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3 Methods for Bridging the Skills Gap With Contract Staffing

by | Nov 8, 2016 | Owner Issues, Top Echelon Blog

During the past few years, there has been a skills gap in the United States. That talent shortage has translated into nearly 6 million open positions throughout the country.

According to, there were 5.8 million openings in June of this year. (In July of 2015, there were also 5.8 million openings.) By contrast, there were only 2.3 million job openings during the worst part of the recession in 2009.

So while that would seem to indicate that there has been a shortage of skilled labor to some degree during the past seven years, the gap is at its widest right now.

What is the skills gap?

Before we go any further, though, let’s define the skills gap. There are two types of gaps, actually:

  1. The STEM gap
  2. The soft skills gap

STEM job outlook

STEM is an acronym that stands for the following:


The shortage of skilled employees in the STEM industries represents the larger portion of the overall skills gap. Companies are growing and expanding rapidly in these areas, so rapidly that they cannot find the workers they need to fill the positions and do the work. One of the reasons for this is the rapid advancements being made within these industries. They change and evolve at a rampant pace, and the number of workers who keep abreast of these changes (or even in front of them) is relatively small.

Soft skills gap

There is the soft skills gap. The skills involved in this gap are those that are intangible as opposed to tangible. The ability to write code is tangible; the ability to direct a team to finish a project or reach a goal within a certain timeframe is intangible. Below are some examples of soft skills that are in most need right now:

Emotional intelligence
Problem solving

What is a skilled worker?

So let’s back this train up even further and ask this question. There are, of course, two types of workers: skilled and unskilled. An unskilled worker brings nothing much in the way of talent, training, or education. As a result, they must learn on the job, as they go.

A skilled worker, on the other hand, brings the talent, training, or education with them. They’re ready to go, and don’t need much in the way of “ramp-up time.” In fact, in extreme cases, they are top performers, superstars in their field, and they have an immediate impact upon the company or organization that hires them.

As such, you can see which skilled workers are so much more in demand than unskilled workers. Add to the fact that, as we discussed above, we’re talking about highly specialized fields like science, technology, engineering, and math, and the demand becomes even greater.

However, this does beg yet another question . . .

Does the skills gap really exist?

There has been a widely circulated theory that the skills gap is actually an illusion. It has been postulated that there is no shortage of skilled workers. However, for various reasons, those workers have not been hired. Below are some of the explanations for why the skills gap is actually an illusion and not a crisis situation:

  • Employers are too picky when it comes to hiring.
  • Employers are not offering enough to attract the candidates they want.
  • With the proliferation of online job applications, applicant tracking systems for recruiters are inadvertently screening out candidates who would actually be a fit.
  • Employers have neglected their in-house training programs, prohibiting them from “growing up” current employees and enhancing their performance.

Even taking all of this into consideration, the bottom line is this: there’s still a gap. A gap is basically the point at which two ends are not connecting. Employers are obviously not connecting with the skilled workers they want to hire.

THAT is a gap.

Bridging the skills gap

Since that’s all figured out, we have yet another question to address: how can you bridge this gap?

Well, if you’re an executive search consultant (and I’m guessing you just might be), then part of your job description is to help employers find the most highly qualified and skilled workers and recruit them. However, you might face the same challenges that we outlined in the above section: the four explanations for why the skills gap is an illusion.

So let’s say you face those challenges and you are unable to overcome them. For the most part, anyway. What can you do?

Contract staffing offers an excellent option for helping to bridge the skills gap for employers. That’s because contracting opens up a whole new avenue for employers to find the skilled labor and top candidates they want to hire. There are three main contract staffing options available to organizations that are hungry for the talent they need. They include traditional contract staffing, temp-to-direct conversions, and retiree re-staffing.

How to close the skills gap

These three options are outlined in more detail below:

#1—Traditional contract staffing

From the recruiting perspective, this is much like a direct hire agreement: the recruiter gets the contract job order, locates the candidate, and negotiates contract rates. This is extremely common when a client has a large project or a critical deadline. The employer can still get the work done that they need done by a skilled worker. They’re just hiring the worker on a contract basis as opposed to a full-time one.

#2—Temp-to-direct conversions

This operates the same way as a traditional contract staffing placement. However, the intention here is to convert the candidate to a direct hire after six to 12 months if they meet the necessary goals and expectations during the contract period. A temp-to-hire contract gives the employer the chance to work hand-in-hand with the candidate before making the long-term commitment of hiring them directly. This is also referred to as “try-before-you-buy.”

#3—Retiree re-staffing

If a company’s skilled workers are set to retire, they can bring them back on a contract basis. Many organizations are taking advantage of this option, since they can’t afford to lose the skills and experience of retiring workers . . . both literally and figuratively.

Here’s the best part: if you’re a recruiter, you can offer all of these options and then use contract placement services to handle the legal, financial, and administrative details of the placements. The back-office will take care of everything—so both you and your client don’t have to worry about it.

So your clients gets the skilled workers and talent that they’re looking for you, you make a placement, and you look like a hero in the process.

The skills gap does exist. It is having an impact on employers, including your clients. Introducing creative options and solutions, including contract staffing, is a great way to bridge the gap.

And that’s a best-case scenario for everyone involved.

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