How to identify and close skill gaps in the workplace

With the acceleration of digital automation changing the nature of existing job roles, the need to address skills gaps is increasingly vital, not just for employee development and talent retention but also for individual and organisation performance and growth. It’s time to prioritise talent management through strategic skills training and internal mobility programmes that support employee career progression. Organisations that don’t (or think they’ve done it all), risk being left behind while more future-focused organisations put people development at the heart of their L&D initiatives, with upskilling and reskilling programmes now the top priority for organisations across the globe.

What is a skills gap?

Whilst there’s no clear skills gap definition, most seasoned HR and L&D professionals will be all too familiar with the term. We can mostly agree that skills gaps are identified when the skills required to do a specific job or role aren’t met. Though skills gaps could be identified through poor or unsatisfactory performance of individual employees or when looking at overall company performance and growth, it’s likely more often to do with the failure to track and manage the changing nature of the roles in an organisation and the skills required to achieve success.

How to identify skill gaps in the workplace

The first step to identifying skills gaps may seem obvious, but it involves first identifying the skills most important to your organisation – both the ‘hard’, operational skills required to do the task and the ‘soft’ less tangible essential skills like critical thinking and positive attitude.

Identifying skills gaps can’t easily be done in larger businesses without good People data. Analysing your People data, using performance metrics, skills or competency matrix, survey and assessments of employees, a two-way performance review process and data from your HR software and LMS will all help you to address skills gaps. Ideally, using integrated People technology will make data gathering and reporting on skills gaps much more straightforward.

However, bridging the soft skills gap may be a different matter. How do you determine whether employees that have been at your organisation for some time continue to hone their communication skills, problem-solving or critical thinking? The traditionally ‘soft’ but increasingly ‘essential skills’ are much harder to measure when addressing skills gaps. This is where a skills gap analysis could be most useful, which can, in turn, lead to a strategy for upskilling and reskilling employees.

How to close skills gaps in your organisation

Perhaps unhelpfully - there’s no one size fits all approach to bridging the skills gap.

To respond to immediate operational skills gaps, the obvious answer is to ensure you offer employees easy access to training and development opportunities and importantly ensure they’re delivered in a way that’s best for them. Whether that be face to face, eLearning, mobile learning, coaching and mentoring, career development tools or a blended approach.

Having said that, bridging the skills gap is likely a far greater challenge for larger businesses than ticking the learning management system box and hoping employees will self-serve. It may help identify a gap in compliance knowledge or competency, but it won’t likely move the needle on closing the skills gap long-term.

Gen Z in particular have a laser focus on fast career growth and will therefore likely spend their time focusing on improving their productivity, business and technology basics, whereas older managers are historically more likely to have been promoted as a result of their hard skills and therefore feel there is less of a need to focus on developing these skills further.

Less surprising, however, is that with their laser focus on career growth, 76% of Gen Z learners believe that “learning is the key to a successful career”. They are far more likely to take ownership of their development, seeking out opportunities for growth and development wherever possible - including being far more likely to explore topics that they are ‘curious about’, and not just those related to improving performance.

Considering that the Millennial generation before them are stereotypically concerned with doing ‘meaningful’ jobs and working at companies that align with their own personal values and beliefs, this shouldn’t come as a great surprise.

Getting the balance right between older generations whose roles are more likely to be displaced as a result of digital disruption, and the younger generations to whom the ‘job for life’ concept is entirely alien is a challenge when it comes to addressing skills gaps, that a well-designed upskilling and reskilling programme must overcome.

Hire for attitude, train for skills

Employers are increasingly conscious of soft skills when hiring - with skills like communication, leadership and management currently among the most in-demand. However, job adverts still show that employers are looking for candidates with hard skills - especially those which are transferable across industries. So although the old adage that you should ‘hire for attitude and train for skills’ still rings true, people who have a good mix of both soft and hard skills are increasingly prized, and if internal opportunities aren’t made available, you can expect that your top talent will be offered them elsewhere.

Closing the skills gap will involve providing opportunities for internal talent to move into roles that aren’t considered naturally ‘adjacent’ given the acceleration of technological change and the increasingly pressing need to retrain and redeploy talent for the new world of work, as the WEF prediction tells us.

Strategic initiatives go beyond “plugging the skills gap”

The ability to attract and retain the best talent is becoming a greater competitive advantage than ever before - especially as the global talent pool opens up with remote working becoming more common.

If your digital transformation programme doesn’t include a shift towards modern performance management and skills training to address skills gaps, it’s fair to expect that not only are you likely to start losing your talent to your competitors, but you’ll also find it harder to hire their replacements too. The ultimate impact of which is likely to be widening the skills gap in your organisation.

But by being proactive around your talent management and utilising internal mobility programmes, in particular, you’ll be able to focus on truly addressing skill gaps, developing an agile workforce that grows together for years to come, adapting to the changing needs of the business as it grows.

To find out more about the skills gaps identified in 7 key industries, download our Talent Balance report.

The Talent Balance - the talent and skills landscape in the UK

Our latest report looks at the talent and skills landscape in the UK, from workforce shortages, digital skills gaps and the rise of automation, along with the skills and recruitment challenges faced by 7 major industries.
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