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By Mark Brandau, Vice President, Talent Solutions, SuccessFactors, an SAP Company

Think there isn’t a skills gap in your organization? A new study by Accenture shows that 46 percent of executives at large U.S. companies say their organizations lack the skills they need.

The gaps exist at all levels, including leadership. In 2011, 20 percent of companies cited a leadership shortage, according to the Corporate Executive Board. In 2012, that number shot up to 60 percent.

Gaps are most often cited in technology, engineering, and related skills. But the fact is that gaps can exist for any role. And in my experience, organizations often aren’t sure where the gaps are in their employees’ skills. Even if they recognize the gaps, they have no proven approaches for how to close them.


A Perfect Storm

Four factors have fallen in place to create a perfect storm when it comes to skills gaps:

1.    Specific skills demands—There has been rapid growth in demand for employees with specific skills in areas like information technology, nursing, and mining. Companies simply need more of these people than universities are producing.

2.    Globalization—You’d think being able to tap a global talent pool would mean greater supply. But the fact is, skilled workers now have access to job opportunities around the world. As a result, supply isn’t keeping up with demand.

3.    The “silver lining”—Older workers are putting off retirement, introducing several challenges. These workers often seek part-time or nontraditional positions that require new skills they don’t necessarily have.

4.    Millennials—Companies are finding that millennials often lack the skills employers are looking for. In fact, 72 percent of organizations say they have trouble finding the critical-skill employees they need to increase competitiveness, according to Towers Watson.

The good news is that there are strategies, as well as effective technologies, for identifying and closing your most pressing skill gaps.


Data-Driven Approach

To start solving the problem, first identify where your skills gaps lie. Ask yourself how many times you hear someone in your organization say, “I need a person just like Mary.” What does it mean when they say that?

With a proper skill inventory, you can easily identify what makes Mary successful. From here you can continue to identify and ‘map’ employee’s skills across your business. This helps create an accurate inventory and understanding of your organization’s talent ‘DNA’—skills are the ‘building blocks’ to a successful workforce.

Understanding your organization’s workforce DNA also enables effective succession planning. That’s important not just for the corner office or high performers, but at all levels. Why? Because 52 percent of high-performing companies have robust succession plans, says the Corporate Executive board, while only 33 percent of low performers do.

Perhaps most important, you can take a data-driven approach to identifying and closing skills gaps. Effective talent management software can help by providing thousands of skills multiple proficiency levels, hundreds of job families, and industry-specific job descriptions.

Such a data-driven approach should be part of an enterprise-wide skills-management program that includes a skills-assessment process, a skills library, and defined best practices.


Closing the Gap with Continuous Learning

Ultimately you need to better engage employees in the development of their own careers. Mobile and social technology are important enablers. For example, mobile access to learning content allows employees to develop their knowledge and skills on the fly, whenever and wherever they need it. Social learning helps employees’ access subject matter experts, join communities around a course or curriculum, or join skill-specific communities. The goal is to get employees sharing knowledge and collaborating on goals.

Ideally, you want to engender a learning culture in which all employees are both learners and teachers. Employees at all levels should be acquiring and honing skills and competencies throughout their careers, and they should be sharing their knowledge and experience to benefit the enterprise. That might not eliminate the global skills shortage, but it will go a long way in ensuring your organization has the capabilities it needs.

Don’t miss our live Webinar, “Engagement Through Development and Learning,” on Wed., Feb. 26, at 10 a.m. PT / 1 p.m. ET. Join Mark Brandau, Vice President of Talent Solutions  for SuccessFactors, an SAP company, along with featured guest speaker Claire Schooley, principal analyst for Forrester Research. Register now! http://info.successfactors.com/EngagementLearning226_b.html

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