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How to Identify Skills Gaps in Your Tech Team

Written By April Bohnert | September 28, 2023

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In tech, innovation is a way of life. With each passing year, we witness groundbreaking advancements that promise to revolutionize how we live and work. But with this relentless pace of change comes an inevitable challenge: ensuring technical teams have the right skills to harness these technologies. 

According to the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report 2023, employers estimate that a staggering 44% of workers’ skills will be disrupted in the next five years. To add to that, six in ten workers will require significant training or reskilling before 2027. It’s clear that the ground is shifting beneath us, and businesses need to stay alert and adapt.

At the heart of this challenge is the concept of a skills gap

What Is a Skills Gap?

A skills gap is the difference between the skills your team currently possesses and the skills required for them to perform at their best. 

Skills gaps can be caused by a variety of factors, and the specific causes can vary by industry, region, and time.Common factors that contribute to skills gaps include:

  • Technological Advancements: Rapid technological changes can quickly render certain skills obsolete while creating a demand for new, specialized skills.
  • Changes in Industry Needs: Industries evolve, and the skills required to thrive within them change accordingly.
  • Education: The education system may not always keep pace with the changing demands of the job market.
  • Demographic Trends: An aging workforce can lead to skills gaps as experienced workers retire without a sufficient number of younger workers possessing the necessary skills to replace them.
  • Globalization: Increased globalization can lead to more competition and the need for specialized skills that are in demand internationally.
  • Economic Shifts: Economic recessions or downturns can affect the job market, causing workers to lose jobs in declining industries and requiring them to acquire new skills to transition to growing sectors.
  • Geographic Mismatch: Skills gaps can be regional in nature, with a surplus of certains skills in one area and a shortage in another.
  • Mismatched Expectations: Job seekers may overestimate their qualifications or seek higher-paying positions, while employers may have unrealistic expectations regarding candidate qualifications.
  • Lack of Investment in Workforce Development: Employers, industries, and governments may not invest enough in workforce development programs, including training, apprenticeships, and education, to address emerging skills needs.
  • Cultural and Gender Biases: Discrimination or biases in hiring practices can exclude individuals from underrepresented groups, limiting the pool of available talent and contributing to skills gaps.
  • Generational Differences: Different generations may have varying skill sets and approaches to work. Adapting to these generational differences can create skills gaps in some organizations.

Why Are Skills Gaps a Concern?

Skills gaps can have profound implications on many facets of an organization. When employees lack the necessary skills for their roles, productivity and efficiency often take a direct hit. A task that might be accomplished swiftly with the right expertise might drag on when there’s a mismatch in skills.

Furthermore, in the fast-paced tech industry, falling behind in key skills can quickly cede advantages to competitors. If they’re leveraging newer, more efficient technologies or methodologies unfamiliar to your team, they can easily capture a larger market share, innovate faster, and deliver better customer experiences. Aiming to fill your skill gaps with new recruits won’t cut it either: In a survey by Gartner, IT executives said talent shortages are the most significant adoption barrier to 64% of emerging technologies.

There’s also the human element to consider. Most employees have a genuine desire to excel in their roles. When they’re constantly met with challenges they feel unprepared for, it can lead to frustration, decreasing morale, and even higher turnover rates. In fact, according to LinkedIn, employees who feel their skills are not being put to good use in their current job are 10 times more likely to be looking for a new job. 

Lastly, there are the financial implications. By 2030, its expected that the talent shortage and skills gap in the U.S. alone will result in a total loss of $8.5 trillion. Skill gaps, when addressed reactively (or not addressed at all), can be expensive. Organizations might find themselves spending significantly on last-minute training sessions, or in some cases, needing to hire specialists at a premium just to bridge the immediate gaps.

How to Identify Skills Gaps in Your Organization

Recognizing and addressing these gaps is crucial not just for immediate productivity, but for the long-term viability and success of any organization. But where should you start? The key lies in approaching this task systematically. By following a structured, step-by-step process, you can uncover gaps, anticipate future needs, and build a team that’s not only skilled but also future-ready. 

1. Build a Skills Taxonomy

Starting with a clear, structured framework is crucial, and building a skills taxonomy does just that. Think of it as a detailed catalog of skills needed for each department, function or role in your organization. This taxonomy not only includes technical or hard skills but also considers soft skills that are vital for effective functioning within a role.

