The Corporate Skills Gap Problem, and How to Solve It

The Corporate Skills Gap Problem, and How to Solve It

In a highly competitive labour market, the best route to economic growth is making sure your learners and workers are prepared for technological disruption through training and education.

It’s hardly news to you that finding and hiring the right employees has become a challenge for every company and government agency in Northern Europe. Studies and statistics have been highlighting that trend for several years. However, as one media report noted, the “mismatch” has become so “acute,” these countries face the prospect of losing out on the upswing in business momentum that is driving revenue growth in other parts of Europe.

The most recent Hays Global Skills Index, for example, called out Sweden, Denmark and the Netherlands, in particular, for continued hiring challenges. This index uses 19 indicators to quantify how easy or difficult it is for companies in 33 global economies to attract and retain the most talented workers. The higher the index score, the more challenging the hiring process is. A score above 5.0 suggests a labour market under real pressure. All three countries come in higher than that:

Country Overall index score Talent mismatch score
Sweden 6.7 9.9
Denmark 6.4 9.0
The Netherlands 5.6 5.9

As the report stated, two factors have come into play, “both of which need to be tackled urgently.” First, there’s a “growing talent mismatch” between the set of skills workers have and what’s required by employers, demonstrated by a rise in unfulfilled vacancies.

Second, labour productivity levels have “flatlined,” a phenomenon that settled in with the global financial crisis of 2008 and hasn’t shifted since. As the report suggested, stagnation in productivity reflects several macroeconomic forces: a population that is aging, a reduced investment in education and training, and a reduction in global trade.

The challenge is only growing on both fronts as work becomes increasingly digitalised. The use of ubiquitous high-speed, mobile internet; robotics; artificial intelligence; and sensor-driven operations—encapsulated by the monikers, “Industry 4.0” or “4th Industrial Revolution”—suggests a future in which digital processes and computing technology are changing how work is done as well as the skills workers will need to keep up with those changes.

The number one antidote recommended by the Hays report for driving economic growth in the right direction is to make sure that workers are prepared for technological disruption through training and education.

How Traditional Skills Training Approaches Fail

How do you keep your employees prepared? Here too changes are afoot. The traditional forms of training and education can no longer keep pace. Sending members of your staff off for a new round of classroom training, delivered by a highly-paid expert who may or may not understand your specific challenges, isn’t necessarily the solution that will address the skills gap your organisation faces.

Classroom training is outdated on many levels:

  • Timing is a challenge.The logistics of classroom training require that it be scheduled in advance, when the space and the trainer are both available, which is often out of synch with the world you’re actually living in and the problems you face.
  • The training is a passive experience.You have several days in the classroom where you’re expected to learn everything in one go. Most people aren’t really ready for that—especially those of us who haven’t been in school for a long time. It’s really difficult to maintain concentration over that amount of time.
  • The training is costlier. Frequently, employees trained in the conventional way need to travel to a different location, stay in lodging, eat in restaurants and miss days of work to obtain their training. One company told us that it spends €1,000 per employee each year for their training. How much training do you actually get for that? A lot of that was related to hotels, flights and transportation—all things that have nothing to do with training but were part of the cost because you have to gather people in the classroom wherever the training is being delivered.
  • Work isn’t getting done.As valuable as training programs are, whenever an employee leaves for training, others are left to pick up the slack—that is, if others are available who know how to do the work. People can’t do their jobs while they’re in a classroom. That’s several days’ worth of lost productivity that put a dent in the bottom line.
  • The training is focused on learning, not doing. Bringing people together in a classroom makes for a generic training experience. You end up discussing somebody else’s problem, not your own. As a result, people learning in a classroom run the risk of forgetting much of what they’ve learned by the time they’ve returned to work. Studies have indicated that classroom-based courses result in participants remember about a fifth of what they learn, which equals to only a 20 percent value to your training investment.
  • Getting the timing of training right can be tricky. The learning in classroom training often comes way before it’s needed just for the sake of passing a test. Take the example of GDPR certification. Plenty of companies had staff take their training in advance of when they really needed to put the directive’s rules into practice. The certification box was checked! But when the time came for them to do something related to GDPR regulations, much of what they’d learned was already forgotten. And there was no way to recreate the lessons they’d received because the instructor had moved on and the assignments were over.

Right now, the best remedy you have for leading through the technological disruption is by making sure your workforce can pivot as new needs—products, services, discoveries, opportunities—arise. And that will require you to tackle head on any skills gaps separating your operation from success.

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