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Learning a Living: The Future of Skills Gaps
Thursday, October 20, 2016
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Self-check outs, TurboTax, and ATMs make buying groceries, filing your taxes, and cashing a check faster and simpler. Few would say that these are bad technologies and that they helped to eliminate jobs—in fact, they opened up opportunities to create careers. But employees now face more complex tasks requiring different skill sets.  

The fear of automation taking away jobs from hard-working employees isn’t new, but it is resurfacing for many. Many argue the future of work will include only those with very high-tech skills to build, run, and fix the robots and computers that will run the world. Others argue that a mere 50 percent of today’s jobs will be automated in the next decade or two. 

As robots take over automated tasks, there will be more opportunity for people to have creative and critical-thinking careers. This shift will call for a change in skill sets, which will require new talent development initiatives. 

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Companies are already struggling to manage the ever-changing talents needed to successfully fulfill a role. In fact, in ATD’s 2015 whitepaper Bridging the Skills Gap: Workforce Development Is Everyone’s Business found that 56 percent of current workforce skill sets do not match changes in company strategy, goals, markets, or business models. The largest skills gaps included: 

  • communication 
  • managerial 
  • critical thinking  
  • leadership. 

To best prepare for the future, talent development professionals will benefit from learning how to address the current skills gaps. 

How to Close the Skills Gaps 

  1. Develop competency models. These tools identify the skills and abilities needed to successfully perform a job. Once you know the necessary competencies, you can more clearly see the potential gaps in your workforce and begin to close them. If you already have a competency model, are you using it? If it’s been a year or two, take it out, dust it off, and reassess its accuracy.
  2. Personalize learning. Once the competency model has been created (or rejuvenated), identifying each employee’s development needs will become simpler. Employees should work with their managers to identify their competency gaps and create a personalized learning plan. If your organization does not have a competency model, this activity may be a bit more challenging, but nonetheless important to complete.
  3. Make sure the gaps stay closed. After your organization has developed a plan to begin closing the skills gaps, do not make it a one-off event. Regularly update your organization’s competencies and meet with employees to assess their current needs. 

Just because our jobs are changing doesn’t mean we will be out of work. In the wise words of Marshall McLuhan, “The future of work consists of learning a living.”

About the Author

Clara Von Ins is the Human Capital Specialist at the Association for Talent Development (ATD). Prior to working for ATD, Clara worked for the American Red Cross as the disaster program coordinator in Santa Barbara, California.


Clara received an bachelor’s degree from the Ohio State University in psychology and education. She is currently attending the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill remotely to obtain a master’s degree in public administration with an emphasis on nonprofit management and community and economic development. 

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