Skills Gap Is A Reality: Know These 10 Steps to Address It in 2020

At the start of 2019, 7 million U.S. jobs remained unfilled! The two most serious problems most organizations face today are:

  • Finding qualified workers
  • Closing skills gap among its employees.

A problem of this nature, i.e., where employees are not up on par with the industry when it comes to skills, has many consequences, ranging from missing on growth opportunities to low profit margins.

In a majority of the cases, employers are forced to hire less than the ideal candidates due to various reasons. However, they spend a lot on “upskilling” these employees once they onboard. This increases the cost of bad hires. Learning platforms like Simpliv can go a long way in reducing this training cost considerably and effectively.

Before we continue further, let us first get an idea of these issues:

  • What does skills gap mean?
  • Does it really exist?

Skills gap, also sometimes referred to as skills gaps, is the difference between what the company or the industry expects from an employee in terms of skills needed for performing at the job and the abilities that the employee brings or has. Thus, a skills gap is a clear imbalance between the job requirements and the ability the employee has for carrying these out.

Many skeptics believe that “skills gap” is a lie. They support the claim that skills gap is due to lack of available employment opportunities rather than due to lack of required skills set. There have been numerous studies done which supports the contrary and confirms that skills gap is a reality today!

Skills gap can be either technical or nontechnical. Before I go into the details of this topic, I would like to suggest a useful, yet simple learning that you can gain as we start to dissect this topic. The reason I am suggesting this course to you is that it is a terrific example of how learning can bridge a nontechnical skill. This is a starting point to understanding how a skill such as bargaining, when learnt, can go a long way in helping to win contracts.

Back to this blog, these are the topics I will be visiting over the next few lines:

  • What is skills gap?
  • Impact of skills gaps for employers
  • Understanding skills gap analysis
  • How to develop and conduct a skills gap analysis
  • Bridging the skills gap/things to do after a skills gap analysis
  • What should the plan for bridging the skills gap be about?
  • Adaptive learning as a means to overcome the real skills shortage
  • How to ensure the success of continuous learning and development, i.e., what does ‘ongoing training’ mean?
  • How competitive will the future workforce be?
  • Online training option to bridge skills gap?

In this blog on skills gap, I will be looking at this topic from various perspectives:

What is skills gap?

Not much is left to be added to what has already been covered regarding this topic. So, to reinforce our grasp of this concept, we can understand skills gap as the shortfall in an employee’s capability for performing a job vis-à-vis what is demanded of the role or position.  

Impact of skills gaps for employers

Just how serious a problem is skills gap for organizations? There are some who argue that a skills gap is purely imaginary and that organizations should be more realistic and sensitive to understanding the hire’s abilities rather than heap undue expectations and then suffer when these are not delivered. Well, this is what I have to say: authors are entitled to have their viewpoints. Rather than getting into a debate about such a perspective, let us start assessing what kinds of effects skills gaps bring for organizations.

The impact that organizations or employers face when their employees have a skill deficit can be frightening. In this world of frenetic changes being brought about by emerging technologies, the need for skills is higher than perhaps ever before. Unfortunately, even as no fewer than 90 percent of American organizations are likely to face the effects of these changes in some or another way, 70 percent of the managers feel their employees are not skilled enough to face this challenge.

Let us scrutinize some of the possibilities of skills gap that this Harvard Business Review article highlights:

There seems to be a skills gap vicious cycle that starts when students enroll for their higher education.  Due to the escalating cost of education in the US, most students start their career with an average loan of $ 30,000. Because of the mismatch between the education they learn while creating this debt and the real-life situation that they face when they realize that their skill is not what employers were looking for, they are underemployed from the first month of their working careers.

It is estimated that as many as 70% of small companies feel the effects of hiring university graduates with skills gaps. As this skill-job requirement gap widens, many employees feel compelled to opt out of their first job, further putting a strain on both their employers and their own repayment capacity. This creates a direct correlation between their earning and their repayment. This same article points to the fact that more than 50% of those who graduated between 2006 and 2011 have been defaulting on their loans.

This impacts many sectors in its wake, such as the lending institution, the college, the organization, the family and so on. From an organization’s own perspective, employees who do not possess what it takes to deliver crucial job capabilities are not likely to bring ROI.

