Can Next Gen Staffing Agencies Close the Skills Gap?

March 27, 2018

Takeaways

CEB data suggests that less than 20 percent of those who apply to a job opening meet the posted qualifications.
Penn Foster and EmployBridge launched the Better WorkLife Academy to upskill their associates at no cost.

Staffing agencies have long played a critical role in matching talent with the unique needs of employers. But as the shelf life of skills shrinks, staffing agencies are taking on a role that is about much more than matchmaking: ensuring potential hires have the skills they need to succeed in today’s dynamic labor market.

Seventy percent of employers report that they are unable to find workers who are qualified for their job openings. At the same time, more than seven million Americans are unemployed and 43 percent of recent U.S. college graduates say they are under-employed. CEB data suggests that less than 20 percent of those who apply to a job opening meet the posted qualifications.

Business leaders, according to a report from the National Governors Association, are in turn worried about “a skills crisis” fueled by a scarcity of workers equipped to fill the high-skilled jobs of tomorrow.

The challenge is exacerbated by the complexity of not just one, but a multiplicity of skills gaps that affect states, regions, industries, and individual businesses. Real-time labor market data reveals the scarcity of software engineers in Detroit with the dearth of game developers in Utah or recruiting pros in San Francisco. It’s a challenge compounded, according to LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, by mobility rates among American workers, now at their lowest level since World War II.

Closing those gaps, according to a report from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, requires “getting the right talent with the right skills at the right time and place.” And with their wide network of talent and their long history of connecting that talent with employers, our nation’s staffing agencies may be uniquely positioned to do just that. 

Staffing Agencies Stepping Up to Close Gaps

Though many companies have admitted to struggling with the effects of the widening skills gap, few have attempted to come up with a plan to address it. For most employers, the existing strategy has been to continue to rely on staffing agencies to supply the needed talent. One staffing in particular has taken a large step towards tackling the problem more proactively.

In 2017, Penn Foster, a next-generation education institution, strategically partnered with EmployBridge, the largest industrial staffing company in North America, to launch the Better WorkLife Academy. This partnership allows EmployBridge to offer an array of Penn Foster logistics, manufacturing, and clerical upskilling courses to its associates placed through seven of their commercial and professional brands at no cost.

Courses for this Academy were selected for their relevance in improving an individual's pay and future job prospects, and to help meet the required skills of today's most in-demand jobs. Penn Foster delivers its courses in a self-paced, competency-based model wrapped by comprehensive academic, professional, and personal support and coaching. As long as an associate has worked with EmployBridge for 80 hours, they qualify for the free courses.

“We don’t have enough people with the right skills for the jobs that are open across the country,” Cathi Canfield, Vice President of Brand Support at EmployBridge, said at a recent Penn Foster meeting. “So we have to stay keenly focused on workforce solutions and do something about that. It’s not just to grow our business, but it’s our duty to step forward and lend a hand and lift folks up.”

Through its partnership with Penn Foster, EmployBridge, who puts more than 88,000 associates to work each day through professional brands including Select Staffing, ProLogistix, and Resource MFG, is doing more than connecting supply with demand. Together, they’re pioneering an entirely new approach to investing in talent with the potential to address pressing skills gaps -- while creating new career pathways for job-seekers. It’s a model that we may soon see replicated. Other staffing agencies -- in industries as varied as IT to construction to healthcare -- are exploring or have launched similar programs.