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Ready for Tomorrow
CTDO Magazine

Ready for Tomorrow

Friday, September 14, 2018

Learning leaders need to focus on building skills for the future, rather than just for today.

Where has all the talent gone? That is a question many executive leaders will be asking in the near future. According to LinkedIn's 2018 Workplace Learning Report—which surveyed 4,000 professionals, including 1,200 talent development professionals and 200 executives around the world—many executives are already thinking about the skills gaps. The report uncovered that learning leaders are tasked with balancing competing demands from the variety of constituents within their organizations: "They must play a critical role in shaping future workforce strategy, while delivering hyper—relevant content to support employee needs of today, and cater these vast efforts to a multi—generational workforce with varied learning preferences."


Further, according to the report, executives are concerned about how learning leaders are spending their time and are so laser—focused on building today's skills that they are not considering what needs to be done to prevent the impending skills gap. People managers and executives are looking to L&D practitioners to focus on building the necessary skills for tomorrow. When asked what they believe are the most important areas of focus for L&D in 2018, executives ranked their number 2 concern as identifying trends to prevent future skills gaps; how to train for soft skills was number 1. And talent development leaders are aware of the concern. When asked the same question, talent development leaders ranked identifying trends to prevent future skills gaps as their number 6 concern.

Employers' concern about the skills gap is not new. In a 2013 Accenture study, executives reported that failure to respond to the skills gap would have a negative impact on the business if they don't prepare. They identified a clear link between the shortage of skills and less—than—stellar business results. Sixty—nine percent believe that a lack of critical skills will result in higher operating costs. Two—thirds believe that they would lose business to competitors because of the skills gap in their company, and 64 percent said that it would affect both revenues and revenue growth. Further, 87 percent of those surveyed feel that organizational skills gaps create undue stress for employees.

As Baby Boomers near retirement age, technology evolves, and customer demands become more complex, the need for highly skilled employees only increases. And with declining unemployment rates, the competition for skilled talent has become more heated throughout the years.

Assessing the situation

The Lehigh Valley in eastern Pennsylvania has a unique and effective way to ward off the negative impact. Don Cunningham, president and CEO of the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, says this issue is even more pressing for businesses that are located in growing regions. He and his team have led the charge to gain an understanding of the skills situation in the Lehigh Valley, which is one of the fastest growing regions in the United States. According to Cunningham, the effect of the skills gap reaches beyond businesses and is an economic issue. "The skills gap involves more than just a quantitative lack of people, but it is also a misalignment of available skills and job roles," he says.

Cunningham and his organization strive to help businesses avoid the negative impact of the skills gap in their region by spearheading an initiative that led the community to organize and collaborate to understand and address the skills. As a result, the organization formed the Lehigh Valley Education & Talent Supply Council, a group of local businesses, educational institutions, vocational schools, and L&D practitioners. This council was charged with leading a region—specific study to understand the skills gap in the area and how employers could prepare.

Its comprehensive research found that a skilled workforce is essential for the future growth of business operations. The council studied 300 employers, and 89 percent believe that a skilled workforce is important. The study found that most (89 percent) of participating employers are planning to hire within the next 12 months. Seventy—one percent said their businesses had experienced challenges in recruiting, hiring, or retaining talent during the past 12 months.

Karianne M. Gelinas, director of talent supply for the Lehigh Valley Economic Development Corporation, says the study's focus was on healthcare, transportation, life science, business services, and manufacturing. "The sectors were chosen because they are the fastest growing sectors in the region." With the participation of all the postsecondary schools as well as vocational schools in the two—county region, they studied migration, the age distribution of the population, and shifting demographics.

In addition to gaining an understanding of the talent available in the region, participating companies received a direct view of the L&D and educational programs available in the area. Educational leaders also gained a keen understanding of local businesses' L&D needs. Cunningham recommends that companies that want to get ahead of the skills gap in their region reach out to their local economic development corporation. "Even if they don't have the type of data we have been able to provide," he says, "they will still have key information that the company can use to understand the talent landscape and talent development resources in their area."

Preparing future leaders

A global scientific business that provides a variety of scientific products and services has taken steps to prevent a negative impact of the impending skills gap on its operations. The company has pinpointed IT, operations, procurement, and finance as four areas that are likely to suffer future talent gap challenges. To prevent the business impact of the gap, it has developed the Early Talent Leadership Development Program, which is pivotal in helping the company prepare the type of leaders that will be necessary in the future, based on their functional area.


This two—year rotational program recruits high—performing college graduates and trains them to be key organizational leaders. These talented program participants rotate throughout the company four times over the course of two years. During each rotation, they are paired with a key leader who serves as a mentor and guide, providing support in conjunction with their frontline supervisor. Also, during each rotation, participants complete an action learning project, which is designed to meet an important business need. Between the rotations, the participants receive accelerated training on leadership and soft skills to round out their technical expertise.

At the end of the two—year program, the company hires them into an entry—level management role and positions them as high performers of the future. This program is an essential strategy that the company uses to remain ahead of the skills gap.

While many leaders are concerned about their organization's ability to continue to meet business needs because of the emerging skills gap, there is much that can be done by communities and businesses to reduce the negative impact.

Read more from CTDO magazine: Essential talent development content for C-suite leaders.

About the Author

Meloney Sallie-Dosunmu, founder and president of Precision Talent International, is a highly skilled facilitator and organization development consultant. She has more than 25 years of experience helping private, public sector, and nonprofit organizations implement training and development initiatives that produce results. Clients rely on Meloney’s ability to diagnose training needs, engage executives in development efforts, design and conduct training, and equip in-house staff to be effective trainers.

She has a sharp understanding of organizational needs, acquired from years of experience as a learning executive in manufacturing, pharmaceutical, distribution, and nonprofit organizations. Her experience includes leadership development, coaching, workshops, and organization development projects for executives, middle managers, technical experts, and frontline leaders and employees.

Meloney has been a member of ATD for more than 30 years. She has served in many leadership roles, including as a chapter president for the Eastern Pennsylvania Chapter, leadership development team member, and national adviser for chapters.

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