How to Remain Competitive in a Skills Based Economy

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With a tough labor market and exploding student loan debt, job candidates simply can’t afford to stop learning. And the good news is- they don’t need to. The web is brimming with new online courses and skills-based certification programs that are strengthening tomorrow’s candidates and could help ease the pain of increasingly frustrated employers.

Approximately two out of every five US companies are having difficulty finding new hires with the right skills according to a 2013 ManpowerGroup survey. It’s a ‘skills gap,’ they say:

As an employer I want the best prepared & qualified employees. I could care less if the source of their education was accredited by a bunch of old men and women who think they know what is best for the world. I want people who can do the job.
Mark Cuban

Most companies agree with Cuban. A 2013 Internships.com survey revealed that employers care least about what college or university an applicant attended and care most about the candidate’s relevant experience and interview performance when evaluating who to hire. Skills, and specifically technical skills, can separate the great job candidates from the good ones.

So what can job seekers do to stay ahead?

A chart showing interview performance and relevant experience are the top reasons people get hired.

As a community manager, perhaps you have a HootSuite University certification—the industry standard for social media education. Or maybe you’re skilled in WordPress with hours devoted to customizing the layout of the latest Twenty Thirteen theme and installing the All in one SEO plugin. If you are, then you’ve got what employers are begging for. Of course, a successful community manager needs non-technical experience, too—superb communication skills and the ability to multi-task, amongst dozens of others—but that WordPress or HootSuite knowledge could just take you to the next level.

That knowledge can come from so many different arenas. The proliferation of MOOCs, those typically not for credit massively open online courses, are blurring the lines between online higher education and what has historically been called ‘professional development.’ Costs are typically slim to none, and almost always cheaper than traditional learning, but research has shown that over 90% of online learners who register for MOOCs drop out. We still have a long way to go in this emerging market.

That said, companies like General Assembly and The Flatiron School have entered the mix offering the ability to take full–time three-month programs that can turn learners into entry–level iOS developers, and further differentiate them from their peers.

The menu of new online (and offline) courses and technical certifications is swelling and picking the right one can be an overwhelming task. (There seems to be a tremendous opportunity for a leader in the education or human capital space to take on this ambitious undertaking.) However, though it may seem daunting, the rewards are obvious: employers want technically skilled hires.

So what’s the next challenge?

The next challenge is helping employers separate the wheat from the chaff. Mozilla’s Open Badges help job seekers share their skills with potential hiring employers (and the rest of the world) while assessment tests like the CLA+ try to benchmark recent graduates for employers.

The badges and digital verification are important, but being measured by technical skills alone won’t be the end all and be all in the hiring process. Intangible factors like cultural fit and interview performance will continue to take precedence for employers looking for top quality candidates. That said, skills-based certifications and courses will likely soon take precedence over the institution’s name on our college and graduate school diplomas in employers’ minds. Want to be at the top of that resume pile? Show employers your skills. For most, your attendance at XYZ University just isn’t enough.

Editor’s Note: Yair Riemer was a panelist for this year’s Community Manager Appreciation Day panel on Is Being Tech Savvy the New MBA?.

Yair Riemer

VP, Global Marketing at CareerArc Group
Currently living in LA via Israel. Building CareerArc Group, @TweetMyJobs & @internships. Interested in startups, entrepreneurship, marketing, and sports.

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