By Richard Breeden, Managing Director, Econsultancy
As the working world – from SMEs to global giants, small scale entrepreneurs to business leaders – begins to recognise that life-long learning is at the heart of business success, a new focus is falling on skills.
UK employers are facing the worst skills shortage on record according to the REC. It’s undeniable that living through an age of changing skills means we should expect skills shortages to become a far more common occurrence.
This is particularly relevant when it comes to digital skills, as businesses across all industries are increasingly looking to digitise and scale up their online operations. Keeping staff up to date and knowledgeable in this core competence has become an imperative for businesses.
But as our digital economy grows and technology advances, businesses must invest efficiently in training and development, just as they do in their infrastructure, applying knowledge and thought to avoid waste.
How to invest in the right skills
Like most things, diagnosing and treating skills gaps takes both time and consideration. It’s no good just sticking your finger in the air and hoping. Companies wanting to secure a competitive advantage through their internal expertise need quantitative insight into their teams’ understanding of the key topics in digital. This is where benchmarking comes into play.
In order to understand which digital skills your organisation is missing, or could benefit from, it’s important to know what skills exist in both your industry generally, and within specific job roles. This gives you a baseline of the skills that you should want and need and provides an opportunity to analyse your current skill-level and highlight learning opportunities. For example, a multinational FMCG business grappling with increasing online and direct-to-consumer sales may want to benchmark understanding of performance marketing or perhaps user experience in ecommerce.
Only when quantifiable gaps have been identified can organisations be secure in the knowledge of exactly where to invest to upskill their workforce in the most effective and beneficial way.
It is then important to take a look at the state of the wider industry. You know which skills are needed – how does your company compare with competitors? Are you missing vital skills which they have in abundance? Are you all missing the same skills and therefore need to look outside the industry to fill a gap? Are you miles ahead of your competitors and therefore have the opportunity to be more forward-looking? Which skills are becoming important in other areas of the industry, or other industries and will you need those skills in future?
Plugging a skills gap
Having identified a skills gap, or even a potential skills gap, the issue becomes how to address it. For many, the automatic assumption is that the best, easiest or most convenient approach is to hire a new employee, or even multiple employees depending on the severity of the skills gap. While this is one approach that you can take, choosing to look at your existing workforce instead can actually offer a greater opportunity.
Upskilling or even re-skilling or retraining current employees is a fantastic approach to acquiring new skills. Your employees get to keep on learning and developing, opening themselves up to new opportunities, and this can be incredibly empowering.
While some may question why you should invest in employees learning highly-sought-after skills, the real question should be why not? Looking internally first to fill skills gaps is a powerful way to maximise employee motivation, engagement and productivity, as well as ensuring your business has the necessary skills to remain competitive.
And as demand changes for specific skills, it’s far more cost effective to train existing employees (where possible), than to recruit for a skill which may be obsolete in a year or two anyway.
Practice makes perfect when it comes to skills gaps
With an almost constantly evolving landscape, many businesses struggle to maintain the pace needed to meet consumer demand, an issue that can be exacerbated by skills gaps. This is particularly the case when it comes to digital, marketing and ecommerce skills.
One way to counter, and even pre-empt a shortage of particular skills in your business is through a constant process of benchmarking – bearing in mind that a one-off or inconsistent approach is barely better than doing nothing at all to upskill or reskill employees.
Regular skills benchmarking can help diagnose any current and potential shortages, allowing you to address them immediately and course-correct where necessary. As skills gaps become ever more prominent, businesses that fail to spot and address skills shortages ahead of their competitors risk falling behind and losing customers in the process.