So you’re experiencing the dreaded “workforce skills gap” and wondering what to do.
First, recognize that you’re not alone. More and more organizations see widening skills gaps as risks in the face of digital transformation, fierce hiring competition, and the need to do more with less. Additionally, individual employees also recognize the risks of their own individual skills gap, fearing replacement by technology or younger workers.
Don’t fret! While you can never truly close skills gaps (there will always be new technologies to learn, new processes to conquer, new roles to fill), meaningful training can reduce both the breadth of skills gaps, and their negative impacts to teams and individuals.
What is a skills gap?
A skills gap is the space between what employees know and what their organization needs them to know. Given the intensity of change in today’s technology-based and interconnected world, workforce skills gaps are widening into chasms that leave employees anxious about their hireability and employers anxious about having resources in place to meet challenges.
Training plays a meaningful role in shrinking skills gaps
Upskilling means teaching skills that move individuals or teams forward linearly. You may already invest in upskilling – many organizations do! – by training employees to leverage new technologies or processes that improve performance within their current roles. Some examples include:
- Training soft skills to improve managers’ leadership capabilities.
- Teaching customer service professionals how to implement data-driven changes to their approach to increase customer outcomes.
- Training healthcare workers how to use new, lifesaving equipment or electronic medical record systems.
Regardless of whether these programs address yawning skills gaps or simply drive incremental improvements, we recommend making upskilling an integral part of your training program. In addition to fending off gaps, teaching your employees cutting-edge skills related to their current roles improves performance, positions team members to climb into more senior roles, and bolsters employee engagement and morale. What’s not to love?
2. Reskilling / cross-training
Whereas upskilling can reduce skills gaps within a particular role or function, reskilling serves to address cross-functional skills gaps by teaching people how to perform tasks outside of their day-to-day jobs. In some cases, this may serve as a safety net by providing coverage for workers on leave. In others, organizations may sunset entire functions but reskill those teams to perform roles more suited to their business strategy.
Training programs aimed at reskilling workers may include job-shadowing, rotational programs, and fellowships. By investing in reskilling initiatives, your organization mitigates the risk of skilled employees leaving while developing individuals’ confidence through new skills and a bolstered resume.
3. On-demand microlearning
On-demand microlearning is a simple and effective way to combat workforce skills gaps. Through short bursts of focus on single topics, learners master concepts when and where they need them. By offering microlearning, your organization can help individuals feel more confident about attempting to learn new skills. Imagine, for example, that a restaurant host calls in sick and none of the staff on hand have ever trained to be a host. If they know where they can quickly find learning to help them handle hosting scenarios, a server may be more willing to step up and fill in, learning a valuable new set of skills.
Our view on learning is that employees don’t need to know everything for your organization to succeed; they simply need to know where they can find that information when they need it. Build microlearning content that addresses your organization’s highest priority skills gaps and then make sure your employees know where and how to access it on-demand.
4.Train your workforce to embrace learning
An often overlooked way to address skills gaps through training? Train your workforce to embrace learning. It sounds a little meta, but consider the value of helping individual employees develop a growth mindset or of building a learning culture. Employees are more likely to spend time learning new skills if they perceive training as important to your organization. Additionally, if they believe in their capacity to learn those skills, they’re more likely to do so. Foster a love of learning in your organization and a can-do-it attitude in each employee to build a workforce that’s not only capable, but eager to bridge the skills gap.
- Ask your leadership team to talk proudly and often about the skills they are working to learn.
- Offer learning days and budgets: time and resources teams can devote to training.
- Celebrate employees who earn certificates, complete courses, or who take on stretch assignments; encourage them to share their stories.
- Share Learning & Development research. Help employees understand things like the positive outcomes of a growth mindset, learning preferences and styles, and brain development.
Shrink your workforce skills gap one step at a time
However you choose to approach your organization’s skills gap, remember to start small and assess impact. As we stated above, there’s no such thing as “closing” evershifting workforce skills gaps, through training or any other method, but the pursuit itself will sharpen your organization, build morale, and create confidence and agility.