Employers can’t fill open positions because they can’t find applicants with the skills they need, while job seekers desperate for work but lacking certain skills are discouraged from applying for those roles. This leaves recruiters and hiring managers frustrated with the challenge of closing the gap.
It’s not exactly a feel-good story. The solution to this problem, though, may be on the job training, often referred to as “upskilling.”
Over the next few decades, millions of workers will be displaced as the need for physical and lower-level cognitive skills is replaced by automation. Meanwhile, employers will be scrambling to find applicants with high level cognitive abilities, social competencies, and tech skills. Plus, an aging workforce and looming mass retirements have triggered a talent gap that is only exacerbating the skills gap.
This gap, no matter how deep, can be navigated as long you have the right tools and the right strategy. These five strategies will help you provide strategic on the job training for your workforce and successfully narrow the skills gap:
- Identify your organization’s skills gap
- Revise your job descriptions to attract candidates willing to learn new skills
- Offer ongoing skills training to current staff
- Focus on recruiting adaptable, open-minded employees
- Make broad investments in training
1. Conduct a Skills-Gap Analysis
The first step toward developing an upskilling strategy is to conduct a skills-gap analysis. Begin by determining your company’s goals at a point in the future—say, five years from now. The timeframe will vary by industry, but it’s important that you look well beyond the next quarter or even the next year.
Next, determine what jobs you suspect will be most affected by automation during that timeframe. Look at which new roles automation might create by taking stock of what skills are most sought after in your industry currently and in the years to come.
Then, take stock of the skills and knowledge your employees will need but do not yet possess to reach your future goals, with an eye toward opportunities for on the job training.
This may involve comparing your company’s current job descriptions to the list of skills you suspect will be most critical in the future. You can also conduct an inventory of your workforce’s current skills based on performance reviews and similar metrics, or by having your staff complete task-based skills assessments.
2. Redesign Your Job Descriptions
Once you’ve conducted your skills-gap analysis, begin redesigning your job descriptions at every level to include the skills:
- You are short of now
- You anticipate needing in the near future
- You predict you’ll need for years to come
Nearly all workers will need technical skills, customer focus, and an adaptable attitude toward change. Build in flexible core competencies like customer focus, a love of learning, and a facility with technology—traits that would welcome skills training—rather than simply experience with a certain platform or software suite.
Gone are the days when you could create a job description with a shopping list of dream qualities. You’ll need to manage expectations and be willing to hire for potential rather than immediate job readiness. Start by revamping your existing job descriptions for current staff and then work to help them attain anticipated must-have skills.
From there, you have three options: Provide your current workforce with skills training, begin recruiting a more adaptable workforce, or do both simultaneously.
3. Create an On the Job Training Program for Your Current Workforce
If you’ve already done an in-house skills assessment, you should have a good idea of which employees lack the skills you will need in the future. You may also have identified your most adaptable employees, who can be upskilled or even move into different roles. From here you have a few options as you work to develop a learning and development program.
Employers in sectors such as light industrial, manufacturing, and logistics will need to aggressively invest in training their existing staff to both retain and recruit the workers they will need to remain competitive. Make sure workers are incentivized to take advantage of training benefits, paying attention to high performers who seek this out.
Depending on the size of your organization, you might partner with a trusted staffing agency to create a training program, contract with a training vendor that can create a customized on the job training program for you, or hire someone to head up in-house training that includes self-guided learning modules.
4. Recruit and Hire Adaptable Employees
Employers will need to move away from targeting a specific skillset that is likely to have a short shelf life. Hiring managers and recruiters will need to convince employers that their desire to hire applicants who can “hit the ground running” is not sustainable. For some this will mean convincing executives with an eye on the quarterly bottom line that they need to adapt their expectations to the reality of a changing employment landscape.
Instead, you’ll need to target your hiring practices and strategies to find applicants with “soft” skills that lend themselves to career-long learning: critical thinking, problem solving, curiosity, and patience. While 46 percent of newly onboarded employees are considered failed hires within the first 18 months, 89 percent didn’t last because of a lack of soft skills such as coachability and interpersonal relationship building, rather than technical incompetence.
As you look for your newly defined ideal employees, be sure to mention in-house training benefits in your descriptions. This increasingly popular job perk can help you attract the kinds of curious lifelong learners your workplace will need in the coming decades to keep up with the rapid pace of change.
5. Invest in Training at All Levels
Offering comprehensive on the job training and a continued career path as part of your compensation practice builds loyalty among top performers, increasing productivity and innovation. When coupled with career development, mentoring, and promoting from within, investment in employee training saves time and money you would otherwise spend on recruiting and onboarding, and then some.
The best strategy is an aggressive one. Don’t just offer apprenticeships and internships to forge relationships with promising students and recent graduates or intense training during onboarding and then drop it after the first year of employment. A comprehensive upskilling program needs to include aggressive training of prospective hires, new employees, and existing personnel.
Some particularly sought-after roles, such as an Agile Coach or information architect, may become very difficult to fill. If the need arises, consider gauging whether some of your top-performing employees may be interested in training for these other roles.
Be generous. Offer tuition reimbursement. Use your skills-gap analysis to pinpoint underutilized employees with hidden potential. The loyalty you cement in your workforce through these gestures won’t just pay off in increased skills acquisition; it also will save you time and money otherwise spent on recruitment and training when the next hiring crisis emerges.
Use On the Job Training and Other Strategies to Close the Skills Gap
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