You Need to Address Skills Gaps Before It's Too Late Does your workforce face a skills gap? Here's how to tell and what to do about it.
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Does your workforce have the skills necessary to be successful today? How about 10 years from now? Many companies reluctantly admit "no" — some don't even know the answer.
Amid the Great Resignation and global talent shortages today, companies also grapple with "the skills gap," a fundamental mismatch between the skills their employees have and what's actually needed to perform their jobs well. What's more, the skill sets that employees require don't stay static — a reflection of the dynamic business landscape, the breakneck pace of change, the automation of previously manual tasks and more. So, many organizations face a skills gap not just now, but in the future as well.
Consider these telling statistics:
- 58% of the workforce needs new skills to get their jobs done, according to Gartner.
- Nearly half of learning and development leaders (46%) say the skills gap is widening at their organizations this year — up four points from 2021 data, per LinkedIn.
- More than 85 million jobs globally could go unfilled by 2030, without enough skilled people to take them, according to consultancy Korn Ferry — resulting in an $8.5 trillion loss from unrealized annual revenues.
Beyond the sucker punch to the bottom line, an unchecked skills gap breeds other negative consequences:
- A loss in productivity and efficiency.
- Lack of agility and innovation. In information technology (IT), in particular, executives cite talent shortages as the biggest barrier to the adoption of 64% of emerging technologies, per Gartner.
- Attrition. LinkedIn shares that employees who feel their skills are not being put to good use are 10 times more likely to seek new employment. This discontentment often ripples across the organization, in a "domino effect."
It's clear the skills gap presents short-term and long-term problems that can't be ignored. In my role as CEO of an e-learning company, organizations frequently ask me about the skills gap and how to address it, both now and in the future.
1. Identify the skills you need over the short- and long-term
Consider the roles you need to fill now, but also look into the future: Over the next five to 10 years, what roles will be crucial and propel your organization ahead while aligning with your investments and strategic direction? Importantly, define the specific skill sets associated with each role so you can develop and hire the right talent.
How can you conduct this research? Surveys and needs assessments among employees and leaders provide valuable information. But don't stop there. You can also tap focus groups, look at your competitors and industry, and engage industry analysts for valuable insights.
2. Conduct a current skills assessment
For example, at my company, CYPHER LEARNING, HR leads the charge in periodically taking stock of skills across our employee base. This is a useful exercise; you may find individuals with untapped skills, such as a marketer who also has design expertise they can build on.
By comparing the skills your employees have with what they need, you can create or procure training — such as on sales messaging, product details, technology tools, leadership attributes, etc. — to fill gaps you find. There may also be instances where it makes sense to plug some gaps by hiring.
3. Focus on skills development
However, because it's typically less costly to retrain a current employee than to hire and onboard a new one (while also waiting for the new hire to hit time-to-productivity), skills development programs can help your current workforce develop and master the skills it needs. And with demands changing in today's digitally transformed and often hybrid workforce, programs for upskilling, reskilling and right-skilling can help maximize agility and productivity.
Technology today contributes to more meaningful and personalized skills development. For example, working with their managers, employees can set learning goals associated with their current and desired roles. Then, their learning system can provide intelligent, automated recommendations based on those goals, and the skills and competencies tied to them — whether it's to retake a course, participate in a forum, connect with an expert, watch a video, etc. Machine learning can further personalize the recommendations and learning journey, based on the individual's previous experience, skills mastered, interests and more.
Effective skills development contributes to a culture of internal mobility and employee satisfaction and longevity. LinkedIn notes that companies that excel at internal mobility retain employees two times longer than those that don't!
4. Make learning available and equitable
In many cases, it's time to dispense with the "gating" of training content. Sure, someone in an IT role likely doesn't need to see sales training content and a software developer likely won't need a course on client relations — so you may want to make those role-specific. But for soft skills training, in particular, consider opening up the content so it's publicly available across the organization. Courses on leadership and communication skills, for example, may be interesting and useful to employees at large in their career progressions.
Making training equitable also means adhering to accessibility guidelines and standards, so your content is inclusive. And be mindful of your audience so examples in your content resonate with them.
5. Develop a learning ecosystem
A learning ecosystem — encompassing people, processes, technology, systems and infrastructure, with online and offline components — contributes to a culture of continuous learning and skills development. Your training content and strategies are also key parts of that ecosystem.
When you have an effective, interconnected learning ecosystem and a positive learning culture, it's much easier for your organization to deliver training programs on a continuous basis. Learning programs can be agile too, adapted to employee needs and feedback, and responsive to areas for improvement. On-demand e-learning is often an important part of the learning ecosystem: a way to deliver training that can be rolled out (and modified) quickly and easily, consumed at the employee's convenience and tracked to measure completion, comprehension and mastery.
Addressing skills gaps now and in the future
Once you determine where and why skills gaps exist, it's time to take action. By incorporating the tips above, your business can close the gap and open opportunities for greater resilience and innovation.