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Mind the skills gap

Suzy Jackson

Created by Suzy Jackson, 1st September 2017


Growing businesses who are expanding and diversifying can easily find themselves missing some skills which are integral to what they’re trying to achieve. Identifying these gaps, and finding ways of filling them, is essential to keep your growth plans on track.

Cast a critical eye over your business processes and performance to understand how the skills present in your team really make an impact.

Assess your skills

Develop a skills matrix to capture what you have and what you need, to help you spot the gaps and find appropriate solutions for them. Skills matrices vary between industries, but should always consider both the level of knowledge of a subject, and how that is applied on a role-by-role basis.

Existing staff and roles: Check that job descriptions and competencies are kept up to date. As roles develop over time, it’s not unusual to find employees either using pre-existing skills or seeking out new ones independently through personal development. This is great for your business, but can also represent a risk should those staff members move role.

New staff and roles: Try to future proof roles by making sure you’re looking for adequate skills, and skill levels, based on when you want to be rather than where you are now. Be clear on the level of knowledge you expect them to have as well as how they apply it, and find ways of testing this in the recruitment process.

Your products and services: Are there any gaps between your workforce skills, and those ideally needed to produce and sell your products and services? Are there any potential areas of exploitation in your business plan, or growth strategy, that require specialist skills which may be beyond your current workforce? Good examples of this are around embracing digital technologies in your business, or looking at developing or expanding your international trade activities.

Bridging the gaps

Once you understand the skills that your business needs to develop, you can decide the best way for you to achieve this. Blanket training and upskilling across big areas of your workforce can be costly, both in price and productivity terms, so here are some alternatives for you to consider:

Mentoring – as a form of peer to peer learning within organisations, this can help to transfer skills around an organisation without a huge cost attached. Make sure to define the learning objectives of any mentoring agreements, that way you can measure their success and impact on the workforce.

Equally, leaders at any level in your organisation could seek external mentoring, specifically when it comes to softer or non-technical skills development. If mentoring might be for you, take a look at the ways the Growth Hub can support you.

Reverse mentoring is an excellent way of updating some of the skills of more experienced employees, by making newer staff responsible for mentoring them in areas like technology and social media, where they might be joining with a higher level of experience than your existing staff. It has the dual benefit of refreshing the skills of your existing staff, whilst helping to build the confidence and experience of newer team members.

Consultancy – if a skills gap is just short term, or if the skills will be infrequently used/are costly to develop, then bringing in short term external resource to perform skilled tasks can work well. Meeting statutory requirements, for example in health and safety, can fall into this category – the cost of keeping staff member’s skills up to date would exceed the cost of paying for consultancy.

Outsourcing – as with consultancy, as your business grows there are some functions which you may choose to outsource altogether, to manage risk in departments which may typically be smaller, like HR and finance.

Non-executive directors – these are people who can work with your business in a non-managerial capacity, often to support with strategic direction, performance, and planning. Offering non-executive directorships can be an excellent way to benefit from the skills of experienced businesspeople who aren’t looking for a traditional, ‘employed’ role, but who want to share their experiences to drive growth.

Apprenticeships – apprentices can be new or current employees, combining working with studying to gain skills and knowledge in a specific job. Changes to apprenticeship schemes in 2017 now mean skills go right up to degree level, making them suitable for a far wider range of skilled jobs. Using external training providers makes this a good choice for developing skills which might be new to your business, or significantly different than those which currently exist in your workforce.

Formal, or accredited, training – if you’re looking for consistency across your team, then formal training is a great way of achieving it. Investing in your workforce not only helps to retain them in your business for longer, but can also help you win new business by seeing accreditations like Investors in People. If training courses don’t meet your exact needs, then you can engage with training providers to have something developed which will – the higher cost can be offset by long term benefits.

Remember, skills can be legally required in some trades, and it’s your responsibility to ensure your workforce have completed all the training they need to do their job.

Internal training – peer learning is invaluable in workplaces, particularly during new staff inductions or job changes, and is simply a way of transferring skills among team members. Training others is a skill, so consider investing in making some of your staff into ‘in-house trainers’ to make sure you get the best out of them.

The Growth Hub and its partners have a number of initiatives around skills for businesses – take a look.

Suzy Jackson

Created by Suzy Jackson, 2 years ago, [last edited 2 years ago]

Tagged under Skills Training Mentor

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