The ATD Public Policy Council has released a new edition of Bridging the Skills Gap, the association's whitepaper on the skills gap and the important role talent development professionals play in helping organizations identifying and closing skill gaps where they exist.
ATD defines a skills gap as a significant gap between an organization’s current capabilities and the skills it needs to achieve its goals and meet customer demand. It is the point at which an organization may not be able to grow or remain competitive because it cannot fill critical jobs with employees who have the right knowledge, skills, and abilities. In the 2015 Skills Gap Survey, 84 percent of respondents said there was a definite skills gap in their organizations. Anecdotally, they shared comments like these:
“We have turned down or not even pursued certain projects because we do not have the qualified people to lead the projects.”
“We will have a large number of employees retiring in the near future. Our main concern is the transfer of knowledge.”
“Product development is lagging behind the latest technologies.”
“We have a significant skills gap in IT knowledge . . . Our equipment is becoming more high tech and requires more than ‘break/fix’ skills. Skilling up a workforce with limited IT knowledge can be a major challenge.”
The skills gap in the United States and globally has gained significant attention during recent years. A range of studies from nonprofits and businesses cite the skills gap, and while science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) are certainly part of the challenge—a recent post on eWeek is titled “IT Skills Gap Negatively Impacting Businesses”—it is by no means the only challenge. A recent PricewaterhouseCoopers study, “Skills Gap Is Forcing CEOs to Change How They Hire People,” found three quarters of 1,322 CEOs in 77 countries say the skills shortage is the biggest threat to their business. A recent Harvard Business Review blog sums it up, “Employers Aren’t Just Whining—the ‘Skills Gap’ Is Real.”
Communities, states, regions, and entire nations—now more than ever given the globalization of business—pay a heavy price when they cannot find or equip workers with the right skills for critical jobs. They fail to flourish and they also falter in meeting the demands of the customer.
THE IMPACT OF THE SKILLS GAP
A U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation report, “Managing the Talent Pipeline: A New Approach to Closing the Skills Gap,” states that “U.S. employers are increasingly reporting problems finding qualified workers, despite stubbornly high unemployment rates. A recent survey found that 92 percent of executives believe there is a serious gap in workforce skills, and nearly 50 percent are struggling to fill jobs. In manufacturing alone, more than 75 percent of manufacturers report a moderate-to-severe shortage of skilled workers, and the problem is expected to grow. If left unaddressed, the skills gap could cause more than 5 million positions to go unfilled by 2020. This problem will be further compounded by an increase in retirements and a shrinking workforce.”
The 2015 ATD survey found of those respondents indicating that there was indeed a skills gap, 87 percent reported that the skills gap was affecting their performance, with customer service, growth, and service delivery being impacted.
Leaving the skills gap issue untended would be costly. But to close it, it’s important to know where to start.
WHERE ARE THE BIGGEST GAPS?
A July 2014 Financial Sense article reported that according to the National Federation of Independent Business, an advocacy group for small business, “The proportion of business owners reporting that they can’t find qualified applicants has been trending steeply upward since the end of the recession.” Further, “the most commonly cited shortages are in technical trades such as welding and industrial machinery maintenance, as well as in supervisory and management positions.”
The skills required for these jobs points to where the real work of closing gap needs to happen. In addition to gaps in science, technology, engineering, and math, business leaders say there are also gaps in communication other soft skills.
Indeed, the 2015 ATD survey found the following gaps:
• 62%: communication/interpersonal skills
• 58%: managerial/supervisory skills
• 58%: critical thinking and problem-solving skills
• 51%: leadership/executive-level skills
• 50%: process improvement and project management skills
• 41% technical skills.
In a 2013 Adecco Staffing study, “Mind the Skills Gap,” the communication skills gap was noted to be of critical importance, “For all the traditional talk about a skills gap in technical skills, 44 percent of respondents cited soft skills, such as communication, critical thinking, creativity, and collaboration, as the area with the largest gap.” And this type of training needs to be taught alongside industry-specific and STEM skills, “Leaving college knowing how to do a specific job but not having developed stronger critical thinking and communication skills is a real disservice to students—universities need to ensure they offer a balanced education, regardless of an individual’s major or field of study.”
THE PATH FORWARD: BRIDGING THE SKILLS GAP
Bridging the skills gap cannot be done by any one entity. It requires a holistic approach and recognition that preparing people to go to work with relevant skills and knowledge for jobs that exist now and in the future means that everyone has a role to play. From education to employers to government and the public workforce system, new thinking and collaboration are necessary.
Critical to all of this is the talent development professional. With deep expertise in adult learning and understanding the need to have a knowledgeable and skilled workforce, talent development professionals are uniquely positioned to implement training strategies to bridge skill gaps that exist in organizations.
What are the best ways to bridge the skills gap? The ATD survey suggests the following solutions: 64 percent answered that providing more training internally would close specific skill gaps; 55 percent suggested identifying core competencies and targeting their development; and 50 percent said examining what skills the organization needs to be successful now and in the future.
A Deloitte/Manufacturing Institute Study found that 94 percent of the executives polled believed that internal employee and training and development programs should be used to mitigate the effects of the existing skills shortage for the skilled production workforce. Additionally, 72 percent felt that involvement with local schools and community colleges would be beneficial, and 64 percent said that external training and certification programs would be beneficial.
To download the full whitepaper, Bridging the Skills Gap: Workforce Development is Everyone's Business, visit www.td.org/publicpolicy.