Thus, skills gap is at the core of many vital issues and needs to be addressed in all seriousness. The first step that organizations need to be taking is to analyze just what skill acquisition is needed for its employees, for whom all, and how. This exercise is what one calls skills gap analysis.

Understanding skills gap analysis

In the context of what we have been discussing, skills gap analysis needs a description. Although fairly self-explanatory, a skills gap analysis can be understood as being an understanding or assessment of exactly what kind of discrepancy exists between the skills needed for performing well at a job and the capability the employee has for meeting the organization’s and clients’ expectations and present and future goals. In other words, a skills gap analysis is the evaluation of the productivity of employees, because they need the right skills to be productive.

Surveys, feedbacks, employee interviews, peer reviews and assessments are effective tools in helping organizations measure skills gaps. They help to locate and pinpoint the exact weaknesses that exist within employees.

Identifying and establishing what kind of training is needed to close skills gap or adapting the right hiring practices which forestall the recruitment of people with skills gap are vital components of a skills gap analysis.

How to develop and conduct a skills gap analysis

A skills gap analysis is a very vital activity that organizations must carry out. It should be a very logical and objective analysis that is not shaded by favoritism or nepotism. The more critical it is, the better the results for the organization. Organizations should ask themselves very pertinent questions relating to this area as they embark on a skills gap analysis. A few of these could be:

  • What are our short and long-term requirements?
  • Do our employees have it in them to deliver to our and our clients’ expectations?
  • What skills do we need from our employees?
  • Do they have these skills, or do they need to be taught these?
  • What will be the process by which we are going to impart this learning to them?
  • How much time and resource does it consume?
  • What are our benefits of carrying out skills gaps analysis?

So, the next important step is to understand how to conduct a skills gap analysis. This needs to be done in well laid out, concrete steps. These are some of them:

Identify the organization’s goals

Carrying out an analysis of the employees’ skills for a job is fine, but these skills are required to be exercised where? Obviously, this has to be in relation to the what the organization needs. So, an assessment of employee skills gaps cannot be made in a vacuum. The first step is to define the organization’s goals and objectives, and then map the employees’ skills to those.

Identify what roles are chosen for the skills

The organization has to identify employees in which roles will need to be reskilled. The commonsensical approach is to identify employees with roles that comes close to what are required for a certain project or assignment. Someone with creative ability obviously is not likely to make a good choice for a decision-making role.

List the skills needed for each position

The next logical step should be to specify the exact skills that are needed for each of these team members that are chosen for the job. This is all about getting down to the specifics. The organization has to understand which exact area an employee is lacking in and consider that as the area in which the gap exists.

For example, an employee in a marketing position can be very good at making a great first impression about the company through verbal presentations, but the same employee may be weak at following up and closing deals.

Map the skills with the requirements

Once this is done, the next step in developing a skills gap analysis is whetting the selection, i.e., comparing if the skills identified in an employee are what the organization expects them to have. Some of the questions they can frame and answer by themselves include:

  • Is there a gap between what we want from employee X and what she has?
  • Does she carry the skills needed for delivering for this project within the deadline and deliver to expectation?
  • If employee X does not have this particular skill, what is she good at, so that she can be tried at something she is good at?
  • Who could we turn to next?

Test to know

A very important exercise that organizations must do in this regard is to test the skills. Once the exercise of identifying the skills is over, how does the organization know it is doing the right thing? It is only when employees chosen for skills gaps are tested that a clear picture emerges. Or else, it becomes an exercise in complete guesswork.

Make a plan and deliver on it

Once the employees are tested for their skills and their gaps in relation to the organization’s requirements, it should plan a skills gaps analysis and go ahead with the next steps for giving them these skills. What is planned must be implemented with an eye on the deadline.

Bridging the skills gap/things to do after a skills gap analysis

Identifying the skills gap is one step. The bigger, more important one is to see how to close the skills gap. These are what are needed to bridge the skills gap. These are some of the things organizations should do after a skills gap analysis:

Needless to say, the only real antidote to bridging skills gap within organizations is to train and reskill employees. This much is agreed upon, but here again, just like how organizations need to be focused and pinpointed about identifying skills gap, they need to be as focused when it comes to addressing them, as well.

