Businesswoman introduces employees to newly hired staff If you’re struggling to fill a skills gap in your business, here are some tips for finding qualified employees who can learn and grow in their roles. — Getty Images/LanaStock

When filling a position that requires in-demand, specialized skills, you need to balance a candidate’s aptitude and practical skill set with their cultural fit at your company. It’s often difficult to find the “perfect” candidate who checks both boxes, but if you focus on soft skills and a growth mindset, you’ll likely find an excellent new hire who can do the job well.

If you’re struggling to fill a skills gap in your business, here are some tips for finding qualified employees who can learn and grow in their roles.

What is a skills gap?

A “skills gap” refers to a difference in the skills an employer is looking for versus the skills that candidates have. This discrepancy makes it difficult for both recruiters and prospective employees: Hiring managers can’t find individuals with all the necessary job skills, while job seekers struggle to find a fit for their existing skill set.

In some cases, skills gaps are created by the hiring process itself. A survey by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation found that 74% of HR leaders require the submission of a specific credential when hiring. However, only 26% actually use that credential in determining the candidate’s qualifications. This discourages candidates who may be a good fit but are “not qualified” on paper from applying, which ultimately reduces the number of applicants a company reviews.

[Read: Are There Skills Gaps On Your Team? How to Identify and Address Them]

Finding qualified employees to bridge your skills gap

If you believe there is a skills gap within your workforce, you may wish to look at which skills are truly a prerequisite before a candidate starts and which ones can be honed after they are hired. Even if candidates don’t have the exact skills your job requires, you can still find qualified employees who demonstrate an aptitude for learning and growth.

It's easy to train skills and very difficult to train someone to have a different personality. Hire the person and train the body.

Scott Kluger, owner of Citizen Chicken & Donuts

Here are a few strategies for locating these qualified candidates who can help bridge the skills gap in your organization.

Rethink your hiring process to focus on soft skills.

Instead of automatically dismissing candidates who don’t have every required job skill, focus on demonstrable soft skills from a candidate who will integrate well with your organization and company culture. When hiring new team members, Martin Lach, owner and president of Muretti.us, values these soft skills over hard skills.

“The traits I highly consider when hiring an addition to our team are work ethics, tenacity and ingenuity,” said Lach. “I have found this recipe brings the most mutual benefits in a long-term successful business relationship.”

[Read: 6 Recruiting Strategies to Improve Your Talent Pipeline]

Seek out highly adaptable, trainable candidates.

When interviewing candidates, one of the most important things to look for is a willingness to learn. Hiring for flexibility and adaptability allows for growth and innovation within the role and the organization as a whole.

“A lot of our positions are not super technical and do not require years of training or school,” said Scott Kluger, owner of Citizen Chicken & Donuts. “We look for those who are willing to learn and have a great attitude. We find they can be trained [in] many things if they want to learn. It's easy to train skills and very difficult to train someone to have a different personality. Hire the person and train the body.”

Tap into overlooked talent pools and candidates from schools and training programs.

Many talent pools are often overlooked for a variety of reasons. Sometimes they are hard to find due to economic or technological inequalities. In other cases, certain types of candidates won’t apply for jobs they don’t believe they’re qualified for. Work with recruiters to cast a wide net to find as much diverse talent as possible. This includes overlooked groups such as older workers, veterans, talent from outside your local geographic region and candidates with disabilities. Companies can also partner with academic institutions and training programs to find fresh talent that is willing to learn.

[Read: Recruiting Tech Tools for Building More Diverse Teams]

Build a culture of 'intrapreneurship' that encourages continual growth.

As a business leader, it's essential to create a culture that encourages innovation and education so that there is continual growth, both for the employee and the company overall. Steve Schulze, co-founder and CEO of Nékter Juice Bar, believes promoting “intrapreneurship” — entrepreneurial skills applied within a corporate work environment — is the best way to do this.

“Intrapreneurs [are] those who think outside of the box, push the limits and are true problem-solvers who have the innate ability to help you quickly adapt,” said Schulze. “Tenacious and resourceful [employees] ... embrace the mindset of taking on new challenges, finding new opportunities and wearing multiple hats. Those who possess these skills are the solution seekers who see past roadblocks and bring creative strategies to the table.”

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

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Published March 31, 2021