Tips for Closing Skill Gaps at Your Workplace

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Companies have been dealing with a skill gap for many years–this is well known. And the COVID-19 pandemic only increased that skill gap. That’s because some old jobs were lost, at least temporarily, other new jobs were created, and people where changing their jobs either within the same organization or from one organization to another. And a host of digital and online skills became even more important than they were before COVID.

So that skill gap problem we’ve been talking about for a long time became even more pressing.

In this article, we thought we’d take a look at the skills gap problem, including how to address it, from the perspective of human performance improvement, or HPI. HPI is a performance-improvement methodology that includes but is not limited to training for potential solutions.

We hope you find the article helpful. Please share your own experiences and tips at the bottom in the comments section.

Know What Skills Drive Organizational Results

You should start by knowing what goals your organization is trying to achieve. Remember, it’s critical that learning and development professionals are aware of business goals and creating training and other performance-intervention solutions that support those goals.

And then, you need to know which skills are most important at your workplace to help the organization achieve its goals. Yes, to some degree, all skills are important, but some are more important than others and some are much more central to helping the organization achieve it’s goals.

So you’re going to want to (1) know what goals your organization wants to achieve; (2) identify the skills needed to help your organization achieve those goals; and (3) focus on helping workers develop those critical skills that help the organization achieve those desired results.

That means you may spend less time–or even none–helping employees develop skills that are less critical to the organization’s primary goals. And that’s OK–remember, it’s OK at times to let workers learn some things on their own through on-the-job experience or learn them from their coworkers when the need arises (read our article on the 70/20/10 workplace learning model for more on this idea).

Know What Skills Specific Workers Need

It’s not enough to know what skills are needed at your workplace. You also need to know which workers need specific critical skills.

This comes through understanding the work processes at your workplace; through observing work as done; through talking with HR, supervisors, and employees about these issues; and perhaps even by playing a role along with others, such as HR and supervisors, in helping to determine tasks and needed skills for specific job roles or workers.

Know What Skills Specific Workers Actually Have

Of course, you also want to know what skills workers already have. That’s especially obvious when it comes to training, as you don’t want to design and develop training for workers to teach them skills they already possess.

Remember, the “A” in ADDIE is for analysis, and during analysis, you should be learning more about the workers, including but not limited to the skills they have and the skills they need.


Prioritize the Most Important Skills for Training Now

If you know the most critical skills necessary to help the business reach its goals, and know what skills workers already have, now you can prioritize the design, development, and delivery of training to help workers acquire those skills (assuming that training is the appropriate solution).

One thing to think about: you can get a lot of bang for your training buck by nailing your new employee onboarding; helping people transition into new job roles smoothly; and helping people develop new, necessary skills when something changes as such (such as when you change a production process or introduce a new product).

Use Training with Skills-Based Learning Objectives

We all need to know things to do our jobs at work and we all need to do things at work. But very few of us get paid just to know things. Instead, we’re paid to use that knowledge while performing job skills.

As a result, training should focus on helping workers develop job skills, not just on helping workers acquire knowledge. Yes, you may need to help workers acquire knowledge so they can perform the skill properly and/or safely, but in very few cases can you stop at simply imparting knowledge and/or raising awareness.

As a result, you’ve got to develop training that’s focused around performance-based learning objectives that are skills based.

For more on this, please watch out recorded video discussion with learning researcher Dr. Patti Shank on creating learning objectives and download our guide on writing learning objectives.

Assess Workers After Training on Skills

If you create skills-based learning objectives (as discussed above) and lead training activities to help workers develop those skills, then you’ll also want to use training assessments (note–this is a fancy way to say “demonstration” or “test”) when the workers have completed the training.

The purpose here is to make sure your training was effective and that workers really can perform those job skills when the training is done.

For more tips on this, please see our article about “level 1” post-training evaluation smile sheets based on a book by learning researcher Dr. Will Thalheimer (in particular, pay attention to Thalheimer’s suggestions for writing questions and answer options that ask workers how prepared they are to perform the trained skill on the job). And, of course, check out our interview with Dr. Patti Shank on creating better level 2 assessments, especially how to write better skills-based multiple-choice questions.

Help Support Skill Development Even After Training

There’s no real reason to honestly believe you can train workers on a skill, send them off to the work area, and have them perform that new skill like experienced veterans immediately and from that point-on.

In short, one-and-done training rarely works.

That means you’ll have to provide additional training so workers don’t forget and so they can build on what they learned (see our articles on spaced practice and deliberate practice for more on this). And it also means you’ll have to do more than training to help support workers after training is over, including working with their supervisors to help the supervisor support the training as well.

A good model to check to give more thought to this is Dr. Will Thalheimer’s Decisive Dozen. Check it out….we’ll wait here for you to come back.

Don’t Forget About Mentorships, Social Learning, Etc.

Earlier, we mentioned the 70/20/10 model and noted that workers can learn a lot on their own and from their coworkers.

You don’t have to play a central role in this, and you don’t have to create formal training for it, but you CAN act to help facilitate this kind of informal, internal learning.

Maybe you’ve got an LMS where you can list subject matter experts on particular topics–which employees can use to find who’s the expert on specific issues and then ask those people questions. Or maybe you can set up an informal lunch and learn series at work. Whatever it is, you can improve learning at your organization simply by helping to create the infrastructure in which it takes place.

For more on this, check out our What Is a Learning Organization? article and our interview with Michelle Ockers on Developing a Learning Organization.

Consider Other Workplace Performance Improvement Interventions, Too!

Finally, keep in mind that while skills are great, and training employees to help them develop skills is wonderful, that sometimes the best answers are something other than skill development and training.

As we noted at the head of this article, that’s where human performance improvement (HPI) can really come in handy.

We won’t go into long detail about HPI in this article, but we definitely encourage you to check out some of our other articles on HPI methods and tools to learn more:


Conclusion: We Can Work To Help Solve the Skills Gap, EVEN During the COVID Pandemic

We hope you found this article helpful. Stay safe and healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic and let’s all double-down to do our best to help our organizations succeed during trying times.

Before you go, download our infographic of the famous Mager/Pipe Performance Problem Analysis & Solution Flowchart, immediately below.

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Analyzing & Solving Workplace Performance Problems Flowchart

Download this free infographic, based on the famous Mager/Pipe flowchart from their book Analyzing Performance Problems, to determine the cause of workplace performance problems and then select the appropriate solution/intervention.

Download Free Infographic

Analyzing & Solving Workplace Performance Problems Infographic Btn
Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto

Jeffrey Dalto is an Instructional Designer and the Senior Learning & Development Specialist at Convergence Training. He's worked in training/learning & development for 25 years, in safety and safety training for more than 10, is an OSHA Authorized Outreach Trainer for General Industry OSHA 10 and 30, has completed a General Industry Safety and Health Specialist Certificate from the University of Washington/Pacific Northwest OSHA Education Center and an Instructional Design certification from the Association of Talent Development (ATD), and is a member of the committee creating the upcoming ANSI/ASSP Z490.2 national standard on online environmental, health, and safety training. Jeff frequently writes for magazines related to safety, safety training, and training and frequently speaks at conferences on the same issues, including the Washington Governor's Safety and Health Conference, the Oregon Governor's Occupational Safety and Health Conference, the Wisconsin Safety Conference, the MSHA Training Resources Applied to Mining (TRAM) Conference, and others.

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