How to Solve the Tech Skills Gap Today

 Could the tech talent shortage be solved short-term through career latticing technique?

Maybe so, if employers were willing to think outside the box of their own four walls about how to employ scarce web engineers.

Think global, hire local,” urges tech exec Matt Asay.  If tech-driven companies in Silicon Valley and New York can’t find enough developers, maybe they should consider hiring them wherever they find them and simply managing them virtually.  After all, argues Asay, if it makes business sense to outsource to another continent, doesn’t it make even more sense to create virtual teams who live in other states?

This is too logical to not happen, which means that the ability to manage virtual teams will soon be emerging as critical for tech project managers.  Leading people you can’t see is a completely different skill from managing those whom you can directly observe hammering away at their keyboards and scowling at their screens. 

But leading a virtual team builds such management skills as:

  • managing results
  • recognizing quality
  • streamlining communications
  • using organic advantages, such as having workers in different time zones, to meet goals

Employers will have to stretch their definitions of successful team management to include virtual leadership.  They will soon find that a roster of managers who can lead ‘anywhere’ teams will open up a new world of possibilities for recruiting and retaining tech talent.

We’re Trying to Keep People Who Don’t Know We’re Trying to Keep Them

File this one under ‘what the what?’

In HR consultancy Towers Perrin’s 2011/2012  Talent Management and Rewards study, we discover a spectacular example of corporate self-unawareness:

  • 36% of employers are having a hard time retaining employees with ‘critical skills’
  • 44% of employers formally identify employees with critical skills

In other words, employers are trying to hold on to skills that are essential for their operation…though they aren’t sure which employees possess those skills. Which makes it rather difficult to actively retain them, no?

Guess what? Those employees know who they are. That’s why they are so hard to hold on to. They’re loading up their LinkedIn profiles with skill descriptions designed to lure search engines deployed by recruiters.  That guarantees calls.

And these employees know that their employors are clueless. They feel overlooked because they are overlooked. (They’re probably underpaid, too: the same study found that “only 36% of organizations with a competency model have linked it to their reward programs.”  Which begs the question: what ARE those reward programs rewarding, if not competency? Never mind. I’m not sure I have the stomach to hear the answer.)

Employers, listen up: if those skills are truly critical, somebody else wants them, too. And those employees will be on the lookout for strategic moves — up or over — to get to an organization that knows what it’s got, wants to keep it…and might even pay for it.  Give your ‘critical skills’ employees a reason to stay.

Link Your Skills to a New Audience

In real life, Christina Wood is an admissions recruiter at the Harrisburg Area Community College.

On LinkedIn, she’s also a featured expert on higher education options. By answering questions posted at LinkedIn’s “Answers” function,  Wood hopes to burnish her reputation by becoming known as a source for solid advice. That, she believes, will build credibility with decisionmakers who might tap her for growth assignments that could advance her goal of becoming a school executive. “In top administrator positions, they want to see someone who is willing to go out there and get the answer,” says Wood, who has a degree in higher education management. Prompt and helpful responses on LinkedIn quickly earned her the ‘expert’ designation. “People can see the range of skills I have, and even if I’m not an expert in a field, I can find out an answer through my connections,’ she says.

It can be hard to figure out how to start cultivating a reputation for skills that aren’t core to your daily responsibilities. If you are an administrative assistant who wants to bridge into web design, using skills you have developed on volunteer projects, how do you start to change perceptions about what you can do? If you are a computer engineer who aspires to eventually launch a company, how do you showcase your marketing insights?

LinkedIn’s Answers is one place to start. By scanning open questions and answering with on-point, succinct answers, you can quickly become validated by others – and that validation will be seen by those in your LinkedIn network.  (On the LinkedIn dashboard, click on ‘More’ and the ‘Answers’ tab will open in the drop-down menu.)  The very process of formulating answers will help you hone the additional skills of mentoring and communication, and will provide case studies for your personal portfolio.

LinkedIn expanded its skills-centric tools last spring to enable its 135 million members  showcase specific abilities, explains Erin O’Harra, a LinkedIn spokesperson. Questions are open for seven days and those who ask the questions flag the response they found most useful. Newly minted experts “third party endorsements” in the form of badges for their profiles.

