Mike Kohler brings a wealth of skills to his job as a trainer at the Larimer County Economic & Workforce Development Department in Fort Collins, Colorado. With years of public and private experience in media relations, telecommunications, and government affairs, Mike provides leadership and workforce development training to small- and medium-sized businesses through the program he leads, Elevate. 

As part of his work, Mike has facilitated more than 25 Skill Works trainings to 36 businesses and 114 trainees. Skillful’s Skill Works offers employers step-by-step guidance on how to implement skills-based practices. We sat down with Mike to chat about employers’ talent pain points and what they can do to address them. 

In your work at the Larimer County Workforce Development Center, you’ve trained or interacted with hundreds of employers. What are their most common talent pain points?

Three things come to mind. 

One: employers regularly tell me that they struggle to find and keep the “right” people. Many speak about the lack of “soft” skills, what I like to call foundational skills. They say that they have a hard time finding people with the ability to solve problems, think critically, and resolve conflict. 

Two: ageism. Employers worry that experienced candidates will want too much money.

Three: HR professionals are often overworked and underpaid. They need to know that, if they want to change the way they hire, they don’t need to reinvent the wheel. The tools are out there. I like to tell them that they can change their game if they see opportunities that make sense.

That’s why they come to the Skill Works trainings I lead. They want to know how to hire right, and want to explore how hiring and training based on skills can help them get there. 

You also work with job seekers. How are they faring in today’s labor market?

Many of the people I work with struggle to articulate their skills and end up missing opportunities. My trainings focus on how to get them in front of the right people, the people who need to hear their skill story. What can they do for an employer? That’s the question they need to answer.

But job seekers not knowing how to articulate their skills is only one side of the problem. If employers aren’t hiring based on candidates’ skills, then a skills-based resume and cover letter are not going to help the candidate very much. 

What I’m seeing isn’t so much a skills gap, as a communications gap between employers and job seekers. That’s why my favorite section of Skill Works is the job posting section. Fix the job posting, be explicit about what you need, be open about the expectations, and tell candidates exactly what you hope they’ll come to the job with. Then you’ll attract the best talent.

It’s so simple.

What kind of feedback have you received from people who have taken your trainings?

Mike Kohler
Mike Kohler

I have a couple of heroes in the Elevate program. One of them, someone in manufacturing, told me about how he was approached by a 69-year-old woman, who said, “I want a production job. I have the skills for it. And I can pass your physical test.” The physical test requires that candidates lift 50 pounds over their head, and this woman did it. She was hired. The person who hired her did so because he was looking at what she could bring to the company. 

Many employers say that people aren’t loyal anymore. I say that they’re not loyal because the wrong people are coming on for the wrong reasons. When you hire for the right reasons, when you hire based on skills, people are more likely to stick around. Purpose-driven culture is a real thing, not just inspirational TED talk material. It’s bottom-line impact.

If you’d like to attend an Elevate or Skill Works training in Larimer County, email Mike at mkohler@larimer.org or connect with him on LinkedIn.