I remember the day I became the proud owner of one of technology’s most advanced smart phones.
My spot on the cutting edge lasted roughly four minutes…about the time it took to log on to my twitter feed and read the post, “Tech company to introduce upgraded smart phone next week.”
My fall from technological superiority only cost me a little bit of pride. Employers aren’t so lucky. For them, consistently positive performance depends, at least in part, on being on the cutting edge. And just as with smart phones, change is happening fast. As Nicole, a graphic designer says, “What you know today in this field from a program/technical standpoint will be almost entirely irrelevant next year.”
How Smart Companies Avoid Skills Gaps
This challenges those who insist that missing proficiencies – those oft-discussed skills gaps — are purely hiring problems. They’re not. They’re learning problems, too. Even the most current hire can’t account for the fact that skills can become irrelevant in the time it takes to tweet, “I got a new job!” About half of Millennials in a new-grad survey last year said their employers weren’t even leveraging the proficiencies they already had, further illustrating how employers can actually contribute to their own skills gaps.
Instead of waiting for that elusive perfect hire, what you want is a workforce of talented, nimble people who are inspired to rise to the challenge — particularly in a tight labor market. That Nicole and colleagues spend a lot of time learning the latest in their field benefits them and the company. But that doesn’t happen by accident. Innovative companies that have overcome skills gaps this way know it takes more than merely floating the idea out there; it takes what I like to think of as a CODE:
Culture has a lot to do with skills. Because skill advancement comes from desire, and desire comes from connectedness born of a feel-good culture. Those graphic designers say their drive to learn independently is unleashed by a company culture of learning that supports both educational ambitions and personal lives. People who feel that connection feel a stake in the company and will take time on their own to make sure they provide their boss with the best.
Opportunity means the ability to access conferences, professional societies, and other pay-to-play resources to advance skills. Those things may cost the company money. But think of the money you’ll save by grooming a current employee for new skills versus hiring and onboarding somebody brand new. Plus millennials expect this from their employers, and increasingly say they’ll leave if they don’t receive it.
Encouraging employees to advance requires a clear picture of your skill needs and a way to communicate them to employees. Your people will also need an easy-to-find resource of educational offerings, and a step-by-step map of how they can fill gaps and grow their careers. Healthcare’s RN to BSN programs is a great example of how industries can work their way up by degree; hospitals lay out exactly what they need and assist employees to the goal. Question and answer: what do we need and how do we help employees get there?
Employer-sponsored education programs are key. But too many companies employ tuition assistance with neither definition nor design meaning its really just window dressing. To be strategic, tuition programs need clear terms of usage, they have to be easy to access, and they have to be tied to the organization’s goals. Equally important, successful tuition assistance programs need professional advisors who guide employees on how best to use the program to meet their and the company’s objectives. Hashing out a plan with a pro can make back-to-school seem plausible. And by hunting down tuition savings, establishing partnerships with key educational institutions, and drawing out plans that capitalize on credits earned and life experience, a professional advisor can streamline a degree program that makes it less expensive and more likely to succeed. That means employers realize advanced skills, and save money doing it.
Certainly, new hires will always be part of the equation. But speedy and constant evolution means hiring alone isn’t going to assure you’re ahead of the curve. To avoid skills gaps, what employers need are people who continually challenge themselves to stay up to date and grow to the next challenge. And it’s up to employers to ensure both that they want to – and that they can.