For instance, let’s consider the role of a software developer. A skills taxonomy for this position might comprise technical proficiencies like Java and SQL. But beyond that, it will also include problem-solving abilities, team collaboration, and effective communication. The idea is to create a holistic view of what’s required to excel in a given role.

To build this taxonomy:

  • Engage with team leads and managers to understand the nuances of each team or position.
  • Consider tools or platforms your organization uses and the specific expertise needed to operate them effectively.
  • Look into industry standards and benchmarks to ensure you’re not missing out on any emerging skills.

This structured approach will give you a solid foundation to evaluate your current team’s capabilities against what’s genuinely required.

2. Align with Business Goals

Your organization’s direction plays a pivotal role in the skills you’ll need. By understanding your short-term and long-term business objectives, you can more accurately predict the skills that will become indispensable in the future.

For instance, if there’s a strategic move to launch an AI-driven product in the next year, it’s evident that skills like Python, TensorFlow, PyTorch, and data analytics will be critical. Such forward-looking alignment ensures you’re not just catering to the present but are prepared for the imminent future.

Here are the key steps in this alignment process:

  • Regularly sync with strategy and planning teams.
  • Map out the technological needs for upcoming projects or pivots.
  • Create a timeline to understand when specific skills will become crucial.

By doing this, you not only understand your current requirements but can also forecast future skill demands, giving you ample time to prepare.

3. Benchmark Against Industry Standards

Every organization operates within a broader industry context. To truly gauge where your team’s skills stand, it’s essential to look beyond the confines of your company and measure against industry benchmarks. This ensures that you’re not just keeping pace with your internal needs but are also remaining competitive in the wider market.

But how do you effectively benchmark?

  • Research Industry Skill Standards: Regularly review industry reports, publications, and platforms to understand the prevailing standards and skill requirements.
  • Engage in Industry Forums and Networks: Participating in industry groups, forums, or networks can offer firsthand insights into emerging trends and requisite skills.
  • Regularly Test and Assess: Encourage regular skill assessments, not just internally, but also through third-party platforms that compare scores against a broader database.
  • Feedback from Peer Organizations: If possible, collaborate with peer organizations for friendly skill competitions or joint training sessions. This can provide a direct comparison and highlight potential gaps.

4. Self Assess and Gather Team Feedback

While external benchmarks and industry standards offer a broad perspective, the insights from within your organization are equally invaluable.

Self-assessment is a powerful tool in this regard. Encouraging your employees to evaluate their own skills and comfort levels with tasks can provide a wealth of data. It’s not just about proficiency but also about confidence. An employee might technically be proficient with a tool, but if they lack confidence, it can impact their efficiency.

Team feedback can add another layer of insight. Team members often have a good understanding of each other’s strengths and weaknesses, having collaborated on various projects. By creating an environment where constructive feedback is encouraged, you can tap into these insights.

How can you effectively gather this internal feedback?

  • Anonymous Surveys: Tools like SurveyMonkey or Google Forms can help you run anonymous skill assessment surveys, allowing employees to be candid about their proficiencies.
  • Regular One-on-Ones: Encourage managers to have one-on-one sessions with their team members, focusing on skill development and areas of improvement.
  • Team Workshops: Organizing team-based workshops or brainstorming sessions can highlight collective strengths and areas where the team feels they could benefit from further training.
  • Feedback Platforms: Tools like 360-degree feedback platforms can gather insights not just from superiors but also peers, providing a rounded view of an individual’s skills.

Remember, while self-assessment and team feedback are essential, they should be balanced with external assessments to provide a holistic view of where skills gaps might exist.

5. Correlate with Performance Metrics

Performance metrics provide a quantitative lens through which you can view the impact of skills — or the lack thereof. While feedback, surveys, and benchmarks give you qualitative and comparative data, performance metrics show the direct consequences of skills gaps in tangible outcomes.

