How to identify and address skill gaps at work

5 Approaches on How to Identify Skill Gaps at Work

There will always be what we call a “skills gap” — 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 identify skills gaps, and coming up with interventions to address those.

What is a skills gap?

There is actually no set skills gap definition, but the general consensus is that these are deficiencies in performance caused by a lack of skills for the workplace — or the lack of development thereof. Another skill gap definition can be the evident contrast between the ideal performance and the employees’ actual performance.

In terms of short-term employee development 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 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 employee performance in order to identify skill gaps. This involves gathering data in order to determine competency and performance gaps and find root causes that need addressing. As a side note, this process is also helpful when you want to discover employee training needs.

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 for that reason, it’s best to focus on data gathering methodologies when it comes to identifying gaps of essential skills in the workplace.

There are numerous methodologies that you can employ in data-gathering. The best approach, however, is to use at least three. Not only will it give you different perspectives on the issue, but different approaches will also provide you more insights into 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, analyzing skills gaps is one of the most effective methods for determining training needs. A skills gap analysis won’t only show what skills need to be trained or developed in the short-term, but it’ll also affect your L&D strategy in the long-run.

Here are five approaches that you can use to gather data, assess your employees, and identify skills gaps:

1. Key Performance Indicators

In any business, key performance indicators (KPIs) determine how a person contributes to the business as an employee. They also impact career progression, compensation, rewards, benefits, and even retention. KPIs are very accurate indicators of competency gaps in the workplace.

KPIs are the best sources to use in order to identify a skill gap. Individual employees may struggle 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 of larger training needs 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 a common way, but other methods also include practical assessments or role-playing activities.

One key point here is to base the assessments on real work scenarios so you can identify the actual skill gaps and training needs. As for how this can be implemented fast and effectively? Even your LMS can help: a strong skills gap analysis solution, like the one featured in eFront, can help you identify gaps in skill and knowledge in the workplace.

Learn more about how to conduct a skills gap analysis with eFront

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 employee performance is solicited from peers, managers, and direct reports. Sometimes, this type of review also includes customers, clients, and vendors.

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 use them for your team and individual training analysis. And don’t forget to get feedback from employees themselves, too. They would be the best people to ask about what skills gaps they think they have and what they’d like to improve.

You can employ different activities to do this. The most efficient one is through the use of employee surveys because they’re 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, face-to-face interactions allow 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 when conducting a skills gap analysis. We all know that numbers do not tell the entire story. One of the best ways of identifying skill gaps and training needs is directly asking those who are involved with business operations.

5 Approaches on How to Identify a Skills Gap at Work

4. Observations

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 you a first-hand 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 conduct a skills gap analysis: you can 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 insights into 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. Performance benchmarks

Another approach to identify skill gaps in the workplace is by benchmarking 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.” It also indicates the ideal competencies at work. These, in turn, can be used as skill gap analysis templates — an employee profile for soft skills in 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 and training programs from there.

As part of a long-term strategy, you can base the entire employee cycle on that proven skills gap analysis template. You can focus hiring 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 skills 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 skills gap 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 skills gap and training analysis.

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