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Strategies to Close Skills Gaps: You and Your Organization

April 09, 2015
Guest Authors

SkillsGap465033431BlogLast time, we covered the dangers of skills gaps for the individual and the business and we ignored the debate over the existence of skills gaps in the U.S. for good reason.

Young adults unable to find work, employers unable to fill jobs, a recent GAO study that reported substantial declines in telecommunication expertise — there has been a lot of news about the pervasiveness of skills gaps, their causes, the actual impacts and what to do about them. It’s rather confusing, because the term “skills gaps” has been hijacked to politicize an extremely wide range of issues.

For our purposes, we can greatly simplify the conversation by focusing on skills gaps in the medium and large businesses at the core of the U.S. economy as well as the government. The same GAO study reported skills gaps in six government-wide occupations, including cybersecurity — a perfect example of a major problem that can be defined, where strategies can be developed and skills gaps can be closed.

This flexibility to rapidly respond to external forces and ultimately get ahead of the curve is known as organizational agility. And organizational agility is necessary in all organizations that want to survive the rapid pace of the digital, global economy.

“Evolve, eat or be eaten” sounds rather Darwinian, but modern organizational disrupters definitely apply pressure across the entire “organism.” Examples of major disrupters include:

  • Technology: Analytics, cloud, mobile devices, etc.

  • Business: Speed to market, mergers, acquisitions

  • Workforce: Attracting and retaining talent, telecommuting, onboarding speed

Ignore forces like these and skills gaps become a problem. As an organization or an individual, you need a strategy to plan ahead, to predict how these forces combine and to turn the challenges into opportunities.

So the first step in closing skills gaps is analysis; figuring out which disrupters are likely to impact you or your business and investigating solutions that are likely to solve multiple problems.

For example, a commenter from Part 1 wrote about hiring “middle-of-the-pack” employees with acceptable skill sets intending to keep costs down and increasing their performance over time. This could be an excellent strategy for many business models, if the state of the market and disrupters are regularly analyzed and training paths are regularly updated to insure that skills gaps are actually being closed.

Unfortunately, the commenter was providing insight into an organization that didn’t do the analysis, new hires didn’t grow and the “cost-saving” strategy sounded like it resulted in negative ROI.

And what about the individual? What can you do to mitigate disrupter impact and insure that skills gaps don’t paint you into a corner?

  • Your strategy might be as simple as adding variety to your personal portfolio; the perspective gained from different roles can be invaluable. If you are already close to the business you could add technology/analytics knowledge to your resume. Become the translator between the stove pipes, or discover opportunities that no one imagined. And maybe you are a leader that can help others find similar paths.

  • Or if you’re on the technology side, the likelihood of being displaced by skills gaps is even higher — you already know how important it is to keep up with technology standards and there’s a good chance that you’ve already thought about beefing up leadership and soft skills.

  • But the technologist might gain even more with a strategy that gets you closer to the business. Predictive analytics and big data provide opportunities to discover value-adds, cost savings and operational optimization. And ITIL, BA or PM certifications give you the opportunity to bridge opportunities across the business.

And practically everyone in the organization will do better with a broader skill set; the pace of change, and need to translate across systems and specialized areas of knowledge calls for a broader range of capabilities. We will talk more about TSkills and associated strategies next time.

So now it’s time for your input and here’s some more questions to get you started:

  1. A previous commenter seemed to imply that the individual needs to take responsibility for tracking their personal skills gaps. What do you think?

  2. As an individual, are you willing to talk to management about your learning path or the learning path for your group?

  3. As a manager, are you able to analyze skills gaps? Do you have organizational support, and is ongoing learning a topic that you discuss with your management?

  4. As an executive or strategist, is your organization analyzing skills gaps and building strategies for workforce transformation? If so, how? And if not, why?

  5. As always, I would really appreciate industry and organizational examples to help us understand how organizations intend close the skills gaps.

I’m looking forward to hearing your thoughts and we will dig into TSkills strategies next time.