To effectively leverage performance metrics:

  • Define Clear Metrics: First, it’s essential to know what you’re measuring. This could range from project completion times, quality assurance metrics, customer feedback scores, or any other KPI relevant to the role.
  • Use Analytics Tools: Platforms like Google Analytics, project management software, or specialized HR tools can offer deep dives into performance metrics, allowing you to spot trends or anomalies.
  • Regular Reviews: Make it a habit to review these metrics periodically, not just annually. This enables quicker identification and response to any emerging skills gaps.
  • Cross-Reference with Feedback: Always cross-reference performance metrics with the feedback you’ve gathered. Sometimes, a dip in performance may be due to external factors and not a skills gap. Similarly, even if metrics seem fine, underlying feedback might indicate a brewing challenge that hasn’t manifested in the numbers yet.

By correlating skills assessments with actual performance data, you can move from a theoretical understanding of potential gaps to a practical grasp of their real-world impact.

6. Gather External Feedback

Your organization doesn’t operate in a vacuum. Your clients, customers, partners, and even occasional collaborators often interact directly with your team, making them valuable sources of feedback on your team’s skills and capabilities.

Here’s how to harness this external viewpoint:

  • Client/Customer Surveys: Periodic surveys targeting those who frequently interact with your team can provide insights into areas of improvement. For instance, if customers consistently highlight a lag in addressing specific technical queries, it might indicate a gap in the team’s knowledge of that area.
  • Post-Project Reviews: After the conclusion of a major project, especially if it involves external stakeholders, hold a review meeting. Gather feedback on what went well and where they felt there could’ve been more expertise.
  • External Audits: Sometimes, it’s beneficial to have an external agency or consultant evaluate your team’s capabilities, especially if you’re looking to adhere to industry certifications or standards.
  • Open Channels of Communication: Maintain open lines of communication with your stakeholders. Encourage them to share feedback spontaneously, not just when solicited. An offhand remark or a casual observation can sometimes highlight a skills gap you hadn’t previously considered.

This external feedback, when paired with the internal insights and performance metrics, paints a comprehensive picture. It helps you understand not only where skills gaps exist but also how they’re perceived by those who rely on your team’s expertise.

7. Conduct Regular Skill Audits

Skills aren’t static. As your organization grows, technology evolves, and roles shift, the skills your team needs will inevitably change. That’s why it’s crucial not just to identify and address skills gaps once, but to make it a routine practice — hence, the need for regular skills audits.

Here’s how to make skills audits a recurrent part of your skills strategy:

  • Set a Schedule: Whether it’s semi-annually, annually, or at another suitable frequency, decide on a timeline for skills audits. By keeping it regular, you ensure that you’re always in tune with the current state of skills within your team.
  • Use Consistent Metrics: To track progress and changes over time, it’s important to use consistent evaluation metrics and tools in each audit. This allows you to make meaningful comparisons and identify trends.
  • Seek Feedback: Post-audit, gather feedback on the process itself. Understand from your team what worked, what didn’t, and how the audit process can be improved.
  • Adapt and Evolve: Use the insights from each audit to refine the next one. For instance, if you identified a new critical skill area in the tech landscape, make sure it’s included in your next audit’s parameters.
  • Document and Review: Maintain thorough documentation of each audit’s findings. Reviewing previous audits can offer insights into long-term trends, recurring challenges, and areas of consistent growth.

Addressing the Identified Skills Gaps

Having methodically identified skills gaps through the steps mentioned, it’s only natural to pivot to action. While each organization’s response will be unique to its context, here are a few general approaches to consider:

  • Tailored Training: Based on the specifics of the gaps identified, curate or commission training programs tailored to those needs. This ensures the training is relevant and targeted, maximizing its impact.
  • Hiring to Fill Gaps: Sometimes, it might be necessary to hire new talent with the required skills, especially for niche or highly specialized roles.
  • Mentorship and Peer Learning: Encourage seasoned employees to mentor those looking to develop particular skills. This not only bridges the gap but fosters a culture of collaboration.
  • External Partnerships: For skills that are needed infrequently or are highly specialized, consider partnering with external agencies or consultants. This can be a cost-effective way to access expertise without a long-term commitment.
  • Continuous Feedback Loop: After implementing strategies to address skills gaps, keep the lines of communication open. Gather feedback to understand what’s working and where further interventions might be needed.

In essence, addressing skills gaps is a blend of proactive training, strategic hiring, effective partnerships, and continuous feedback. While the process of identification is analytical, the process of addressing these gaps is dynamic, requiring agility and adaptability.

This article was written with the help of AI. Can you tell which parts?

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How to Create a Skills Taxonomy