Mend the Gap: How to Boost Employees’ Confidence and Secure the Right Skills for Tomorrow’s Jobs

ThinkstockPhotos-144234029The skills gap remains a significant hurdle as businesses evaluate staffing needs. With jobs becoming more specialized, businesses worry about finding qualified workers to drive continued innovation and productivity.

Such skills shortage concerns are no longer exclusive to employers, as workers additionally feel burdened by their perceived limitations as they seek career advancement. Spherion’s 2015 Emerging Workforce Study found that nearly one-third of American workers are not confident in their career skills. They feel their abilities are outdated, and that this lack of personal evolution will hinder their ability to meet both the changing demands of their industry and the added responsibilities of future positions.

This confidence crisis is a threat to personal and company growth that businesses and employees must address now. Employees who believe their workplace does not provide applicable success tools and training are more likely to either become unmotivated to pursue personal development or seek positions more suitable to their goals at another company. Either outcome is detrimental to business efficiency.

How can businesses find and develop employees who feel better prepared for their current and future jobs? Through a four-step approach to clearer communication and a mutual understanding of what both sides truly value, employers can create an environment conducive to both personal and business advancement.

Pave a Smoother Career Path

To close the gap, both sides must first overcome career development responsibility disconnects. According to the Emerging Workforce Study, four in five (81%) employers believe employees should be required to grow their abilities to help the organization prosper. However, 92% of employers also agree that it’s up to employees to find and pursue career development opportunities.

Conversely, more than three-fourths (76%) of employees hold their companies accountable for defining a clear career development path. Many of today’s workers struggle to devote time to skill refinement, and seek their employer’s help to implement schedule-friendly solutions. Furthermore, nearly half (44%) find a company that expects them to independently pursue training or educational experiences less attractive when evaluating workplaces.

Instead of placing skill development responsibility – and blame – on each other, employees and employers should work together to identify the programs most critical for career growth. Employers must understand that development is vital to employees’ overall workplace happiness and promote training programs that address specific needs. Likewise, employees should discuss their development concerns with their managers and recommend programs they would consider beneficial. Through smoother career development communication, employers and employees can eliminate disconnects that typically contribute to the skills gap.

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Identify and Emphasize Core Skills

Employers and employees have already cleared a significant disconnect through agreement on what they believe are the most essential current and future employment skills. The Emerging Workforce Study found that workers consider problem-solving (51%), strategic thinking (31%) and evolving technology expertise (30%) most necessary for workplace success. While employers also prioritize problem-solving (47%), strategic thinking (34%) and evolving technology expertise (25%), they additionally value team-building and data interpretation (25% each). By emphasizing these priorities more prominently, employers can help employees focus on building core skills and leveraging them for career advancement.

Deliver Training that Matters

The good news is that more businesses recognize the need for better training. In fact, more than three-fourths (76%) have expanded development programs within the last year. Moreover, more businesses understand the value of investing in their employees’ futures, as only 24% consider the cost of training workers a significant challenge. Yet, employees generally remain unsatisfied. Nearly four in 10 workers (37%) rated the programs offered at their workplace as “poor” or “fair.”

Why are employers missing the mark? One reason is the difficulty of designing training programs that matter. It can be difficult for employers to determine which priorities will truly motivate their teams, and more than a quarter (26%) say they struggle to accommodate evolving skill-specific training demands. Employees rank training and development last among the factors that drive them to stay on the job. Is this, in part, because training programs don’t deliver what employees feel they need to succeed at work?  Employees are more likely to prioritize training if they feel they will learn something valuable – for both their own careers and their company’s success. In turn, employers should frequently consult employees to better understand the training types and skills-building opportunities that really matter to them.

Train. Retain. Sustain.

The lack of employees’ confidence in either their job skills or their company’s ability to advance them hinders retention. HR teams estimate one in five workers will look for a new job in the coming year, adding pressure to fill additional positions beyond those they are already struggling with. Additionally, 70% of companies fear up-and-coming workers will not successfully fill the void created as Baby Boomers, often businesses’ most tenured employees, retire.

These transitions intensify the need for companies to retain their current employees, in lieu of investing significant time and resources searching for and training their replacements. As a result, the Emerging Workforce Study found a steady jump in the number of businesses now conducting worker engagement surveys. The Study additionally found that as younger workers assume greater responsibility, they want to feel that their employer values their efforts. Through more in-depth training and career path development, businesses will empower their up-and-coming workers to make meaningful contributions and succeed in new roles – and increase their likelihood of staying with their current company.

As the skills gap impedes the progress of both employees seeking career advancement and employers seeking business growth, the responsibility for overcoming these obstacles falls on both parties. Workers need to understand where their industries are heading and the skills needed to meet these changes, while employers must consider the same factors when implementing training programs. Through improved communication and understanding of employees’ most pressing skill development needs, businesses can enjoy greater retention, engagement and success.

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Sandy Mazur

Sandy Mazur
Sandy Mazur is division president of license and franchise, Spherion Corp. She is responsible for the strategic leadership and support of an extensive base of Spherion franchise and license offices, as well as expansion into new U.S. markets.

Sandy Mazur

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