A good hire is increasingly hard to find.

More than two-thirds of HR professionals across industries report challenging recruiting conditions, according to a new study by the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), The New Talent Landscape: Recruiting Difficulty and Skills Shortages. And while all industries are facing hiring issues, the report singles out the health, social assistance and manufacturing industries as having the greatest difficulties.

A combination of factors underlies today’s treacherous hiring terrain, including a low number of applicants with appropriate skills and work experience, competition for the best talent and a shortage of qualified local individuals. In particular, the SHRM report singles out issues related to skills shortages, job training and recruitment strategies.

Skills shortages: Fifty-nine percent of the HR professionals surveyed are finding that job applicants lack basic skills, while 84% report a dearth of applied skills. All industries report shortages of candidates with basic computer skills and the ability to write in English. However, some industries were more likely than others to face shortfalls in certain skill sets. For instance, HR professionals in food service, construction and manufacturing reported greater difficulties finding candidates with proficiency in spoken English.

The skills gap is pervasive and growing. For instance, Georgetown University’s Center on Education and the Workforce projects that by 2020 the U.S. will face deficits of 3 million workers with associates degrees or higher.

To close these gaps, Mary Clagett, director of national workforce policy at nonprofit Jobs for the Future (JFF), is promoting sector strategies and career pathways initiatives.

“Sector strategies bring together regional partnerships of employers and education, workforce and economic development organizations to establish education and training programs that meet the skill needs of their industries,” Clagett states in the SHRM report. “Career pathways systems formally align the education, workforce and supportive services needed to successfully guide a wide range of individuals, including those who are underprepared, through the continuum of education and training necessary for credentials that can lead to family-sustaining careers.”

Another factor making it more difficult for job seekers to develop and maintain requisite job skills is the growing variety of skills required for an increasing number of jobs. “HR professionals report that (such) jobs are more difficult to fill than they were previously,” acknowledges Jen Schramm, manager of SHRM’s Workforce Trends and Forecasting program and the project lead for the research.

Training: Despite the very real skills shortage, almost one-third of the organizations surveyed have not had a training budget over the past 12 months. Among those that do, 11% say those budgets have been reduced over the past year; 39% report an increase, and 50% remained the same. Employees receive training through conferences, seminars, workshops and professional organizations or on-the-job. A small number of firms say they have registered apprenticeship programs, but larger organizations with 2500-plus employees were more likely to have these programs than smaller firms.

Recruitment strategies: The most common recruitment strategies, according to the SHRM research, are making use of social media, collaborating with educational institutions and expanding advertising efforts. However, the approach considered most effective by the survey participants is to train existing employees to take on hard-to-fill roles. “This emphasizes the need to address skills gaps within the existing workforce,” says the report.

The report also notes that HR professionals at smaller organizations are more likely than their counterparts at larger organizations to improve the benefits package as a recruiting strategy.

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