Manage the talent pipeline to close the middle-skills employment gap

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When millions of people remain unemployed in the U.S. even as millions of jobs go unfilled, something is out of alignment within the talent ecosystem.

That’s one of the insights of a new Accenture report, “Finding the middle: How businesses can manage the talent pipeline to close the middle-skills employment gap.” The report focuses on what businesses can do to address the inefficiencies, misunderstandings and lack of preparedness that prevent these jobs from being filled.

Why focus on middle skills? Because estimates show that almost half of all job postings today (47 percent) are for middle-skills jobs—those requiring more than a high school diploma but less than a four-year degree.

Accenture research has found that 73 percent of employers expect to see their need for middle-skills jobs grow in the next two to three years.

Employers need to take action to influence the full middle-skills talent supply chain—the overall process by which talent is sourced, developed, deployed and retained.

Strong leadership, adept at managing the demands of multiple stakeholders, will be especially important.

Businesses that make the investments necessary to close the middle-skills gap—establishing rigorous processes for working with talent suppliers and investing in skills development for new and existing workers—will be better positioned to compete in a global economy.

Closing the Gap
Learn more about how companies can close the middle-skills employment gap.

Read the full report, Bridge the Gap: Rebuilding America’s Middle Skills, from Accenture, Burning Glass Technologies and Harvard Business School.

View the Infographic: U.S. Companies Expect Demand for Middle-Skills Jobs to Increase


Why does America’s skills gap—especially for solid, middle-skills jobs—refuse to shrink? What decisive steps can employers, educators, and potential employees take to end the skills/jobs misalignment? Who should take the lead in bridging the gap?

To probe these complex questions, Harvard Business School launched a research initiative in 2013 in partnership with Accenture and Burning Glass Technologies.

The full report released by the research team is titled Bridge the Gap: Rebuilding America’s Middle Skills. It identifies a plan of action for employers, educators and policymakers.

This report, “Finding the middle: How businesses can manage the talent pipeline to close the middle-skills employment gap,” looks in particular at what employers can do to more effectively manage the overall talent supply chain for middle-skills jobs.


According to the Accenture Middle-Skills Survey, 69 percent of employers say that their inability to attract and retain middle-skills talent frequently affects their company’s performance.

Though this situation threatens a company’s ability to grow and compete globally, investment in the right activities can also strengthen competitive advantage.

For example:

  • Companies that create partnerships with community colleges and technical schools can help shape a more relevant curriculum.

  • Better communication with government workforce agencies and community-based organizations can improve the matching of qualified people with available jobs.

  • Better internship and apprenticeship programs, combined with more effective training for entry-level positions, can create larger pools of qualified workers.


Employers need to more effectively manage the entire talent supply chain—from forecasting and planning, to partnerships with schools and government agencies, to training and development initiatives.

  • Map future talent needs: Companies should focus on those jobs that are most important to their business strategies. Just as companies design different supply chains for different kinds of inventory, so should firms discriminate between jobs essential to their competitiveness versus those that do not offer strong pathways to a career. Companies can also join with other employers—either in their region or from within their industry—to develop better forecasts of skills requirements.

  • Build a talent pipeline: Applying supply chain management thinking to the sourcing of middle-skills talent can bring new discipline to human resources functions in areas such as defining job descriptions, analyzing the performance of both unsuccessful and successful job candidates, and working with educators to leverage emerging requirements as a means to update the curriculum.

  • Develop talent pool relationships: Employers need to treat community and technical colleges (a primary source of middle-skills talent) as they treat other suppliers of critical resources. They need to invest in a relationship with partners in the system, especially around communications. The various parties can collaborate in establishing shared metrics, developing standards and communications protocols, and exchanging data about actual results.

  • Reinvigorate talent development: If companies are to take the lead in eliminating the middle-skills gap, working with educators and workforce intermediaries is just the first step. It is equally important to develop complementary internal development programs. These include:

  • Providing training to entry-level and newer employees.

  • Offering internships and apprenticeships.

  • Hiring interns and apprentices more regularly.