Blog Post

Don't Fall Behind on Learning—Close the Skills Gap Today

Adam Miller

President & CEO, Cornerstone

This article was originally published on Forbes.com.

As technology evolves, the skills gap — the disparity between the skills employers need to succeed and those workers actually have — keeps getting wider. If your company isn't already addressing this gap, start now — no matter how big or small you are, or what business you're in. If you don't, you might be left behind.

To employers, I offer the following solution: Devote 5% of employees' time at work to learning. In my experience, doing so can help you reduce talent turnover by up to 20% and save your company money. Even better, your people will have more of the skills they may need to get the job done.

The Situation Is Dire

The skills gap is like climate change. Most people know there's a problem, but few are doing anything meaningful about it. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, today there are fewer unemployed Americans (6.2 million) than there are open jobs (7.3 million). It's entirely possible that if people had the right skills, we could be at full employment.

According to a 2018 report for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, not all industries are experiencing skills gaps, but there are significant shortages of qualified candidates for many high-skill roles such as healthcare practitioners, business and financial operations professionals, computer and mathematics professionals and architects and engineers.

And the issue goes beyond jobs demanding rare or complex skills. The National Skills Coalition says that 53% of the U.S. job market consists of middle-skill jobs, but only 43% of workers have the right skills for these jobs.

Employment Numbers Hide The Truth

The skills gap can hit companies where it hurts: their bottom line. Consider manufacturing: According to a study by Deloitte and the Manufacturing Institute, a shortage of skilled workers could reduce the U.S. manufacturing gross domestic product by up to $454 billion by 2028.

But many in business don't understand the urgency of the situation. They consider the skills gap a vague threat existing in the far-off future. How could there be a problem, they ask, when unemployment is so low?

Here's how: Official unemployment statistics significantly understate the number of jobless Americans. As reported by Quartz, at less than 63% as of June 2018, the labor force participation rate — which measures the share of employment-age Americans who are working or actively looking for work — is at roughly the same level as it was during the late 1970s, when far fewer women were part of the workforce. This shows that the joblessness problem is far bigger than the unemployment numbers suggest — and that many have likely given up even looking for work. I believe it could be because they don't have the skills required by the jobs that are available.

So What Can Employers Do?

Finding and keeping the right people with the right skills is a must for companies. But as business change accelerates, doing so is growing more difficult. What can you do?

In a better world, governments, universities, companies and employees would all pitch in to solve this problem. But I don't think that elected officials, academics and employees have the power or the will to drive the kinds of policies and practices that are required. Meanwhile, the problem is too important to wait for someone else to take care of it. Do that, and you may fall behind.

You can try to solve the problem by recruiting new talent, but qualified talent can be expensive to source and hire — and there's a real chance that you won't find people with the right skills. Or you could try accelerating the automation of key functions. But that can be risky.

Bridge The Skills Gap By Investing In Learning

I believe the answer is to upskill your existing employees — something that millennial workers, who want more from a job than compensation, are particularly enthusiastic about. To drive employee-learning success, think beyond just offering training options, and take the following steps:

• Enable success by addressing different learning styles. Devote 5% of employees' time to learning — but beyond that, give them a variety of learning options so that they'll engage fully regardless of learning style.

• Get managers at all levels to buy into your approach. Spread the word about what you're doing, and show the business case: Upskilling employees can drive a healthier bottom line by reducing employee turnover and increasing productivity and engagement. Without buy-in from managers, employees are less likely to receive the time and resources they need to learn new skills successfully.

• Make learning an ongoing practice. This way, your people will always be adding new skills — and your business will be better prepared for the changes waiting around the next corner.

• Measure results. To justify your employee-upskilling efforts to management and employees alike, track quantifiable results of your training programs — employee satisfaction scores, for instance, or productivity rates.

Future-Proof Your Business Today

I believe there's far too little urgency around the growing skills gap caused by technology and the acceleration of business. If you run a company, aim to devote 5% of your employees' time to upskilling and development. You'll be more likely to keep your top talent and save money — and your employees can gain the skills they may need to keep your business alive and thriving.

Photo: Creative Commons

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