November 10, 2014

Nearly Three-Quarters of U.S. Companies Expect Their Demand for Middle-Skills Jobs to Increase, Accenture Research Shows

Yet companies struggle to find qualified candidates for their talent pipeline

NEW YORK; Nov.10, 2014 – Nearly three-quarters of U.S. companies (73 percent) expect an increase in their demand for “middle-skills” jobs – that generally require more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree – over the next few years. At the same time, more than half (56 percent) of those surveyed are struggling to find people with the qualifications to fill existing middle-skills vacancies, according to new research from Accenture (NYSE: ACN).

This lack of talent is having a direct impact on corporate performance: almost seven in 10 (69 percent) of respondents indicated that the middle-skills shortage regularly affects their performance and more than one-third (34 percent) believe that the dearth of middle-skills workers has significantly undermined their productivity. The Accenture research also identified the hardest-hit sectors and consistently hard-to-fill positions. (See full infographics: Closing of the Middle-Skills Gap and U.S. Companies Expect Demand for Middle-Skills Jobs to Increase.)

The findings, presented in a new Accenture report, Finding the middle: How businesses can manage the talent pipeline to close the middle-skills employment gap, are based on a survey of more than 800 human resources executives. The HR survey supports research jointly published by Accenture, Burning Glass Technologies and Harvard Business School (HBS) titled, Bridge the Gap: Rebuilding America’s Middle Skills, published by that examined the impact of the middle-skills gap on U.S. competitiveness and provides targeted solutions for employers, educators and policymakers to improve their talent pipeline for middle-skills positions.

“The majority of U.S. employers across many business sectors are having great difficulty filling middle-skills positions, despite the fact that unemployment and under-employment remain a challenge for many Americans,” said David Smith, senior managing director Accenture Strategy, Talent & Organization. “Our research provides employers with tangible and practical advice about how to address the underlying issues that contribute to the skills gap and how to improve their processes to source, develop, deploy and retain middle-skills talent.”

According to the HR survey, inadequate training and lack of experience were seen as the leading impediments to filling middle-skills positions: 54 percent of respondents said “trained talent is difficult to find” and 50 percent said “sufficient experience is not easy to find.” Other major contributors to the middle-skills gap include insufficient training and upskilling opportunities for current or prospective employees. Just two in 10 respondents (22 percent), including those who said their company is having trouble filling job vacancies, said they always are willing to consider hiring a new employee who requires additional training.

“There are two key ways to cultivate talent: you can tap the power of an organization’s existing workforce and build those skills from within, or you can develop new talent externally through a network of trusted partners,” Smith said.

Four imperatives to solve the middle-skills gap
Accenture recommends employers consider the following four steps as a way to improve their talent sourcing, development, deployment and retention cycle:

  1. Map future talent needs. Eight in 10 executives surveyed (80 percent) agree on the need to be proactive about building a talent pipeline for middle-skills jobs. As a first step, companies must improve forecasting and planning to better understand which positions and skills they need most.
  2. Build the talent pipeline. Just over half the executives surveyed said their company partners with community colleges (56 percent) or technical schools (55 percent). Companies have a valuable opportunity to work with these institutions to develop curricula that build the required skills and experience.
  3. Develop talent pool relationships. Community-based organizations are another often underutilized partner, with fewer than half of the businesses represented by the survey (45 percent) forging relationships with these groups. The business community must work with a vast network of partners, including education institutions and community organizations, to establish themselves as “employers of choice” with potential middle-skills job seekers.
  4. Reinvigorate talent development. Only 41 percent of the respondents said their companies offer internships or apprenticeships, even though 80 percent agree that these programs are effective in building needed skills. Companies must provide current and prospective employees with access to a variety of internships, apprenticeships, ongoing training programs and upskilling opportunities to create a clear career path for middle-skills employees.

The Accenture Middle Skills Survey was conducted in 2014 with more than 800 U.S. human resources (HR) executives across 18 industries. The survey aimed to identify and understand issues that HR leaders face in hiring workers, developing skills, and ensuring a sufficient supply of talent to meet the middle-skills job needs. Two-thirds of respondents were HR directors; the remaining third were senior vice presidents of HR and senior managers. Half of the participating companies have annual revenue more than $1 billion, and one-quarter have more than 10,000 employees. The margin of error for the survey was 3.4 percent.

About Accenture
Accenture is a global management consulting, technology services and outsourcing company, with more than 305,000 people serving clients in more than 120 countries. Combining unparalleled experience, comprehensive capabilities across all industries and business functions, and extensive research on the world’s most successful companies, Accenture collaborates with clients to help them become high-performance businesses and governments. Through its Skills to Succeed corporate citizenship initiative, Accenture is committed to equipping 700,000 people around the world by 2015 with the skills to get a job or build a business. The company generated net revenues of US$30.0 billion for the fiscal year ended Aug. 31, 2014. Its home page is

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Kate Shenk
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