Bridging the “Access Gap”

Most of us are familiar with the “skills gap” problem in today’s job market. Part of the mismatch between open positions and available talent may be caused by a lack of skills in the job seeker’s interest, and an educational skills gap or a soft skills gap can lead some job seekers to struggle while others thrive. However, current research suggests that something else is going on – an access gap – keeping many job seekers from finding work on the job market even when they have the skills employers are looking for. 

In December of 2021, the Bureau of Labor Statistics reported approximately 2.2 million Americans were qualified as “long-term unemployed,” or unemployed while actively seeking jobs for over 27 weeks. This is nearly double the long-term unemployment rate pre-pandemic, despite the economy steadily improving since. This is troubling to job seekers and employers, who face a nationwide labor shortage despite the higher unemployment rate. 

The skills gap has widened partly because of a mismatch between educational opportunities and the skills employers seek in entry-level positions. However, increased training and workforce development only seem to close this gap a little. So when job seekers have both the education and soft skills to be ideal candidates, why are they still struggling to find jobs in their industries?

Below are a few fundamental issues creating the “access gap” that stunts growth for talented professionals and businesses across the U.S.

“It’s About Who You Know”

Most of us have heard the phrase “It’s about who you know, not what you know” when discussing the job market. Unfortunately, despite advanced recruiting options and a massive talent pool seeking work, we see time and time again small businesses look within their inner social circle to hire. While this is not true for some brands, it is one of the crippling factors leading to economic or socially disadvantaged populations struggling to match their skills to available positions. 

The best way to curb this is actively to seek out talent in your local community. Businesses can find more diverse candidates by connecting with workforce development resources, Job Corps resources, colleges, and other organizations. 

Biases in Hiring Protocol

We all have unconscious biases that can lead us to make less-than-optimal hiring decisions. Below are some of the most common tendencies in hiring, which highlights why hiring decisions should be collaborative and overseen by several people in the chain of command: 

  • Halo/Horn effect – When one perceived positive or negative attribute of a candidate sways your entire opinion of their ability to fit the role. For example, if an applicant graduated from a good school, you may overlook their poor employment history or other red flags because you’re focused on the positive. Conversely, if you dislike a candidate because they have a tattoo, you may overlook their past performance and education and instead focus on the aspect you do not like. 
  • Affinity/Similarity bias – This bias happens when you choose a candidate for a job because you like their personality or notice similarities between you when they have no natural effect on their ability to do the job. So, for example, if you are introverted, you may be more likely to hire someone who is more subdued in an interview than extroverted and enthusiastic, despite the latter applicant’s qualifications. 
  • Identity biases – Despite our best intentions, many of us hold unconscious biases against people of a particular sex, race, gender, age, or other non-contributing factors to their jobs. For example, Harvard Business Review found that if a woman is in an applicant pool where there are no other female applicants, she has a 0% chance of getting the job (if there are other women, she has a more fair chance correlating to the number of applicants in the pool). These biases can lead to hiring the wrong candidate for a job, which 75% of employers admit to doing at least once in the hiring process. 

Ensuring access to employment is an uphill climb that proactive businesses are willing to make to bridge the gap between talent and available jobs. Workforce Development programs like the ones Eckerd Connects offers are an excellent link between employers and qualified employees as they aim to bridge this gap.