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Recognize a Skill Gap Before You Are Told

Stephan Pastis cartoon on avoiding the need for change resulting in the skill gap remaining.
Credit: Stephan Pastis

What do we mean by a skill gap?

The concept of recognizing something you don’t know, seeing the mismatch between the skills we need and ones we have, first emerged in a 2012 HBR article Mind the (Skills) Gap. The article analyzed the gap concept from the perspective of a mismatch between what schools teach and what employers want. I believe this view of the skill gap challenge is too limited and obscures the real issues. The underlying issues are two-fold. One of awareness, do we recognize the fact that we are actually missing a key skill? The second issue is the velocity of change, are we keeping up with this pace in our own development?

Awareness gaps are often referred to as blind spots. It’s a phenomenon that most of us will experience at some point in our careers, usually in earlier years but not exclusively so. Great to know, but how do we identify it before hearing it in a performance review? More importantly, is the act of shifting one’s mindset from reactive to continuous learning. The World Economic Forum (WEF) Future of Jobs Survey report finds that continuous active learning will be a critical skill through 2025.

How do we recognize a skill gap?

Before we get into when the gaps occur, let’s look at why this issue is important. The WEF report noted: “on average, companies estimate that around 40% of workers will require reskilling of six months or less and 94% of business leaders report that they expect employees to pick up new skills on the job”. This aligns with their skill ranking and helps us understand why this topic is critical for all of us.

Let’s start by identifying when skill gaps occur, both for an organization and an individual:

  1. Unrealistic expectations: within organizations, where philosophies of high skill/low pay prevail, and for individuals, where an individual’s performance falls short of the job requirements.
  2. Poor planning: where individuals and organizations alike focus primarily on near-term needs (current business strategy) rather than long-term needs (where trends are heading).
  3. New technologies: new or emerging technologies often lead to a shortage of qualified individuals versus the industry demand (think of data scientists today).

There are, of course, other socio-economic causes, however those are for a future blog. Returning to our three common causes, each of which is within our control to solve. It leads us to naturally wonder how we solve them.

Awareness and Acceptance

The first step toward change is awareness. The second step is acceptance. 

Nathaniel Branden

This thoughtful yet simple quote from psychotherapist Dr. Nathaniel Branden helps contextualize the sequence. First, recognize the skill gap, then accept that it requires change and that the change is within your control.

Common signs that we have a skill gap

  • We identify gaps in ourselves when we struggle to complete an activity within a reasonable period of time. For example, a classic tell-tale sign is working long hours or weekends, just to keep up.
  • Finding ourselves having to regularly search for information on how to do something. Such as excessive online searches or reference manual reviews.
  • Disliking what we are doing. The dislike is often, but not always, tied to something not being as easy as it should be!

Acceptance that we need to change

The journey starts with the right frame of mind, one that wants to develop a mindset of continuous learning and then the motivation to see it through.

We look for these attributes in a mindset that includes passion, grit, and perseverance. I share several examples of this mindset in action in Working Through the Urge to Quit Something and Finding Everyday Purpose.

Motivation is covered in Making it Work in Your Favour.

Closing the Skill Gap

  1. Increase self-learning: new technologies and services deliver education flexibly, whenever and wherever you want them. For instance, you could take a refresher on java programming online with any number of universities or learn to Code with Codecademy. Learning is unrestricted by place or time.
  2. Peer-to-peer learning: skills are improved by sharing recent learning activities with peers (learn, do, and teach). By sharing what we learn with others, we also reinforce it within ourselves – a double benefit.
  3. Accelerate your learning through bigger changes: we learn best from a place of being uncomfortable. Think back to your most extensive learning experiences – new jobs, moving to a new country, or changing schools. All of these examples start from discomfort following a loss of familiarity – skills are quickly acquired out of necessity. So, consider making a larger life change to jump-start your skill development.

Continuous Learning as a skill

With the right mindset, motivation and self-created opportunities, we can each achieve anything we set our mind to. I share more about this subject in a podcast hosted by IMA, check it out! 

What will you do with your newly acquired continuous active learning tools?

Your turn

Sign in to the Community Member Area or comment below to share your views, tips, and tricks on how you successfully identify skill gaps and then tackle them.

Want more insight on developing a continuous active learning approach, check out The Power of Potential.

Give it a try!

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