Skills gaps in the workplace are a fact of life. The problem isn’t that these gaps exist; rather it’s a question of how to find them and what to do about them.
In this article, we talk about how you can work with your teams to identify skills gaps, determine the qualification and level of experience needed to fill these gaps, and decide how to address them going forward.
We then explore the pros and cons of three main ways to fill skills gaps: upskilling existing staff, hiring new staff with the desired skills, and outsourcing certain tasks to other organisations.
How to identify skills gaps
The best way to identify skills gaps is through conversations with your team. Be upfront with them that you’re looking for skills gaps and trying to determine how to fill them. This encourages your team to honestly explain which skills may be missing.
Kick-off this process with a team meeting. Work together to brainstorm all the team’s responsibilities and desired work output, and what skills are needed (and in what quantities) to meet these goals.
Then discuss who performs each of these skills, bearing in mind that multiple team members can perform the same function and individuals can fill many different roles within the team. Look out for:
- Skills the team needs, but that none of its members have yet
- Skills that don’t have enough team members to perform them
- Skills that people want to improve
Skills that the team needs but doesn’t have yet will require collective skills development, whereas skills that not enough people can perform might indicate a shortage of team members. Skills that people want to improve are good topics for future training.
You also need to supplement your team meetings by looking for skills gaps at the individual level in your one-to-ones.
Before you meet to talk about role requirements, skills, or career development, make sure you inform each team member that this is what you plan to discuss in your next one-to-one so they have time to prepare.
In your one-to-ones with each team member:
- Draw up a task-based description of their role in the team
- Write up a list of skills they use to perform these tasks
- Discuss each skill with them, looking for skills that need improvement or ones they want to further develop
You should then be able to combine the skills data from all your one-on-ones to establish both individual skills gaps within the team and collective skills gaps (or areas in which the whole team is underskilled). Skills mapping can be a powerful tool to help your team understand and visualize the distribution of skills and where there are gaps.
Remember, you should be having regular conversations in your one-to-ones about what challenges each person is facing, and what might be stopping them or their team from fulfilling their requirements. This will also help you track the effectiveness of any solutions you implement to fill your skills gaps.
How to fill skills gaps
Once you’ve identified your skills gaps, you can fill them.
This is a good time to set up another team meeting in which you discuss the skills gaps you have found. Use it to gather insight from the team about which solution would work best for them going forward.
Below are the pros and cons of the three main ways you can fill skills gaps in your teams.
One way you could fill skills gaps in your team is by upskilling existing team members. This involves offering them workplace learning opportunities so that they can learn to perform the skill the team lacks.
- Upskilling opportunities are a workplace benefit that add value to people’s jobs in the form of career development, and can even improve retention rates as a result.
- Upskilling an existing member of staff can be quicker and more cost-effective than hiring externally.
- Upskilling can help you retain and elevate high-performing talent as part of your succession plans.
- It can take a long time for people to learn the skill they need.
- Existing team members might not have the time to learn new skills and take on new responsibilities.
The second way you can fill skills gaps in your teams is by hiring new staff. This might be a good solution if you have large skills gaps that cannot be filled via upskilling. With strategic headcount planning, each team can identify opportunities for new hires to fill existing skills gaps.
- By hiring new team member/s, you can increase the output capacity of your entire team.
- Hiring people who have skills that others lack adds to your workplace’s collective skills pool, and others may be able to gain these skills by learning from the new person.
- The hiring process is time-consuming. It can take weeks or months to find the right person, and then even longer to fully onboard and integrate them into the team’s workflow.
- The hiring process is also inherently risky and there is no guarantee that any new person is the ideal fit for the job.
You can also fill skills gaps by outsourcing certain tasks to a third party, such as a freelancer or a service platform. For example, many companies choose to use plug-and-play website-building services instead of having one of their staff code their website from scratch.
Outsourcing might be a good solution for you if the skill/s that you are missing do not need to be performed in person or via close collaboration with other team members.
- Outsourcing a self-contained skill can be a quick and easy process that doesn’t disrupt the workflow of other team members.
- Outsourcing certain tasks can give your team members more time to spend on other areas of their work.
- Outsourcing processes can suffer from misunderstandings and miscommunication, as the outsourced person is not working on-site or in close contact with the team.
- Outsourced workers can be less engaged and invested in the company than on-site, full-time staff members, which can negatively affect their reliability and work quality.
What’s more important than what your skills gaps are is how you deal with them. Consulting with your team as a whole and one-on-one can give you vital insight into where their skills gaps are, how they affect the team’s work, and what might be the best way to fill them.
Upskilling, hiring, and outsourcing to fill skills gaps each have their own potential advantages and disadvantages, which you should weigh up with your team’s input before deciding which solution would work best for you.