If you’re looking to make the most of an in-demand skill to bridge to a new position, choose one from your repertoire that is trending, according to LinkedIn’s skill tracker. (On the LinkedIn dashboard, click on ‘More’ and the ‘Skills’ tab will open in the drop-down menu.)  The tracker shows what skills are most sought-after by recruiters, which clues you in to how you can pinpoint hot jobs that need what you have.

However, this strategy only works if you provide answers with genuine, stand-alone value. Take a look at the consultants who provide free advice. Those who use the space to only promote their services get a cold shoulder. Those who provide useful tips and links spark conversations helpful to the participants and who knows how many other observers. 

Recruiters who use LinkedIn draw conclusions about participants’ attitudes and points of view from Answers discussions. If you’re in it to help others while helping yourself, chances are you’ll start to rise on their short lists of potential candidates.

When a Vampire Determines Your Career

You think it’s hard to sell through a new idea where you work?

Try reading the mind of editors. That’s what Danielle Egan-Miller does. She’s president of Brown & Miller Literary Associates and spoke at Pen to Digital Press: DIY Publishing in the Digital Age, hosted by Lawyers for the Creative Arts on February 11.  (I spoke too, with the irrepressible Shari Stauch of Shark Marketing, which helps authors build their audiences.)

If you wonder if publishers think that sticking a vampire into pretty much anything will make it sell…you’re almost right. (Hmmm…wonder how I could work vampires into  The Career Lattice? )

But Egan-Miller had good advice beyond vampires, and it’s relevant for everyone, not just aspiring and published authors: “Where do you want to be in four years?” she asked.  “Create a community for your work.”

Agents have become career coaches, helping authors build their audiences, keep on track with developing new ideas, and translate a flood of market data into guidance to keep projects relevant.  As you consider your career options on the lattice, apply Egan-Miller’s advice:

  • Who is your audience now? Who would you like to be your audience in four years?
  • Who among your colleagues helps you stay on track with projects? Can you ask that person to break down their time management skills so you can better understand and apply what they do right?
  • Who can help you filter industry trends to figure out which ones offer genuine opportunities for your career…and which trends are context?



Help the Economy and Yourself: Quit!

Smart analysis by the Wall St. Journal points out one of the biggest barriers to job growth: people are reluctant to take a chance on a new position.

The article cites a Stanford /BLS survey that cites 80% of the reduction in hiring during the Great Recession to a complete stagnation in turnover — people were glued to their seats, and that stopped up the whole hiring system.

Don’t mistake lack of movement for loyalty. Over 50% of currently employed workers are actually passively looking for a job. They are trolling ads, checking in with colleagues and friends, and keeping an eye on professional activity through industry and career social networks. 

One great way to signal that you’re ready for a move: chat about a new skill you are applying in your current position. Got a project over the line through some creative negotiation? Teamed up with somebody new and learned some new techniques that make both your jobs easier? These are the kinds of anecdotes that catch the attention of headhunters and potential referrals….and that keep you growing even as you ponder your next move.

Do You Own Your Work?

Cultivate your ideas and keep developing fresh skills: that’s one of the key recommendations in The Career Lattice. But how do you know which of your ideas is yours, and which actually belongs to your employer?

It’s not as clear-cut as it seems, according to presenters at February 11′s Pen to Digital Press: DIY Publishing in the Digital Age, hosted by Lawyers for the Creative Arts.  (I spoke too, with the irrepressible Shari Stauch of Shark Marketing, which helps authors build their audiences.)

Tips from the conference:

  • You can’t copyright or trademark an idea.  You CAN copyright or trademark the specific expression of that idea. Thus: the idea of chocolate chip cookies? Uncopyrightable. My amazing chocolate chip cookie recipe with a Secret Ingredient? Copyrightable.  Just because it occurs to you doesn’t mean you own it.  But if you develop the expression of that idea on your own time, and you want to protect it, then publish it and register the copyright.
  • If you develop it at your day job, they own it. If you want to build your own portfolio of work, develop it on your own time and document it as such.

