6 minutes reading time (1190 words)

Addressing the Skills Gap

Unearth the Hidden Talent From Within

I recently attended the Associates AGM where the keynote speaker at the dinner presentation, Perrin Beatty, President of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, spoke on the topic of Canada’s Business Competitiveness. One of the key points that he referenced was the Skills Gap that many Canadian organizations face today. Organizations are desperate to meet the needs of today while also understanding what they will need for the future. He went further to say that it is imperative that they have this understanding, if they want Canada to be competitive globally.


An interesting topic as often, one can easily see what skill set is currently missing, one can perhaps predict what will be needed, but it is extremely difficult to even imagine future skills where technologies, processes and true business applications of those technologies have yet to be developed! He also warned of the effect of the knowledge drain that will occur when the baby boomers really do retire and take their experience with them. Mr. Beatty went on to add that having Business work closely with post-secondary institutions is commended as it provides insight into the types of skills and programs that should be taught.  

At this point, I found myself nodding in agreement with the strategies he was suggesting as companies do need to look forward and focus on bringing in good talent and working closely with post-secondary institutions plants the seeds to grow future employees. The question that came to my mind, was whether organizations are truly doing all they can be to really understand the skill set they currently have – the talent within?

In most companies some form of “the budgeting process” occurs, is expected and is committed to. Most companies do this on a yearly basis. We anticipate what we will need for our upcoming year by developing departmental budgets that then roll up to the overall corporate budget. We examine current department budgets with rigour and manage to those numbers. Each department is asked to submit their planned budget consisting of day to day operations, enhancements, improvements, and new initiatives. The numbers are then vetted and added to or changed. The people element is taken into account as part of this equation by way of monetary salary increases and the additional human resources that may be needed.

But are we really doing this with the same vigour and diligence on the people side? Is it time we do? Mr. Beatty felt we should!

The skills gap is real and companies need to address it! But where do you start?

Consider answering 5 specific questions as a means of completing a Skills Audit:

  1. What skills do we know we currently have?
  2. What skills do we NOT know, we currently have?
  3. What skills do we know are going to walk out the door with retirees?
  4. What Skills will we need to address the leaks?
  5. What Skills do we anticipate we will need for the future initiatives?

Organizations now do realize that in order to address this skills gap, they need to go external. Nothing new, we’ve heard that strategy before. However, the real difference now is that Organizations cannot wait to have the talent come to them by simply placing an ad out. Organizations now need to enlist recruiters who can search out where the talent is and reach out to those individuals. The trend towards retained search shows the need to have focused recruiters, focus on the requirements and skillset and expel focused efforts on finding qualifying candidates for each client. The candidates that will address the skills gap the best! 

In my interviews with candidates, the number one reason people are interested in even entertaining a new opportunity is their desire to expand their skill set and often to use a skillset that they are not using in their current role. Often they have been categorized a certain way or have been doing a role, and that is the only role the organizations feels they are able to do. As a recruiter, we approach the individual and take inventory of all the skills – those in the immediate role and those in their past roles. We see these skills as being fully accessible and transferable. Sometimes, organizations forget that there are skills from the past that are accessible. For this reason, employees are often quite interested in making a change.

A Successful and Actionable Skills Audit is about having the right attitude and commitments in place. The five areas to consider are as follows:

  1. Organizations need to make a commitment that the Skills Audit is a part of the yearly planning process – as serious and as important as the annual budgeting process.
    1. Involve the business leaders and have some real conversations with people about what they do during their work day in carrying on their function and what they also do in their spare time.  Some of the best skills are learned while volunteering for other organizations during off hours!
  2. Organizations need to conduct the Skill Audit and then act on the recommendations.
    1. This is simply not about creating a document! The audit must be acted upon and used as the starting point to building the foundation of skills that are needed for your business to work, to grow and to really excel!
  3. Organizations need to highlight the ‘found’ skills and determine where best they should be used.
    1. Do we need to provide some additional training to have the skills honed?
    2. Can we certify individuals who are ‘almost complete’ a program?
  4. Organizations need to look at how they cross train and spread the skills base they do have, before they walk out the door with a retiree.
    1. The skills that are important for a company, need to remain within the company.
  5. Organizations need to then bring in the skill set they do need as a key step to providing a competitive advantage.

Organizations can no longer make this a priority for the “Human Resource” Department, only. Again, it needs to be part of the Strategic Planning process – just as important as the yearly Corporate Budget Process. If the Senior Team along with the board can request / demand / insist on an effective and thorough budgeting process of the Finance Lead or Department, there is no reason the Skills Audit cannot be addressed as well.

Those firms who incorporate the urgency of addressing the Skills Gap with the first step of a Skills Audit, are those that will remain competitive and be well prepared for their future direction. Companies need to stay ahead of the curve rather than chasing it! Conducting a Skills Audit, creating a Strategic Human Resource Plan, and then implementing that said plan will ensure your firm is on the leading edge. Being aware of what skills lie within and those that you then need to attain sends a strong message of commitment to your current employees and also to those employees you are attempting to attract into your organization.

So, what are you waiting for? It’s close to the end of the year, have you completed your Skills Audit yet?

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