To solve the skills gap problem, we need to rethink what it actually is

 
By Shelley Osborne
head of L&D, Udemy
January 7th, 2019

The skills gap problem we face is no secret. We can pretty much all agree there is an issue—81 percent of U.S. employees acknowledge it, according to Udemy’s 2018 Skills Gap Report.

But there is also a gap in understanding how to fix it. We have mistakenly taken the approach of trying to fix the problem before truly identifying what it actually is. And to fully understand the skills gap, we must dismiss common myths.

Myth: It’s only about hard skills
We often associate the skills gap issue with a lack of technical expertise or hard skills, like computer programmers or data scientists. But identifying the problem from the standpoint of hard skills does not lead to a long-term solution. If you teach the entire country coding skills, for example, those learnings could be outdated within just a few years as digital transformation takes its natural course.

Instead, we need to focus on improving soft skills, ones that revolve around human capabilities. Think of the terms you’d want to highlight on a resume, like problem-solving, analytical thinking, emotional intelligence, and creativity. As the World Economic Forum reported, these are the skills robots can’t outperform people at. This translates to job security and, in the age of growing fears around AI taking jobs, it goes a long way.

Myth: It all stems from schooling problems
The role of our education system cannot be understated and depending on who you ask, there may be room for improvement in how we teach future generations and prepare them for this complex world.

But school itself is not the sole solution to the skills gap problem and this is because of the rapid evolution that we are seeing with the future of work today. Sure, those soft skills mentioned above are and should be a critical component of our education system, but learning shouldn’t stop once school ends.

Companies should also prioritize supporting employees and their upskilling. It’s best to consider it an investment in your people, one that will generate a strong ROI. If you aren’t finding outside people with the proper skills to take on new jobs and roles, why not infuse those abilities into your current staff, or hire people with those soft skills that will allow them to quickly adapt?

Myth: Ping pong tables and beer on tap will fix everything
In trying to attract the right talent, employers will often try to sell a particular image of their workplace culture.

It has become a staple for Silicon Valley culture—offering weird, quirky perks that look cool on paper but are essentially a cover-up for more serious cultural issues. Endless snacks in the kitchen, beer on tap, or a ping pong table in the lobby do not make employees happy or fulfilled.

Depending on who you ask, these perks can be fun and cool, but is it what people actually want? The answer is no and there has been data to back it up for several years now. Most recently, in Udemy’s 2018 Millennials At Work Report, 42 percent said learning and development (L&D) is the most important benefit they look for after salary. And the skills gap report mentioned above notes that more than half (51%) of respondents said they’d quit a job if they didn’t receive necessary training.

Myth: If we do “more,” we’ll do learning the right way
Even with an emphasis on training and building the right workplace culture, a common mistake made is the idea that to solve the skills gap problem, we simply need to do “more.”

This is not the case and in an age where employees are already being stretched thin, simply adding one-size-fits-all training sessions will only lead to more strain. Instead, the focus needs to be on doing L&D right, not just doing more of it. Learning, as a result, must be embraced as a strategic tool that will build an overall culture of learning and self-improvement.

An example of this is a more common-sense training program that works for the already busy employee. On-demand, self-paced and even video-focused programs can allow people to learn in smaller and more digestible increments to make the insights more impactful.

Myth: If we can’t predict future skills, we shouldn’t even be worried
This myth is perhaps the biggest error that we make in calculating the skills gap. Certainly, solving this issue is complex and won’t happen overnight, but sometimes it can seem so complicated and unpredictable that it is easy to want to just cross that bridge once we get there.

While we cannot predict the hard skills that will be needed in our world one day, we cannot forget about those all-important soft skills. Specifically, the one that rises above all others is the ability and desire to learn.

Knowing how to learn is a critical skill, but it’s not just an individual skill. It may seem odd, but companies must learn how to learn, democratizing constant education through an organization and empowering its people to uplevel themselves and drive their professional growth.

How we move forward
The skills gap is very real—we all know that. But our assumptions of what to do next is not agreed upon. We can only conquer this complex problem by making the right investments: investments in people, the right learning processes, and simply put, the future.

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