For years employers have been saying that employees and job searchers do not have the requisite skills that they are looking for. It’s been about 8 years – since the Great Recession – employers have been harping on the lack of skills theme. During that time, they’ve been calling for STEM, STEM, STEM. I’m sure that during that time, schools have been shifting their resources to coding, coding, coding. That’s about all policy makers, educators and the like have been talking about since the recession.
But there’s a wee bit problem.
Some economists were saying that if there were truly a skills shortage, wages would be going up for said missing skills, but they couldn’t find wages going up in any economic sector.
And then there were news of companies letting go of their US programmers to outsource jobs to India on one hand, while on the other, the technology companies brought in cheap programmers under H1-B visas.
Hmmm, it sounds more like KA-CHING.
And now we have the latest twist on the “lack of skills” story: the hard skills versus the applied skills. Apparently the hard skills refer to the programming whereas applied skills pertains being able “to use technology for the benefit of an organization, not necessarily the ability to deploy specific technologies themselves”. I’m not 100% sure what this means because the second half of the statement is confusing but I’ll make a stab at it.
Again, leaving out the second half of the statement, I’m guessing that employees, while they know how to use the technologies in a rudimentary basis, they can’t seem to use the tools to its fullest extent. I say this based upon my experience over the years with spreadsheets. Excel has been around for quite a while but most people that I know of, especially in accounting and finance, don’t go beyond the summing up and the vlookups. They don’t make Excel work for them. As an example, when I worked in the accounting department at the start of my career, we had a closing activity called barrel balancing. It was basically balancing the inventory via opening inventory plus incoming shipments minus sales. Every month we would stay up late at work (9, 10 or 11 pm) trying to make the inventory balance. During that time, I developed a spreadsheet to figure out all of the incoming shipments and the outgoing sales to come up with the closing inventory, and the spreadsheet would highlight where the variances were. With that tool, I was able to finish close by 6 or 7.
That was years ago, in the early days of spreadsheets. And today, accountants and financial types still use spreadsheets as a totaling tool. They haven’t progressed beyond the early days.
It may be that they lack the imagination of how to use the spreadsheet.
And even when they see a creative example (such as mine – yes, humblebrag), they still don’t go much beyond the simple summation. They don’t make Excel do the work of gathering the data and slicing and dicing it via pivot tables. They don’t dream up ways of making the spreadsheet do reconciliations for them. They don’t use conditional formatting to provide them warnings of something not right. There’s so much possibilities to Excel.
My current boss is the only one who I have seen push Excel further.
So, if that is what they mean about using applied technology skills, I understand where they are coming from. But I would say to those who are in the non-tech firms, they probably don’t have the right to complain about lack of skills because they themselves don’t know how to use technology to their advantage. They didn’t when I was starting out and they probably still don’t. If they want to talk about lack of tech skills, they need to look in the mirror first.