solving, presentation skills. These are the flexible skills required in the workplace.” P-TECH Leadership Council Director Robin Willner agrees. “To ensure students develop professional skills, those have to be addressed deliberately, with opportunities for students to practice and master them,” she says.
While shortages in professional skills were most pervasive, employers reported that STEM-specific skills and qualifications were the toughest to find. Almost a quarter of executives reported “high difficulty” finding candidates with the necessary scientific, engineering, and technical skills. Half reported moderate or high difficulty finding candidates skilled in using technology, and close to 30% reported moderate or high difficulty finding candidates with other STEM skills such as data analysis and applied math. This is consistent with previous research; for example, on the 2014 Public Policy Institute survey, more than half of employers reported difficulty finding workers with data analysis and applied math skills, and more than 20% of employers found it “very difficult” to do so. Similarly, a 2014 nationwide survey by the Business Roundtable and Change the Equation found that CEOs had particular difficulty finding candidates with STEM skills.
As for which qualifications were most difficult to find in job candidates, the largest number of employers mentioned bachelor’s degrees in engineering. Related entries included Professional Engineering license, Registered Architect license, and master’s degree in engineering. Numerous employers wrote in particular manufacturing skills and qualifications that do not necessarily require a bachelor’s degree, including: sourcing and production quality, blueprints, mechanical skills, hand tool use, Fluorescent Penetrant Inspection (FPI) certification, ceramics, welding, and brazing. Nursing, human services, and health-related qualifications were sought at the bachelor’s level and below, while accounting credentials were sought at the bachelor’s level and higher. Several employers reported a difficult time finding candidates with bachelor’s degrees combined with the right type of work experience. Computer science degrees and IT security certifications were also sought.
These findings are broadly consistent with a 2015 study by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, which found demand for STEM employees at the bachelor’s and master’s levels in information technology fields (including particularly high demand for software developers in New York), and demand below the bachelor’s level in manufacturing and the skilled trades, including machinists and technicians.
Over the coming weeks, our blog series will look at how New York employers are partnering with education institutions to address this skills gap.