We have frequently discussed the issue of skills gaps in today’s business world. Before COVID-19 even hit, skills gaps were already a huge constraint and hurdle for organizations to succeed with ever-changing technology adoptions and enhancements. We continually hear that the skills gap problem has not gone away, and unfortunately, the pandemic made it even clearer as businesses went remote or were forced to shut down. Every industry from education to retail and hospitality were severely impacted over the last year and a half. We have concluded it is not necessarily a skills gap per say, but also a training gap which leaves doors of opportunity open for your organization.
It is often a misnomer that the blame for a lack of training goes to the educational system for not preparing young individuals to enter the business world. Or, in turn, L&D teams face backlash for not providing the right amount of training, or the appropriate content, for teams throughout the organization. It is time to change the frame of mind that we need to correct the skills gaps, but instead, take this as an opportunity to cultivate and invest in diverse and inclusive talent, with a focus on innovation, soft skills, and organizational growth.
The chart below depicts that education and experience qualifications employers were looking for became steadily higher as the unemployment rate rose during the last recession. People often could not find work because they did not have the criteria or needed skills to meet job requirements in the “new economy.” However, as the unemployment rate began to stagger, the number of skills did as well. This data shows that skills gaps were the effect of high unemployment rates, and not necessarily the cause. The phrase “skills gaps” has not left the business world since.
Is it a Skills Gap, or Training Gap?
It is no secret that organizations across the globe have been hit by technology advancements over the past decade and are struggling to keep up. Although this is causing higher skill requirements for employees, it is also causing an increase in unemployment and slower economic growth. Underprepared or under skilled employees often get laid off or left to fend for themselves, leaving organizations to hire new staff. When it comes to training, L&D teams everywhere have had to deal with budget cuts, layoffs, high turnover, and many other unideal conditions. According to a workforce study, budgets for training have remained stagnant over the last year but showed a steady decline of over 5% between 2017-2019. The fact of the matter is that most organizations do not have a skills development strategy built into their training programs.
COVID-19 caused a lot of organizations to scale back on spending and training, which is something that should be avoided at all costs. The concern that the lack of skills is what is holding organizations back from growth and succession is antiquated. Closing skills gaps is critical, and can start from within your organization, in addition to hiring diverse employees with a more holistic and refined approach. Consider the following when looking at your training program and organizational goals:
- Consistent education and training are readily available to employees.
- Professional networks and peer support groups are part of your company values.
- Diverse and inclusive hiring, mentoring, and management practices are in place.
- Quality job descriptions with career paths are presented to employees.
- The ability for promotion exists within the organization, even if it is a new field.
The view of skills gaps challenges distracts organizations from more productive ways of addressing skills, development, and growth. Although hiring challenges exist, they are not typically attributed to skills gaps. For example, organizations that require technical skills but do not specify which they are talking about leaves room for error, but also opportunity. One of the most underutilized training is for soft skills. While most training nowadays is focused on technical or functional knowledge, there is a need for soft skills training as well.
It is All About Consistent and Regular Training
WEF’s Future of Jobs Report for 2020 says that the window of opportunity to train and upskill your employees is becoming shorter in today’s business environment. With the recent economic downturn, organizations need to provide stronger support for those needing to be trained. By 2025, 73% of organizations state they will provide reskilling and upskilling opportunities to help employees perform their jobs correctly and efficiently.
Now and in the future, organizations need to be aware of “skilling” trends so they can future proof their teams and be more attractive and competitive for prospective talent. As the demand for data and technical skills increase, and talent shortages continue, it is imperative to train your current teams now. By training current employees instead of searching for high-salary new talent, most organizations will come out ahead. While upskilling and reskilling for skills gaps are obviously important, it is still critical that in a healthy job market you are still working to develop your employees regularly and consistently. Not only for their individual gain and career path, but for the overall success of your organization.