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Skills Gap Triage: Measuring and Prioritizing Multiple Skills Gaps

Skills Gap Triage: Measuring and Prioritizing Multiple Skills Gaps

Posted by Cheryl Paullin on 07/03/2013

Skills gaps are a pain point for many organizations. A recent survey by the Society for Human Resource Management (Skills Gaps Affecting Some Jobs, Industries More than Others, SHRM Online, April 2, 2013) found that two-thirds of organizations reported difficulty filling specific job openings, and that skills gaps varied by industry. The American Society for Training and Development, in its 2012 Bridging the Gap survey, reported that the largest gaps occur in middle- and high-skill jobs, and also list the prevalence of different types of impact on organizations, such as lower productivity and efficiency, missed opportunities, and longer time to market.

What kind of skills gaps does your organization face–gaps in technical skills, basic workplace skills, or both? Do the gaps occur in many jobs, levels, and work units–or do they primarily occur in only a few key areas? How are the gaps likely to change in the future if they are not successfully addressed now? Which skills gaps are most critical to address first and for which jobs, levels, or work units?

It is important for organizations to accurately identify and prioritize their skills gaps, and to do so by gathering hard evidence to inform decisions. Hard evidence may help you avoid costly but ultimately ineffective interventions.

Here are some good ways to gather evidence:

  • Start by compiling a list of common skills gaps using sources such as those mentioned above.
  • Conduct focus groups with leaders to get a preliminary sense for which gaps are present in your organization. Help them link skills gaps to organizationally-relevant competencies, and to list specific things that employees with skills gaps are unable to do effectively. Also, ask leaders to define the required level of proficiency for various skills. It’s easy to say “we don’t have enough of skill X” but often more difficult to pin down just how much more of skill X is needed.
  • Use information from focus groups to create a survey. Administer it to a wide range of leaders and/or employees to collect quantifiable information about the relative importance and impact of various skills gaps. Be sure to capture enough information to look at breakouts, for example, by job title, work unit, or level. This information will help prioritize the skills gaps.
  • Where survey results suggest there are serious gaps, use standardized skill assessments to gather objective evidence of the size and extent of the skills gaps. Assessment results provide concrete evidence of an organization’s gaps and bench strength, and can help inform decisions about priorities and best-bet interventions.

Finally, keep in mind that skills gap information can be a critical data point within a human capital analytics framework, where gap information can be linked with other HR metrics such as employee engagement, turnover risk, customer satisfaction, and productivity in a predictive model.

About the Author

Cheryl Paullin, Ph.D., is an industrial-organizational psychologist who directs HumRRO’s Private Sector Talent Management line of business. She can be reached at [email protected] or 612-486-1022.


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