April 26th, 2023 · 5 min read
Overcoming the technology skills gap: Tips for L&D leaders
Picture this: Some of your top-performing and experienced employees find themselves falling behind at work because the software tools they’re used to are quickly being replaced with more advanced solutions. This all-too-common scenario plays out regularly in the modern workplace, where the rapid rate of technological advancement is outpacing workers’ ability to upskill.
The reality is that digital transformation is here to stay and shows no signs of slowing down. Businesses failing to get ahead of this are already behind, losing productivity, profitability and the ability to grow. Not only is this concerning for your P&L, but it’s also demoralizing for your people, most of whom are entirely capable of stepping up their skills when given the opportunity to learn. Now is a critical time to take action to address these skills gaps or risk facing long-term business consequences.
Understanding the technology skills gap
A technology skills gap occurs when there’s a disparity between the technical knowledge and skills that an individual or group of employees has, and the skills that are required to do the job. This is not to be confused with the skills shortage in technology, which refers to the lack of skilled IT talent in today’s job market. Tech skills gaps affect people across all job functions, not just those working in IT.
So, how does this play out in real life?
Recent research from Gartner shows that the skills needed to do any given job have increased 10%, year over year, since 2017. To keep pace, they estimate that 58% of the workforce will need to update their current skill sets in order to remain relevant in the modern landscape. Workers are already on board, with Gallup reporting that 57% of workers want to update their skills and 48% would consider switching jobs to do it.
Companies have a captive audience actively interested in solving their skills gaps. So, why is this not happening? Let’s take a step back to understand more of the “why” behind this.
What’s causing the tech skills gap?
The aftermath of COVID-19
Many people think of the tech skills gap as being perpetuated by extraordinary innovations such as advanced robotics, ChatGPT or other complex, future-era digital technologies. In reality, tech skills gaps emerge from much less dramatic modifications to the typical solutions people use in their day-to-day lives.
For example, recall the skills gap that was revealed at the onset of COVID-19 when millions of people had to quickly familiarize themselves with video conferencing software. For less tech-savvy organizations, this required taking rapid measures to train and upskill employees on using these tools to work from home. Alongside this, C-suites and IT teams had to address the very real security concerns of operating an entire business remotely, often on home computers.
The growing demand for software
In 2011, Venture Capitalist Marc Andreesen famously said, “Software is eating the world.” Over two decades later, the statement still stands. Tools that didn’t exist ten years ago are integral to the operations, systems and products of nearly every business across all industries. From depositing checks via phone to receiving photos and satellite coordinates of package deliveries, software drives everything.
What does this mean?
For businesses that depend on technology — that is to say, all businesses — employees need proper education, training and resources to keep up with this constant evolution of change. Your technology stack is only as powerful as the people who are using it. If your workforce isn’t equipped with basic to mid-level digital literacy skills, investing in new tech is potentially detrimental to your bottom line.
The digital divide on the frontline
Industries with large frontline workforces, such as retail and hospitality, were experiencing noticeable skills gaps prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, and these have only widened since.
In fact, frontline workers are some of the hardest hit in terms of access to technology and the resulting skills gaps. Instead of digital processes, for instance, many frontline positions still default to manual or paper-based processes. Similarly, many frontline workers receive fewer opportunities for workforce development, which then hampers opportunities for advancement.
Part of the problem stems from the lack of access to even the most standard of tools used today, such as broadband internet. Whether due to high cost, lack of service near their home, lack of awareness or insufficient skills, issues like these perpetuate digital illiteracy and do a great disservice to workers. Companies pay the price, too, with workers unable to perform as needed.
In one study of desk-less workers, 60% report being less than satisfied with the technology they have, 70% report that technology would help them do their job better and, strikingly, 56% are using their own technologies to fill the gap. Frontline workers are eager to embrace workplace technology but similar to those in desk jobs, they don’t have the proper education and tools to do it.
Traditional training and upskilling methods are falling short
The traditional workplace learning methods businesses have relied on are no longer effective at equipping employees with the skills they need to keep pace.
Companies are investing in L&D, but it’s not producing results the way it should — in part because workforce education is not “one and done.” Effective L&D runs on a continuum of learning new skills, using and absorbing those skills in practice and then building on them further. Many L&D programs, by contrast, quickly train and upskill individuals on one specific tool or process, with rarely any follow-up or opportunity for continued education.
While effective for specific needs, such as onboarding or rolling out a new software tool, this approach doesn’t enable the development of core competencies needed to build digital literacy.
In an effort to provide education for employees, many companies turn to tuition reimbursement. While the intent behind these types of programs is to drive learning, they often suffer from low adoption rates due to their inaccessibility. Simply put, many employees don’t have the means to pay a large sum of money upfront for tuition. If employees can’t take advantage of tuition reimbursement, it doesn’t serve the company or your people any good.
What can L&D leaders do about the tech skills gap?
Closing the tech skills gap requires a more comprehensive approach than simply providing your workforce with a one-time training course on the latest software. Developing a long-term solution that keeps pace with innovation means establishing a cultural expectation of continuous learning and enabling your people to take the lead on their education by providing the resources and tools they need.
Rather than looking solely at experience and educational background, refocus your hiring efforts to also prioritize skills such as adaptability, resilience and learning agility. These skills reflect an individual’s ability and willingness to learn and be flexible.
Align learning to company culture
It’s one thing to invest in L&D programs, it’s another to ensure that employees are taking advantage and getting value out of them. That’s why it’s critical to go a step further and strategize how you can integrate learning into the greater organizational culture. It helps to find a champion of learning culture in the C-Suite — from the CLO to others — and get buy-in from your people leaders in supporting their employees’ career goals.
Invest in continuous education
While one-off training has its place for specific use cases, filling skills gaps requires a more comprehensive approach that blends training with on-the-job learning and accessible education that can include degrees and other credentials such as professional certifications. This combination of short- and long-term learning helps employees upskill/reskill quickly (especially in response to constantly changing technology), while also developing long-term competencies that can advance a person’s career.
To encourage employees to build on their competencies, make learning opportunities available and easy. Review your current L&D strategy and consider how you can remove roadblocks:
- Provide the tools that employees need for successful learning, such as personal computers or high-speed internet.
- Prioritize online learning so people can learn wherever and whenever they want.
- Rethink tuition reimbursement and opt for an accessible education program that employs a direct bill model. This takes the financial burden off of the employee and opens the window of opportunity for those with fewer resources to take advantage.
Every gap is an opportunity
With technology on a constant race forward, staying ahead can feel like a game of whack-a-mole, where new solutions pop up at every turn, shifting and evolving almost faster than companies can keep up. But every gap represents an opportunity to improve.
By providing employees with comprehensive training and education opportunities to keep their skills current, your business is in a strong position to stay on par with the technology curve.
Discover more resources: The first step in finding skills gaps is fixing them. Download this free skills gap analysis template to kickstart your efforts.
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