The Skills Gap is a Myth
"The belief that America suffers from a severe 'skills gap' is one of those things that everyone important knows must be true, because everyone they know says it's true. It's a prime example of a zombie idea — an idea that should have been killed by evidence, but refuses to die."
-Paul Krugman, New York Times columnist covering macroeconomics, trade, healthcare, social policy and politics
The Skills Gap is Reality
"There is an obvious mismatch between worker skills demand and supply. Education is not focusing on the skills demanded by today's workforce as well as they could or should…Imagine if we could match those 6.9 million [unemployed Americans] to 6 [million job openings]. The unemployment market would virtually disappear."
-Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta at a 2017 Business Roundtable event
With that in mind, we dug in to try to understand the issue. This report, the first in a three-part series, offers some insight into jobseeker-employer friction and the existence of the skills gap.
It identifies a gulf in the call and response of the hiring process and provides ideas about how job postings and resumes might become more closely aligned to alleviate some of the dissonance that exists between those doing the hiring and those doing the work.
We partnered with TIRO Communications to take a "big data" approach to analyzing thousands of resumes and job ads across 12 different occupations. In total, these occupations represent nearly one-quarter of the workforce in the United States.
Occupations for Analysis:
Apart from analyzing job ads as a singular data set and resumes as a singular data set, we also compared required skills listed in job ads versus skills promoted in jobseeker resumes. This analysis looked at both areas of job ad-resume alignment as well as divergence (i.e., where hiring organizations and jobseekers seem to be miscommunicating their needs or attributes.)
The methodological approach taken in our analysis leveraged Cognition Insights, a natural language processing (NLP) tool created by TIRO Communications.
The Key Takeaways
There is a significant mismatch in the skills requirements listed in job postings and those noted in applicant resumes. Individual job ads contain an average of 21.8 skills, while resumes list an average of only 13 skills.
This mismatch applies to both hard and soft skills. In fact, the data shows that jobseekers' resumes only match 59 percent of hard skills and 62 percent of soft skills in job ads, which is evidence of the chasm between what employers and applicants see as valuable.
While hard skills dominate the bulk of job ads, soft skills continue to play an essential role for employers. Job ads average just over 5 soft skills, with some occupations including nearly twice that amount. Of the lot, employers across the board continue to value communication skills and are increasingly emphasizing customer service skills.
Blue-collar workers are less successful than white-collar workers in matching their resumes to employers' stated skills requirements. White-collar jobseekers match hard skills 184 percent better and soft skills 42 percent better than blue-collar workers.
Job Ads vs. Resumes: Commonalities & Divergences
One of the most striking insights evident from report analysis is that jobseekers are articulating far too few skills on their resume.
Specifically, individual job ads list an average of 21.8 skills, while resumes list an average of only 13 skills. This mismatch applies to both hard and soft skill averages, with job ads including 16.7 hard skills and resumes including 8, and with the job ads listing 5.2 soft skills compared to the 3.2 on resumes.
These divergences may not necessarily translate into skill gaps, but they do certainly beg the question and indicate that those writing resumes could benefit from beefing up their job application documents with more capabilities, if they possess them.
Similarly, jobseekers match 59 percent of hard skills in job ads and 62 percent of soft skills. As noted in the section that follows, some occupations are doing a better job than others at matching their resumes to employer needs, but on the whole, there is widespread misalignment.
On an aggregate level, out of 20 skills that most frequently appear in job ads, five skills – multitasking, physical demand, teamwork, retail industry knowledge and positive attitude – do not appear in the top 20 skills listed on resumes. Overall, jobseekers are more often touting skills like budgeting, Microsoft Word, and time management in their resumes, even though they are not as sought after in job ads as other skills.
Top 20 Most Frequently Cited Skills Across Job Ads & Resumes
Percentage of Occurrence in Top 20
Percentage of Occurrence in Top 20
Retail Industry Knowledge
5 Skills that Appear Frequently in Job Ads but Not in Resumes
4 Skills that Appear Frequently in Resumes but Not in Job Ads
This reveals some key overarching disparities in the way that employers and jobseekers value specific skills, but it also reveals some simple semantic differences in the way that employers and jobseekers talk about skills.
For example, job ads often call for 'teamwork', but resumes often cite 'team player' as a skill. While this kind of discrepancy isn't an indication of a skills gap, it could be problematic for the keyword-centric automatic tracking systems (ATS) that employers often use to screen and evaluate resumes.
Jobseekers and employers are syncing up better on two popular soft skills: customer service and communication. Fifteen percent of employers seek customer service skills in job ads, while 19 percent of jobseekers list this skill. Communication skills are sought by 12 percent of employers, and 11 percent of resumes list this.
Soft Skills Still a Hard Requirement for Employers
The data shows that soft skills continue to play an essential role for employers. Even job ads for occupations deemed tech-centric—accountants and software developers—emphasize the need for candidates to have these kinds of abilities.
Even job ads for tech-centric fields require soft skills. With some, like software development, which counts an average of 8 soft skills, requiring far more than the overall mean.
On average, job ads list 5.2 soft skills, with some occupations listing almost twice as many desirable soft skills.
In particular, three soft skills—customer service (13 percent of total top 20 skill occurrences), communication (8.9 percent), and written communication (8.3 percent)—account for 30 percent of the most frequently mentioned top 20 skills.
Soft skill-intensive occupations include customer service representatives, administrative assistants, and software developers.
Average Soft Skills
|Customer Service Representatives|
Top 5 Soft Skills Employers List in Job Ads
Resume-to-Job Ad Matching at an Occupational Level
While at an aggregate level jobseekers are only somewhat effectively matching the skills on their resume to those required by job ads, workers in some fields are doing a better job than others.
Notably, caregivers are the most adept at matching both hard and soft skills outlined by employers; whereas, servers and cashiers do the worst job of matching soft and hard skills, respectively.
Below, we've identified how well jobseeker resumes match the total diversity of all skills in job ads in each occupation:
Resume-to-Job Ad Matching at a White-Collar vs. Blue-Collar Level
When it comes to white-collar versus blue-collar workers, there are some big differences in terms of the kinds of skills employer prioritize as well as how well the skills in jobseeker resumes match the skills required by job ads.
The data indicates that white-collar job ads include a more even distribution of hard and soft skills, but blue-collar job ads require far more hard skills than soft skills.
Perhaps most interesting, white-collar jobseekers are doing nearly twice as well as blue-collar jobseekers in matching hard skills on their resumes to those in job ads, which is particularly problematic as blue-collar employers demand more hard skills.
When examining soft skills, the data shows white-collar jobseekers matching their resumes to job ads at a rate that is 42 percent higher than blue-collar workers.
The number of resume-to-job ad soft skill matches in white-collar professions is 42 percent higher than the number of blue-collar matches.
There are 4 times more hard skills than soft skills in blue-collar job ads (the average across all professions is 3.2x more hard skills than soft skills).
The percentage of resume-to-job ad hard skill matches in white-collar professions over the number of hard skill matches in blue-collar resumes.