This means that organizations need to clear about how to customize the learning and training based on the individual’s needs. This requires enormous patience and understanding, especially in bigger organizations. But when organizations look at the alternative to this, the cost of which is incalculably higher; they have to get down to carrying out a comprehensive training program that recognizes the strengths and needs of each employee in relation to the skill she needs at her job.

What should the plan for bridging the skills gap be about?

Closing the skills gap at a gigantic scale requires meticulous planning and proper implementation.

  • First, the exact training needs have to be identified
  • Questionnaires, surveys and other such self-assessment tools should be used to arrive at the required skills gaps to be filled
  • The training needs have to be assessed based on these feedbacks
  • Bespoke training, rather than formal education or a blanket, “one-size-fits-all” approach, should be adapted
  • The measures must be targeted and tailored to the level of the individual, based on her qualification, talent and experience
  • The training should aim to enhance existing competencies and strengthen the weak areas. The organization’s leadership should take a call on which employees need soft skills training and which, hard skills
  • A systematic approach should be adapted to measure the skills gap training. This is best done by linking the benefits of the training to the criticality of the business
  • Rewarding quick learning can be a good incentive to induce training, although this is not advised for all situations.

Adaptive learning as a means to overcome the real skills shortage

Adaptive learning or adaptive teaching has been gaining credence in the corporate training circles. At its core, it is an approach to teaching wherein customized learning experiences are handed down to the learner based on the individual’s unique learning needs, rather than taking a blanket approach.

This approach goes extremely well with skills gaps training, because the skills gap are exclusive to individual employees. Not all employees have the same skill deficiencies. A standardized approach is never going to a proper model for closing skills gaps. The way of going about adaptive learning has been illustrated above.

How to ensure the success of continuous learning and development, i.e., what does ‘ongoing training’ mean?

The success of continuous learning and development, or what has also been called ongoing training, is best assured when an organization puts three components of skills gap learning in place:

  • Prioritizing: As we have seen, a skills gap program works best when it is conceived rightly and assigned the proper priority within the organization. It is only when the organizational leadership gives it the priority it requires that the program can hope to become successful
  • Planning: Congruent to the first component, the leadership has to plan how to go about it. It should chalk out a skills gap bridging program without any ego or prejudice and should get it right on track based on the individual employee’s needs
  • Organizational culture: No effort towards closing skills gaps will succeed if it is done in an organization that has no culture or attitude of doing it. Organizations have to first inculcate a culture of learning, which is the foundation and the framework to building an organization in which the employees’ skills gaps are effectively addressed.

How competitive will the future workforce be?

Management pundits have often speculated about and prognosticated how competitive the future workplace will be. This concern is perfectly valid in view of the upsurge of technological changes that have been engulfing the workplace. A vital question that arises in relation to today’s workforce is, how competitive the future workplace will be. It is no secret that the combination of artificial intelligence, robotics, and related technologies are likely to supplant millions of jobs worldwide in the years to come.

Although people are needed to make these technologies work, it is likely that only those who are specialized in these areas can expect to not only be in their jobs, but also earn princely incomes, since theirs will be very, very niche specializations.

Needless to say, only those who upgrade to the technologies and the learning that makes them sought after and not redundant will be the employees of the future. Addressing skills gaps is indispensable if they have to stay in demand. The future workplace is likely to be one in which there is continuous learning in every area of work.

How can online training options be used to bridge skills gap?

With the advent of the technology, MOOCs or Massive Open Online Courses– give an effective alternative to employers/employees to address the skills gap. Employers or employees can enroll to various courses-many times offered at the price of a coffee-at platform like Simpliv to boost their carrier. Simpliv offers a wide range of free, as well as paid courses, to address the skills gap in hard and soft skills areas. Employers or individuals can make use of various pre-recorded or live bootcamp courses to learn about the latest best practices offered by leading industry experts.

Conclusion

Skills gap is a reality of the workplace. It is all the more important in today’s world in which we have been seeing a tectonic shift being brought about technologies that could bring about changes of unimaginable magnitude to our work relations.

What do you think about the efficacy of addressing skills gap as a tool for organizations to stay in line with the developments? Do you have any ideas about skills gaps that you think you could add to what I have written here? Please feel free to let me know what your thoughts about this topic are!

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