Sitka Blog

How to identify your workforce skills gaps

22 January 2019

In our last blog, we reported the latest findings by the REC on employers’ worries around the availability of skilled candidates in 2019; the prevailing uncertainty around Brexit has no doubt exacerbated their concerns.

The silver lining in the report was that many employers are willing to invest in recruitment to plug skills gaps in the coming year. But how can they ensure this investment delivers?

Conducting a skills audit is a good start. A skills audit is a valuable and efficient way to:

a) Identify opportunities to develop current employees’ skills in light of any shortage - many organisations will reward their top performing people with promotions, but neglect to address the gap in skills required to do their advanced role.

b) Understand which skills are needed and who is best placed to recruit for them.

While some studies have found there is a low desire to move jobs in the current economic climate, others have found that more employees are looking to move on - perhaps in search of a more interesting role. Whichever the case, providing more opportunities to develop your employees’ skills is usually a good way to both retain and get the best out of your people. It’s also much more cost efficient than replacing staff, and their loyalty is likely to strengthen your employer brand, making it much easier to attract new recruits to fill those essential gaps.

So where do you start?

  1. Determine the skills you need

Which skills do employees need to do their jobs well, for your organisation’s values to be demonstrated, and for you to achieve your current business goals? These may be different from when your staff were first employed.

Give consideration to both hard and soft skills; the latter can often be far more valuable – see our previous blog on the importance of soft skills.

2. Assess the skills you have

Once you understand your up-to-date skills needs, you are in a better position to ascertain whether your existing employees are suitably skilled.

In our opinion, one-to-one interviews between line managers and employees are a more effective way of assessing for skills gaps than generic surveys. Simulated tasks such as mock presentations and questionnaires, or personality tests, can also be helpful. It is important to work closely with your HR department and lean on their expertise in this area.

This step will help you identify gaps where internal or external training could be of help and also help you spot any ‘untapped talent’ within your organisation i.e. additional skills which you can leverage for organisational success e.g. coaching or leadership skills.

Following an initial audit, reviewing employees’ skills should form an essential part of your ongoing appraisal process.

3. Collate and analyse your results

It’s vital to document your results, and numbers are far less subjective than general impressions or summaries and, thus, bias.

Rating the importance of certain skills for each role and the level of proficiency required from 1-5 (1 being poor, 5 being excellent, for example) can provide a good benchmark for measuring your actual skills against your desired ones.

There are lots of digital tools to facilitate this kind of analysis, but it can also be done through a simple spreadsheet.

4. Address any skills gaps

With both quantitative and qualitative data to hand, you can decide on the best course of action to address your skills gaps, whether it be internal job shadowing or mentoring, external training courses and events, or recruitment.

Of course, the skills requirements by the organisation must be balanced with the personal development needs of your employees for any programme to work. Be sure also to provide feedback to employees to ensure they take ownership of any training or development requirements they need.

5. Get an external perspective  

When it comes to assessing your existing skills and helping you spot development potential, a good recruitment partner can provide much impartiality. Likewise, when it comes to replacing or recruiting a new employee, they can help ensure you get it right by carrying out a more thorough skills assessment prior to shortlisting.

At Sitka, we spend time getting to understand our clients’ skills-base to understand the people and skills they need to drive success. Without this knowledge, it would be exceptionally more challenging to source candidates with the necessary qualities.

Whilst it requires an investment of time, performing a skills audit is unquestionably worthwhile and will help you get your organisation ready for whatever challenges Brexit and the future brings.

To talk to us further about filling a skills gap, please get in touch.

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About the author

Ita McNeil-Jones


Ita has nearly 20 years of experience in senior recruitment, marketing, and business development spanning the private, public and third sectors. She spent 11 years with Hays Specialist Recruitment, progressing to the role of Business Director within just six years. With a clear focus on delivering high quality services to both clients and candidates, she always specialised in appointing managers and directors to key roles. Ita left Hays in 2011 and worked as Corporate Events Manager for the Welsh charity, Tenovus Cancer Care, before becoming Business Development Manager for Cardiff and Vale College - one of the largest further education colleges in Wales - where she helped develop the College\\\'s commercial function. It was there that she identified a need for a Wales-based recruitment agency that could provide ideal, quality candidates. Ita co-founded Sitka to be that agency.

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