Learning & Development

Addressing Skills Gaps in a Competitive Employee Market

Virtually every team and organization has run across an opportunity or a challenge for which they have felt lacking in the skills department and either failed to take advantage of that opportunity or avoid the consequences of that risk.

Sometimes these skills gaps are known well in advance—such as a healthcare organization preparing for the effective date of a large new regulatory shift. Other times gaps open up seemingly out of nowhere—such as a company suddenly facing a need to shift all staff offsite and wondering how well their teams will adapt to remote work.

Traditionally, skills gaps have been addressed in two primary ways: hire someone with the missing skills or train existing staff on the missing skills. In the current labor market, though, it has become increasingly difficult to simply go out into the labor market and find someone ready, willing and able to work who has the desired skills. Still, recruitment remains an important option for addressing skills gaps.

To see how real companies are dealing with their own learning and skills gaps, we reached out to industry experts and business leaders for some input.

What Are the Key Skills Gaps Facing Companies Today?

If you ask that question to a frazzled business owner or manager, the answer you’ll probably get back is “everything.” But some needs are more pressing than others.

Soft Skills

One common response that may be surprising to some is soft skills. As millions of workers continue to log in remotely, basic human interactions have become that much more strained and complicated. Those who can skillfully navigate relationships with colleagues, superiors, subordinates, and external stakeholders will certainly have a leg up over those who cannot.

“One of the most critical skills that employees need to have is the ability to be personable with the team and build long-term professional relationships,” says Paola Accettola, principal and CEO of True North HR. “This is incredibly crucial for setting the trajectory of your career as people spend a lot of their time at their jobs, so it’s important to build relationships with other colleagues and clients.”

Other soft skills that are high on the list of business leaders we spoke with are things like accountability, autonomy, and critical thinking—the types of skills that are essential for employees working remotely and with less direct oversight from managers as they may have had pre-pandemic.

Technology

On the other end of the spectrum, proficiency with technological tools is also increasingly important. Tools like Excel, Salesforce and others are the backbone of many offices. These tools can serve as important facilitators of productivity for those who know how to use them well—or frustrating roadblocks for those who don’t.

Telecommunications technology in particular has become incredibly important to companies that have shifted to remote or hybrid work models. While most of us take it for granted that everyone in the modern workplace is well-versed in Zoom and Teams, it’s quite disruptive and distracting when a meeting can’t start because one person can’t figure out how to get the audio working or when participants don’t follow basic virtual meeting etiquette leading to distracting background noise.

Learning How to Learn

As dynamic as the modern economy is, there is no monolithic set of key skills that an employee can learn once and be set for life. Instead, changing situations require new and adapting skills and knowledge, and those who excel at learning and adapting will always be able to stay a step ahead of those who do not.

Pitfalls and Strategies for Training

Even when training was largely conducted in-person, it was often difficult to secure high levels of engagement and information retention. Now that significant proportions of employees are working remotely, training has become that much more challenging. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible to effectively train staff in the current environment.

Common pitfalls in training include failing to adapt the training content so that it continues to be relevant to the needs of the organization and failing to account for diverse learning styles. But a more significant, more generalized pitfall is simply failing to take advantage of all of the tools and strategies available in modern training.

For example, rather than trying to figure out a time when 50 busy team members all have a two-hour block free for an important training, companies could be leveraging media technology that allows them to pre-record training sessions for later on-demand use. Or a training department might fail to solicit useful feedback at appropriate intervals following key training initiatives—for example, by asking for initial feedback immediately after a training and conducting an evaluation six months later to test retention.

Even more broadly, many companies that have shifted to fully remote work or hybrid work models are finding that their workers are not as connected as they once were. Two years into the pandemic, it’s increasingly likely that many employees were brought on after the company shifted to remote work, meaning they never had a chance to develop those strong in-person connections that come with spending 40 hours per week in the same space as others. This sense of connection can be beneficial in formal training programs, but it’s especially essential in informal learning and development that takes place via mentorships and casual conversations with senior team members and long-tenured colleagues.

Skills and learning gaps have always been a challenge for businesses. But due to the rapid reshaping of the corporate world in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the recruitment challenges inherent in the Great Resignation, ensuring a company’s workforce has the skills it needs to stay afloat, let alone thrive in its industry is exceedingly challenging today. Fortunately, it is still very possible for companies to strategically and effectively address their skills gaps and keep pace with—or even outpace—the competition.

Lin Grensing-Pophal is a Contributing Editor at HR Daily Advisor.