The numbers are shocking. More than half of American employers say they have an open job for which they can’t find suitable candidates, and 24 percent of companies have listed “attracting new talent” as a high business priority for 2016.

The skills gap is real, though its causes may not be what you expect. The job force has enough workers with basic reading and math skills, and it also has enough engineers and other workers with technical training.

So where is the gap? It’s primarily in information technology. Employers simply cannot find enough workers with the skills to deal with new technologies. IT has changed so rapidly in its technical advancements and service demands that it is difficult for workers to keep up. Field service managers struggle to find talent with both technical and customer service skills, which presents issues as new technologies (like the Internet of Things) emerge in the service industry.

Fortunately, the on-demand economy is growing, offering highly specialized workers to help field service organizations bridge these gaps and ease staffing dilemmas.

Here’s how the skills gap has emerged — and how the on-demand and gig economy is filling the void.

Where Does the Skills Gap Come From?

For some time, the idea of a skills gap was controversial. Some argued it could be solved merely by offering better pay or benefits. This has not been the case. While better pay can attract more highly qualified candidates, it cannot conjure them from thin air when they do not exist.

A DeVry University study predicts that by 2025, there could be up to 20 million jobs without enough qualified workers to fill them, and by 2018, a shortage of 1.7 million workers with big data skills is expected to affect the U.S. alone.

Why don’t workers have the skills employers are looking for? One of the biggest causes is inadequate education. The skills required for today’s field service jobs aren’t being taught at many institutions. Technologies, industry standards, and programming languages are evolving at a fast pace, and schools have trouble keeping up with these rapid changes. What’s more, many instructors at universities and trade schools learned their tech skills in an era before data sharing and the IoT, which has left a today’s professionals to learn new technologies and platforms on the job.

Filling the Gap in the Field Service Industry

Recognizing the lack of relevant education in today’s technology professions has spurred the field service industry to introduce new sources of education as solutions, and target specialized workers to form a high quality network of technicians and freelancers.

Workers and employers are getting more creative in finding ways to address the skills gap through unconventional education tools. AT&T and Udacity offer a “nanodegree,” which promises to provide “industry credentials for today’s tech jobs.”

For field service managers, part of the solution to addressing the skills gap is reversing the trend of cutting back on training — and then identifying individuals who can learn quickly, rather than focusing on finding highly specific skills.

The need for ongoing training is reflected in the many online education companies that have cropped up to teach the skills formal institutions often miss. Udemy, Coursera, and other online education companies offer online courses, often free-of-charge, that teach technical, creative and business skills.

Not all businesses have the resources to directly invest in such training. This is where the field service industry plays a major role in helping to solve the skills gap. Increasingly, organizations can rely on freelancers and contract workers to fill the work they need done — especially work that requires skilled service providers. The rise of the gig economy means there are literally millions of Americans who can provide specialized skills for businesses on a freelance or contract basis. Contractors provide a wide range of technical services relating to point-of-sale systems, networking, telecom and much more.

In the mission to bridge the skills gap, businesses are finding that aside from investing in employee training, they can turn to the field service industry to hire skilled freelancers and contract workers to fill their service gaps and pain points.

It is tough to keep on top of the changing world of IT — yet those in field services may be in the best position to do just that. The possibilities of virtual reality, 3D printing, biometrics and a whole host of other technologies are only beginning to be explored. Today, the effect technologies like robots will have on workplaces, jobs and businesses can scarcely be imagined.

As these fields continue to evolve, field service leaders will have to adapt to make use of them. There’s a lot at stake — it pays to mind the gap.

ABOUT Mynul Khan

Avatar photoMynul Khan founded Field Nation in 2008 in Minneapolis, Minn. He has a programming and data analyst background, as well as a honed “growth hacking” business focus that drives Field Nation strategy and motivates him to grow the Field Nation team. Mynul possesses a BS in Computer Science and is actively involved in technology decisions as well as strategy direction. Today, Mynul is focused on aggressive company growth and opportunistically expanding around the world through regional partnerships and local incubators.