Strategies to Close Skills Gaps: Process

leaderBPL010So far, most of the focus has been on skills gaps and the impact on the workforce. Today, I’m interested in your input about closing skills gaps. We’ve already talked about skill gap analysis — a great approach for the individual, group or an entire organization. Skills gap analysis can be as simple as looking at where you want to be and where you currently are and scheduling classes to close the gap.

However, there’s an important precursor for most organizations. The individual should have a clear understanding of what they want to accomplish, their priorities and ability to execute before they imagine training.

The organization, on the other hand, probably needs to spend time aligning workforce transformation goals with the strategies and tactics that are necessary to overcome disrupters that we covered in Part 1.

A “needs assessment starts with the big picture, factors in risks and costs, and leads to some crucial questions:

  1. Timing: Where are skills gaps the greatest challenge and which areas are the highest priority?
  2. Dependencies: How will changes in skills impact other parts of the organization?
  3. Talent mix: Usually, recruiting and redistributing the workforces are at opposite ends of the spectrum:
  • Experienced employees are often proven owners of “tribal knowledge” and that knowledge needs to be retained and codified for future generations. It’s also common to empower experienced employees with increased breadth of knowledge with management and T-shaped skills training.
  • New employees can prosper with clearly defined learning paths that provide visibility into future opportunities. This is an excellent time to tweak skill sets, build loyalty and increase retention.

The next steps for organizations depend on the needs assessment. Are the underlying roles and responsibilities well defined? What about competencies? Do we have a clear understanding of what it takes to do the job and do we need to build processes to evaluate performance?

Learning path design, onboarding and ultimately education all depend on solid analysis at the beginning. If needs and skills gaps are well defined, practically every other step can be addresses in a clear, measurable plan.

However, when we’re talking about workforce transformation, planning is only part of the equation — change management, the actual education experience and performance measurement are where skills gaps are closed and verified.

Change Management and Communication
The best designed workforce transformation plans are only as good as the execution. Sometimes organizations have the necessary learning and development (L&D) resources to introduce and drive change, but they must be careful not to underestimate this step.

Skill gap closure needs to be a positive experience for the organization and most of the workforce. Avoid confusion and uncertainty by setting clear expectations and making change a positive experience.

Learning Assets, Content and the Educational Experience
We’ve talked about a wide range of disrupters that drive skills gaps and how they impact practically everyone in the organization. So it’s logical that the required knowledge base is extensive, which includes:

  • Communication and social skills
  • Leadership and management
  • Business
    • Marketing
    • Customer
  • Business technology and project management
    • PM, BA, ITIL®
  • Finance
  • Technology

It is crucial to understand that a mix of knowledge and subject matter is the norm these days — most roles require a wide range of skills as well as specialization (see my blog article on T-shaped skills).

It’s also important to understand that different skills are best learned in different environments, and that an effective mix is part of the design and the tradeoffs between opportunity and cost must be considered, such as:

  • Live classroom: The expense of transporting employees should be balanced against a highly focused immersion experience.
  • Virtual classroom: Cost savings of online live training need to be balanced against diversions
  • Classroom and virtual classroom mix: The best of both worlds; it often makes sense to send some employees and let others join virtually
  • ELearning: A less expensive way to fill gaps and facilitate self-based learning; keep in mind that this is only a small part of most learning needs.
  • Onsite: Teaching at your location provides many of the best opportunities for customized, focused learning.

It’s clear that the proper mix of learning is the heart of an effective plan, which differs from one organization to the next.

Again, the individual has the opportunity for self-assessment. However, organizations needs to quantify change, identify the remaining gaps and the impact on next steps.

As you would expect, skills gaps closure is an ongoing process and the analysis at the end of one cycle helps set the goals for the next.

So once again, it’s time for your input:

  • If you manage people or drive an organization impacted by disrupters, how do you acquire skills and the processes to close the skills gaps?
  • Where is the desire to change strongest? Who leads the process? Are HR and L&D involved?
  • Where do budgets come from? Is it a one-time opportunity, or part of a larger, ongoing workforce optimization initiative?
  • And what do you call the process of workforce transformation?

Once again, I’m very interested in understand your role and industry. I’m looking forward to your input and let’s wrap it up next time by discussing real world solutions.

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