In all the talk about the mismatch between the projected number of STEM jobs (1.2 million new ones in the next six years) and the U.S.-based talent to fill those positions, we’re losing sight of another big skills gap that’s right under our fingers every day.
Ninety percent of all jobs in the next year will require information and communication technology skills, according to research by Capgemini. Yet more than half the companies polled lacked social media skills. That’s despite a McKinsey report that projects social media adding up to $1.3 trillion to our economy. No wonder the gap is poised to create a war for talent that quietly rivals the battle playing out amid the startups of Silicon Valley.
Most companies naturally recruit millennials to fill positions that rely heavily on hopscotching through the digital social realm. That’s a mistake, says William Ward, Ph.D., because many digital natives used Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the like, strictly for maintaining connections to friends.
In fact, one in ten young people are rejected from a job because of their social presence on the web. "They are missing the bigger picture on how to use social media to help businesses meet their goals," says Ward, social media professor at Syracuse and Hootsuite’s director of educational strategy.
The problem starts in school, he says. Social media is blocked at many K-12 schools. On top of that Ward notes, "They hear a lot about what not to do on Facebook, but they’re not being taught to use social media as an advantage." The challenge mounts in college where digital and social education is "hit or miss," depending on the student’s course work. Not to mention professors who encourage students to put their laptops away to deter multitasking (not that there's anything wrong with that).
After graduating, Ward says, they often land in a job that provides no training and no one telling them how to meet professional objectives, despite the potential motherlode of research and analytics that social media provides. "It’s a really different skill set," he says.
But it’s not one lacking exclusively in millennials, Ward, a Gen Xer himself, points out. When a company gaffes on Twitter, for example, Ward says people are quick to point fingers at the youth behind the social feed. "That’s where #BlameTheIntern came from," he quips.
"Millennials need help because they don’t have the professional skill set, but older people don’t have the social skills to apply business knowledge," he explains. "All kinds of people make mistakes," he adds, "It’s a human being problem."
What’s a company to do?
For Tom Gimbel, president and CEO of LaSalle Network, a Chicago-based staffing and recruiting firm, it’s a chicken and egg conundrum. "Social media savvy millennials are attracted to companies that are active on social media," he observes. Yet the Capgemini survey found that only 13% of companies described their efforts as advanced.
Ward says that Hootsuite created a whole program for professors to educate students interested in gaining expertise on social media. Hootsuite University provides a free curriculum for Social Business with on-demand video training. Ward ran a piloted of a program that is now offered in 300 universities.
For those already in jobs, there is a paid certification track ($21 per month) taught via video-based courseware such as "Storytelling on Tumblr" and webinars that lead to certification. Over 11,000 professionals have successfully completed the course globally, says Ward.
Over at Mount Sinai Health Systems in New York, John Ambrose, Esq., the hospital network’s social media director is taking an internal approach. "We are in the process of launching a Social Learning Program to capitalize on and increase employee activism and engagement, and to teach responsible social media usage to new employees," he says.
Currently Mount Sinai has a healthy presence on Facebook (97,000+ likes), Twitter (24,500 followers) Google+ (909,847 views) as well as a blog and a YouTube channel. Ambrose says the the social media department is already offering boot camps to physicians, nurses, students, residents, registered dietitians, technicians, and other staff on how to use the various platforms.
For a health care organization, this may seem counterintuitive considering privacy regulations and compliance. But in addition to fostering a strong culture and boosting morale, Ambrose says the primary goal is to increase awareness and educate patients.
"We discuss best practices, social media and branding guidelines, HIPAA and privacy issues, strategy, metrics, and listening," as well as training on analytics tools, says Ambrose. "Currently, over 800 members of our staff interact with our channels, manage their own professional channels or submit blog articles, tips, and other content," he says.
"Our employees are our primary brand champions and the individuals that are directly interfacing with patients, so who better than to represent us online?" Ambrose adds.
Ambrose says Mount Sinai also keeps track of who applies and joins talent communities through social media sources such as LinkedIn and Facebook, and their engagement levels prior to joining the organization.
This can be key for companies eager to boost their social cred but that don’t have the means yet to do it internally. Ambrose says they don’t keep data on who comes in with social media skills, and that’s likely because many people don’t list social expertise as a skill on their resume.
That’s why Tom Gimbel of LaSalle Networks advises hiring managers to do their homework, on social media, of course. "Look for [a candidate’s] overall interaction and communication," he suggests. Between sharing relevant, industry-related content and having followers split between personal and professional, they should project an overall level of engagement.
"People who truly understand social media realize that the sole purpose is not just for sharing content, it's about expanding networks by connecting and interacting with people," he contends.
And beware of big numbers, says Gimbel. "Are they connecting just to connect, or are they strategic about who they are linking with? An over-saturated list of connections can be seen just as negatively as having less than 10," he explains.
"Taking interaction a step further, look to see if candidates are interacting on twitter chats, which are dialogues open to the public that hone in on a specific topic," he adds. "We're starting to see this become a skill put on a resume because it does take strategic effort to build an impressive page and following."