This is especially relevant if you are cultivating career skills through a side job or freelancing. Be sure to draw a bright, thick line between the material you produce for your day job employer, and that which you develop, produce and copyright on your own.

Steal This Paragraph to Show Your Skills

Cross-posted from our New Best Friends at, is this bit of wisdom on how to break through the competitive scrum to get the attention of a potential employer or client.

Show a Key Skill in Action

Here’s the magic key for freelancers and part timers who are pitching clients or applying for work: show a key skill in action, accomplishing a business result. Don’t just list your skills, and especially don’t just list your skills assuming that your work and credentials will speak for itself.

It won’t.

Pull together a couple of short case studies that show how your skills deliver business results. And segue into that by showing that you understand the types of business results that this potential client or employer needs to get.

Here’s an example:

“It’s likely that you would expect your new social media manager to increase awareness that directly translates to sales. I did just that for one of my freelance clients – a retailer that wanted to stand out at an upcoming community festival. Other retailers posted on Twitter and Facebook about their specials and hours. But I crafted a campaign that alternated special events for new and existing customers. That enabled the store staff to tailor their sales strategy accordingly, and enabled the store owner to see exactly which tactic was more profitable.”

If you want the job, show them how you’ll do it. 

– Joanne Cleaver, Director of Freelance Growth, Ebyline

Giggia recommends that you adapt the graf above for your cover letter. You’ve got my blessing — go ahead!


Jobs Without People & People Without Jobs – How to Bridge the Skills Gap

President Obama’s 2013 budget reportedly includes $8 billion to fund workforce training through community colleges.

That’s a start – and certainly community colleges are prime collaborators with local industry, so deserve the cash. But it’s not enough to set up workers with a toolbox of today’s skills. Employees know they need to string those skills into a coherent path so they never again end up in a career dead-end.

A study released in November by Accenture found that 55% of U.S. workers believe they need more skills to be successful at the jobs they have now, or that they want to have. And 68% of employees say it’s up to them to pursue that triaining.

Employers may complain about the skills gap, but, guess what?  They perpetuate it.  Fewer than half of employees get employer-provided formal training, according to the Accenture Skills Gap Study.

Here’s how employers invest in training, according to the types of training employees told Accenture they got:

52% – technology
31% – problem solving
26% – analytical skills
21% – management skills

Employers don’t even inventory the skills their current employees have; instead, they assume that they have to start advertising for someone with new skills.

Latticing links the people employees have with the skills they need to qualify for the jobs employers need to fill. That’s how it solves the skills gap. Community colleges can build long-term relationships with local employers by weaving career paths into their curricula. And that will bridge the skills gap.


With Friends Like These, You Don’t Need Resumes

Resumes are dead!

Well, almost.  According to today’s Wall St. Journal, sorting resumes has become so tedious that recruiters and hiring managers often just turn to employees’ recommendations first.

That means that keeping your professional network fresh and engaged is paramount.  Your current and former teammates are your fastest route to a new position.

That’s why The Career Lattice explains how to use BranchOut, the professional channel for Facebook, and LinkedIn, to showcase lateral skills and how you have navigated your career path. Lateral skills don’t always fit neatly on a resume, and the standard resume format doesn’t lend itself to explaining smart lateral moves.

Use these three tips to keep your teammates in the loop about your lateral development so they can recommend you for the right job at the right time:

  • Talk about the incremental progress you’re making towards your goals. Give your teammates talking points they can call up when the time is right.
  • Ask for lateral introductions to fast-growing departments, projects or companies.
  • Recap team successes, citing who contributed to the win. This gets everybody on your team in the habit of naming the skills that added up to collective progress.  

Top Career Books of 2012? We’re One!

Accordingly to Kelly Eggers of FINS, the Dow Jones financial news and career management channel, The Career Lattice will be one of the top ten career books to watch for 2012.

We won’t argue with that. Meanwhile, the other trends she picked up on include how millennials can gain traction early in their careers, and how to push through the crowd to stand out when you’re interviewing and jostling for promotion.

How lucky are millennials and mid-careerists? Lattice is for them, too!