There will always be what we call ‘skill gaps’ – at any workplace, in any industry. However, for result-driven businesses – where leveraging on employees’ performance is of the utmost importance – skill gaps are the biggest detriment to attaining business goals. And when it comes to employee training and development, the most important concern is how to properly identify skill gaps, and coming up with interventions to address those.
What are skill gaps?
There is actually no set skills gap definition, but the general consensus is that these are deficiencies in performance caused by lack of skills for the workplace – or the lack of development thereof. Another definition can be the evident contrast between the ideal performance and the employees’ actual performance.
In terms of short-term strategy, the organization’s goal is to bridge these gaps through different interventions (training, developmental, and organizational, etc.). The immediate goal is to mitigate the effect on business metrics as soon as possible.
The business’ long-term goal, on the other hand, is to address these skill gaps by improving certain processes and rectify root causes. The desired result is to avoid these instances of competency gaps from ever happening again.
How to Identify Skill Gaps in the Workplace?
The first step is to take a closer look at the performance of employees in order to identify skill gaps. This involves gathering data in order to determine competency gaps and find root causes that need addressing. As a side note, this process is also critical in the identification of training needs of employees.
Looking at the wrong data or administering the wrong approach can have severe consequences when it comes to your company’s training, development, and even operational processes and interventions. And for that reason, we’d like to focus on data gathering methodologies when it comes to identifying gaps for essential skills for the workplace.
There are numerous methodologies that you can employ in data-gathering. The best approach, however, is to utilize at least three. Not only will it give you different perspectives on the issue, but will also provide you more insight on what the real issues and root causes are.
More importantly, multiple data sources can be used to cross-validate data, confirm analysis results, and ultimately, properly ratify and identify skill gaps.
For training professionals, determining competency gaps is one of the most effective methods of determining training needs. Not only that, it doesn’t only determine what skills need to be trained or developed in the short-term, but it also affects T & D strategy in the long run.
Here are five approaches that you can use to gather data and assess your employees:
1. Key Performance Indicators
In any business, key performance indicators (KPIs) determine how a person contributes to the business as an employee. Not only that, it also determines career progression, compensation, rewards, benefits, and even retention. KPIs are also very accurate indicators of competency gaps in the workplace.
KPIs are the best sources to use in order to identify skill gaps. Individual employees may have some issues with their KPIs and performance.
These isolated instances can be immediately remediated with appropriate interventions. The most important indicators to watch out for though are overall performance trends. Trends are usually signs that there is something wrong with a process and would require more work as compared to one-off interventions.
2. Employee Assessments
Assessments are excellent ways to identify skill gaps. And how can you assess your employees? That’s easy: tests and quizzes are one thing but other methods also include practical assessments or roleplay.
One key point here is to base the assessments on real work scenarios, to identify the actual skill gaps. As for how this can be implemented fast and effectively? Even your LMS can help: a strong skills-gap engine, like the one featured in eFrontPro, can help you identify gaps in skill and knowledge in the workplace.
3. 360-Degree Reviews
Another good approach to identify skill gaps is through feedback. There is an appraisal method called the 360-Degree Review. Feedback on an employee’s performance is solicited from peers, managers, and direct reports of an employee. Sometimes it also includes customers, clients, and vendors as well.
This appraisal approach can be adapted as a data gathering method too. Instead of getting feedback on a particular employee, you can get responses regarding certain performance issues of employees as a whole. And don’t forget to get feedback from the employees themselves too. They would be the best persons to ask about what skills they think they need more work on.
You can employ different activities to do this. The most efficient one is through the use of employee surveys because these easy to create and quick to deploy. Surveys can be quite limiting though.
Other approaches include focus-group discussions and interviews. While these may take up more time, the face-to-face interaction allows the interviewer to ask follow-up questions or have the respondents expound on their feedback.
More importantly, the 360-Degree Review approach is also a good way of getting qualitative data. We all know that numbers do not tell the entire story. One of the best ways of finding out what’s really happening is directly asking those who are involved with business operations.
There is a management concept that posits that in order to understand the most common issues in the workplace, you would need to spend time on the front lines. This practice is definitely is quite useful because it gives someone – the data gatherer, for example – a firsthand experience of what’s going in an employee’s work environment.
Observing employees at work is the perfect opportunity to find out how different factors come into play when there are apparent skill gaps. It was mentioned that numbers don’t really tell the story in all its entirety.
First-hand observation helps you find the ‘missing pieces’ – information not usually found in KPIs and employee feedback – to help you piece the skill-gap puzzle together.
Observations also give you (or the management) more insight on the real situation. There are even some instances where you might even discover some information or root causes that aren’t easily visible to the staff.
5. Benchmarking Performance
Another approach to identify skill gaps in the workplace is by bench-marking the performance of the organization’s top performers. This sets a point of reference on what the needed skills for success in the workplace are.
Observation is usually the main activity used when benchmarking top performers. This process draws out the best practices from your ‘A-employees.’ To add, it also gives a demonstration of the ideal competencies at work. These, in turn, can be used as skill templates – an employee profile for soft skills for the workplace – for example.
As part of a short-term strategy, you can compare the skills of employees identified as having skill gaps with that of the template. You can then base the appropriate interventions from there.
As part of a long-term strategy, you can base the entire employee cycle on that proven template. You can focus hiring based on that benchmarked profile. You can also train and develop the skills as dictated by the rubric. Then you may assess performance using the template and reward employees that exemplify the benchmarked skills.
Keep All Bases Covered
You’ll be quite surprised that there will be a lot of instances when the root cause of a skill gap is something that can’t be represented by numbers. Some examples of such root causes are: a lack of motivation, an incompetent manager, or a lack of equipment – the list goes on.
It’s always best to make sure that all bases are covered with sound data gathering and thorough analysis. Most, if not all, of the time – using multiple data sources will point you to the skill gap and its root cause(s) without the need to dwell too much on data.
So, always make sure to keep all bases covered and implement the appropriate intervention based on your analysis.