Managers in almost all major industries are currently sending themselves into a tizzy trying to solve the skills gap problem. A long-standing concern, "skills gap" is the term for the void of qualified talent that may be recognized when it comes to a company filling positions.
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And, even in an economy where people lack jobs, the skills gap is real: In the Talent Shortage Survey, the Manpower Group in 2015 surveyed 41,700 hiring managers in 42 countries; the survey revealed that 38 percent of participating employers said they had difficulty filling jobs.
So, what's responsible for this gap? While the common belief is that the problem springs from the availability and quality of new skilled hires, there's another possible explanation: What if the skills gap issue is actually the result of the challenges and disconnects in that occur internally?
In short, when roles grow in scope, employees may not be properly informed or equipped to grow with them; and that leaves both employees and managers dissatisfied because the demands of these jobs aren’t being met. Evidence for this view? A Gallup survey conducted in 2015 revealed that only 50 percent of employees polled strongly agreed that they knew what was expected of them at work.
Jake Schwartz, CEO and co-founder of General Assembly, has said he believes the changing climate of the workplace is the basis for this skills gap struggle. The skills businesses need change frequently, he told ABC News, so his company ensures it gives its employees the right tools to get their skills back on track with workflow demands.
Schwartz had the right idea: If managers want to improve productivity and fill gaps with appropriately skilled hires, they need to identify the challenges their current employees face. Then they must devise a strategy to close the skills gap internally by providing employees the proper technology and development opportunities to meet the demands of their current roles.
Here are hree ways managers can do that:
1. Survey current employees.
Managers find themselves in a conundrum when they discover a skills gap impacting employee performance and productivity. They might feel they’ve perfected their screening process, followed the best practices and made the best hires possible. So, why would there be a gap in the first place?
Companies with this quandary should conduct an anonymous survey to get a first-hand perspective from those in the actual roles. The questions should center on whether employees have the right tools to perform their job effectively and the additional training that might improve their outcomes. Managers should also ask employees how closely their day-to-day duties mirror the responsibilities laid out in the job descriptions the company is hiring for.
The answers employees provide will clue managers into what changes are needed n both training and hiring processes that they otherwise might not have recognized. Companies may find that closing the skills gap is as easy as providing new development opportunities, or improving leadership skills throughout all levels of the current organization.
Related: How the 'Digital Skills Gap' Bleeds $1.3 Trillion a Year From US Businesses
2. Evaluate the A-players in your organization.
One arguably obvious reason for the skills gap is not having the right people in the first place. A 2016 CareerBuilder study featuring 2,379 hiring managers found that 75 percent of respondents admitted to hiring the wrong person for a position. As job descriptions change, however, t’s not always obvious what the best fit for each role is.
Poorly written or outdated job descriptions and bad cultural fits lead to disengaged, poor-performing employees. Managers should look toward their A-players to better evaluate what skills are necessary for employees to be top performers.
Make a list of common skills and traits that employees who excel in various roles possess, and use them as a benchmark for determining how other employees and new hires will perform in specific roles. Identify which traits are needed, and which skills can be taught to close the skills gap.
If current employees lack the skills needed to exceed job expectations, focus your strategy on providing them with what's required to bring them up to speed. Alternatively, see if there are any roles they would be better suited for, and consider hiring new, qualified talent in to the existing role to improve productivity.
3. Identify skills gaps where innovation is lacking.
Lastly, the skills gap could be caused by a lack of innovation. Companies should look to solve this issue by strategizing for better diversity and inclusion in the workplace. Employing people with different backgrounds can create a positive “tension.” This tension and difference of opinions will spark conversation which will lead to new ideas, innovation and the closing of the skills gap.
In January 2015, Mckinsey & Company conducted research on 366 public companies across North America and the United Kingdom. The study found gender-diverse companies were 15 percent more likely to outperform companies in the bottom quartile of diversity. Ethnically diverse companies showed even more improvement, as they were 35 percent more likely to outperform those same companies.
If there is an exceptional gap in your company's employee diversity, look to fill open roles with highly qualified talent that promises new perspectives and worldly insights and experience. Hiring new employees to achieve diversity isn’t always necessary or possible. But sparking more innovative ideas could be as simple as restructuring teams and maximizing the present diversity.
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Managers can task employees to work outside of their normal work groups for new projects. Additionally, managers should rotate team leaders. Challenging someone new to take the reins is a great way to get new ideas flowing and expand employees’ skills.