Allen Blue, LinkedIn, talks about the skills gap at the 2017 Milken Institute Global Conference.

‘The skills gap is a moving target’ says LinkedIn’s Allen Blue

The LinkedIn co-founder tells WorkingNation's Ramona Schindelheim that his company is applying data-driven solutions to accelerate the closure of the skills gap.

WorkingNation Executive Producer and Senior Business Correspondent Ramona Schindelheim continues her series of interviews with top executives on how their companies are taking on the problem of the skills gap.

Photo of LinkedIn user.
Photo – Shutterstock

LinkedIn is in the business of connecting jobs with people and people with jobs. Anyone familiar with the social media platform knows that companies use it to post job openings, listing the skills and experience they’re looking for to fill an open position. Job seekers use it to post their CVs, listing the skills and experience they have. If the opening and skills align, it could lead to a job match.

With 500 million members worldwide, LinkedIn also has collected a lot of valuable information about the overall state of the job market, and they want to use it to help speed up finding solutions to closing the skills gap.

“At LinkedIn, what we’re seeing is a snapshot of the moment. We have a good idea of who’s out there and what skills they’ve got. We also have pretty good visibility into new jobs as they appear,” according to Allen Blue, the co-founder of LinkedIn and its Vice President of Product Management. (Full disclosure: Blue is also a member of WorkingNation’s executive committee.)

Blue says that information gives his company a real-time, deep-dive look at the talent gap. “We have the ability to look at the information and say, for instance, the biggest single skill gap in Denver is among medical records technicians. That’s a place where the need is very high, and the supply is low. And in those cases, what we need to say is, ‘Hey, can we possibly light up training quickly to take advantage of those openings?’,” Blue says.

The problem, Blue tells me, is that the connection between the need for skilled workers and training solutions is not happening fast enough. The whole cycle of first bringing together businesses with educators, and then with workers, can take as long as two, even three years. “The skills gap is a moving target. We want to get to the place where, within weeks of new skills being required, we can detect a gap, and we can put the employer directly together with the educator.”

“The thing that makes LinkedIn potentially powerful is that we already bring the employers and the individuals together at that place. And if the educators join that group, then we have all the participants together in one spot. We can actually build a marketplace which hooks the three together,” says Blue.

He says a platform like LinkedIn could theoretically allow employers to signal directly to local educators with no lag time. “We want to make sure that employers have a simple mechanism for signaling what they need, for individuals to talk about what they actually know about, and then for schools to talk about how they can fill in the gaps in skills.”

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Blue says the only way to solve the skills gap of the size now facing the United States is to work with every employer, no matter its size, and with every educator. “The economy is a big, complex system. And there’s no one person; there are not even going to be one, or two, or three, or four persons or entities you can go to attack a problem of this scale and complexity. Do it together with everybody.”

LinkedIn, like many other companies, is struggling to hire tech workers of its own. While Silicon Valley is a mecca for software engineers, everyone is fighting for a pool of skilled workers that is just too small.

Last year the company started a six-month pilot apprentice program called REACH to help fill the talent shortage. More than 700 people applied. The goal, according to LinkedIn, was to tap into a talent pool of people passionate about computer science but who came by their initial programming training in a non-traditional way.

83 percent of REACH’s inaugural cohort was employed by LinkedIn or another software company. Photo – LinkedIn

“We brought in 30 people who had come from different careers, and some came right out of school. All of them had some limited coding training, but not a Computer Science degree. They had taken a General Assembly course, or they had gone to community college and learned it there,” says Blue.

The apprentices included people with marketing backgrounds and some who had run their own businesses. All were looking to transition into a career in programming.

They were each assigned to a specific team with a manager who individually coached and mentored them. They were given hands-on training in jobs which delivered products to LinkedIn members. At the end of the six months, the managers evaluated the apprentices on their performance and their potential to continue their training to become software engineers.

LinkedIn hired 24 of the apprentices and another one got a job at a different company. They were hired in a variety of roles, including web development and mobile app development.

Eventually, according to Blue, he believes the new hires will end up as front-end software engineers. “That’s a pretty good investment on our part, and it’s worth our doing that because we need the people.”

Blue tells me LinkedIn wants to set an example for other companies struggling to find skilled employees.

“Every time there’s a skills gap, and there’s not just one skills gap at the moment, there are opportunities which come from them. There are opportunities for companies to invest, to create the next collection of software engineers, or medical records technicians or advanced manufacturing workers,” Blue says. “Those opportunities are there because the company really need them, and companies are willing to invest. Every company that’s on the losing end of the skills gap, who says “I can’t hire people I need,” can become a force for training them, for changing the face of the American worker.”

WATCH: Blue participated in WorkingNation’s panel “Unbound: Retraining the American Workforce” at the 2017 Milken Institute Global Conference which you can watch below.

Join the Conversation: We invite you to share your thoughts on how LinkedIn is working to close the skills gap on our Facebook page.

Catch up on previous C-Suite Solutions stories here.

Connect with Ramona via Twitter or her website. You can read her previous articles for WorkingNation at this link.