I keep hearing about the “Skills gap.” There is no skills gap. There is a gap between what employers want to pay and what people are willing to work for. I read an article this morning that prompted this post: Talk of a skills gap in the labor ...

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  1. Skills Gap? No, Wage Gap
  2. Do You Hire for Confidence, Comfort or Capability?
  3. Top Job Search Articles of 2016
  4. Interview About Hiring Posted
  5. Why You Want to Hire Older People
  6. More Recent Articles

Skills Gap? No, Wage Gap

I keep hearing about the “Skills gap.” There is no skills gap. There is a gap between what employers want to pay and what people are willing to work for. I read an article this morning that prompted this post: Talk of a skills gap in the labor market is ‘an incredible cop out’

Let me phrase this a little more elegantly:

There is a gap of cheap and skilled labor. 

If you are willing to pay for training, there are many people who would gladly work for you. If you are willing to pay a reasonable wage for people who already have the skills, there are many people who would gladly work for you. (This is one of the reasons older people have a tough time finding a job. Employers want their experience at a new person’s wage. I wrote about ageism already.)

If you want to hire people will scarce skills and pay them an insufficient wage, you might think there is a skills “gap.” It’s not a skills gap. It’s wage gap.

What is wrong with hiring for—dare I say it—cultural fit, where people can be a part of the team you want them to contribute to, and then training them.

Let me walk through a scenario I recently encountered at a client. The client wants to hire a developer with 10-12 years of experience in embedded products where they use agile approaches, and not pay more than $100k. That’s a tight wage for that much experience. The cilent can find people with embedded experience. Everyone and their brother thinks they are agile, so there are plenty of those people. However, when the client interviews candidates at that wage level, the client realizes the people don’t really have either experience.

Why? Because the people interviewing don’t have 10-12 years of experience. At that salary, he’s seeing people with much less embedded experience and much less agile experience.

What should the client do?

First, understand why there is a salary cap when the job seems to demand a higher salary. I often discover the higher managers want to hire someone cheaper because they don’t see the Cost of Delay when that person can’t deliver fast enough.

I suggested these alternatives:

  • Hire the great embedded people (at a reasonable level of experience), and train the entire team in agile. Use a buddy for the initial week or two weeks. (They work in flow.) In the training, work on their work, so they can practice working together. Encourage pairing, swarming, and mobbing, not just in the workshop, but for all the work.
  • Hire someone who has great depth of knowledge and experience in agile approaches, and teach them the ins and outs of embedded development with a buddy. I would encourage pairing, swarming, and mobbing for all the work. Maybe even do an in-house workshop or retrospective where people can discuss the risks they have seen and addressed in previous projects.
  • If the team needs one more person, can one person take on more responsibility for the team’s risks and backfill their position? I often discover that people are more capable and ready earlier than their managers believe they are.

Now that you see these three options, I bet you can see other options for yourself.

This client walked through the numbers. If he increased the wage, and paid another $20k for a one-week workshop where people worked together on the product, he thought he might be able to integrate someone with the embedded but not agile skills in a month. (One or two weeks to buddy/mob, one week of training, another week of buddy/mobbing.) The entire team would work together for a month. That would bring the Cost of Delay down for their project, and they could expect to see millions of revenue in three months, rather than nine months. Yes, by hiring the right person and providing training, the manager thought they could see revenue much faster.

The training and salary was a small percentage of anticipated revenue. I can’t report back yet because the project is still ongoing. However, they are going to a pilot with the embedded software six months early. (!!)

Consider what the right person in the role can provide your organization. Maybe think about cost of delay instead of wage cost and you might see more options. I have yet to see a skills gap. I almost always see a wage gap.

If you do think you see a skills gap, what skills are you willing to train, to get the “perfect” person and team?


Do You Hire for Confidence, Comfort or Capability?

In the software industry, we toss around terms such as “Holacracy,” “meritocracy,” and “collaborative environment.” We claim to hire for skills. That’s not what I see.

I see hiring managers hiring people just like them (mini-me’s), people who went to their schools, make similar life choices, and are roughly the same age. That’s because these people talk the same way. Too many people call this “cultural fit.” No, it’s not. It’s hiring people you are comfortable with.

How can you tell if you are hiring for confidence or comfort?

I agree, it’s nice to be comfortable with people. And, you can get that comfort if you hire for capability. Hiring for capability will even get you to cultural fit. Here are some ways to know what you are hiring for:

What you doYesNo
You have a job analysis, where you wrote down the essential personal qualities, preferences, and non-technical skills.
You have behavior-description questions that help you see what a candidate did, not thought about.
You have an audition to see a candidate perform work that's relevant to the open position
You're not so stuck on specific job descriptions; you are open to what the candidate can provide.

What if you do some of these things, not all? Here’s how I see this work when people hire:

  • When you create a job analysis, you go through the difficult thinking about what’s essential in a human being for the problems you need to solve now. You think about and decide what capabilities you need.
  • When you use behavior-description questions, you ask a candidate to tell you about the work that person actually did. This shows you their capability in many dimensions.
  • Auditions help you see how people work, especially if they work with people on the team to solve a problem.
  • If you want to increase the team’s general capability, you might be open to what a given candidate can provide you.

It’s easy to be wowed by a candidate’s confidence. It’s easy to look for someone comfortable, who might be just like you. It’s a little different to find someone with the capability to increase everyone’s throughput.


Top Job Search Articles of 2016

My friend and colleague, Jacob Share, puts together a list of the top job search articles each year. Yes, I have an article in there! See this ebook: The Top Job Search Articles of 2016. I hope you enjoy it!


Interview About Hiring Posted

The nice folks over at Paysa interviewed me and posted the interview at: Expert Interview Series: Johanna Rothman of www.jrothman.com.

I had a chance to wax eloquent about a number of topics: mistakes people make in recruiting and hiring, and the job search. Enjoy!



Why You Want to Hire Older People

This morning, I read For Economy, Aging Population Poses Double Whammy (registration required). If you don’t read the WSJ, here are some interesting takeaways:

On average, every 10% increase in the share of state’s population over the age of 60 reduced per capita growth in gross domestic product by 5.5%.

The authors note: “An older worker’s experience increases not only his own productivity but also the productivity of those who work with him.” All else equal, experienced workers are more productive. One study found that productivity peaks at age 50, when productivity is 60% higher than for the average 20 year old.

Notice this: Productivity peaks at age 50. 50!! (I actually know I am more productive now than I was 10 years ago. I bet there are people just like me, out there.)

In high tech, we love the shiny new object (people with a couple of years of experience). They are less expensive. They appear to know the latest, greatest thing (tools and technology). And, unless they are extremely mature, they do not have the perspective and emotional maturity that older people do.

If you want to increase productivity (throughput in software), hire older people who have been successful in previous roles. Here’s why:

  • They know how to work, to finish their work.
  • They have seen your problem or something like your problem before. They have experience that can help.
  • They often know how to build connections between disparate people. (They build small-world networks.)
  • They understand how to persevere through the difficult times. (All projects have difficult times where people feel as if they are slogging through the project.)
  • They understand how to work with other people.
  • They are adaptable. (Have you thought about how software has changed since the 70s and 80s? Wowie zowie.)

Not everyone has all these qualities in the same amount. And, if you dare look for people over 50 (and over 60), you will find enough of these qualities that you will find a great employee.

Look for and hire someone older. If you need to, negotiate on salary. Remember, money is just one component of compensation. But, don’t think that the eager-beaver 20-something is the only person who will help you increase your throughput.


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