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What Is a Skills Gap and How Can It Benefit Companies?

Training (or retraining) your staff is a cultural necessity that can save you money, encourage proactivity, and foster a culture of success.

Business wants and needs can change rapidly, especially with the rise of technology. For hiring managers and company leaders, this is particularly true as learning curves emerge with employees, whether they are company veterans or new hires. In fact, according to a 2020 McKinsey Global Survey, 87 per cent of organizations reported already experiencing skills gaps or expecting them to emerge over the next few years.

And while a lack of employee knowledge may seem like a hurdle at first, skills gaps provide an opportunity to train existing staff or new employees with the promise of helping them level up their craft.

A skills audit can also enable more business innovation, helping your company stay on the cutting edge of tech and market trends, as well as keep pace with your competitors. No matter how you approach these skills gaps, good leadership can be the key to addressing them, fixing them, and helping your company flourish. In turn, employees will be empowered to perform at the best of their abilities.

This article will define the concept of skills gaps and explain how organizations can assess what type of resklling their employees may need in order to keep their business competitive, relevant to their customers, and prepared for the future of work.

What is a Skills Gap?

A skills gap is a lack of needed skills for a particular role or department, and can include both hard and/or soft skills. For example, your company might have a shortage of web developers who require the hard programming skills that have become an industry standard. On the other hand, your trade magazine may not have experienced public speakers on staff, lacking the soft skills needed for live-TV news and conference speaking opportunities.

Some companies understandably see a skills gap as a potential negative — employers fear it will cost them time and money when it comes to maintaining, training, and hiring workers with these required skills. It may also cost them market share if a competitor is able to address this gap sooner.

However, this perceived shortcoming doesn’t have to be the case for your organization. Once you’ve assessed your internal needs, there’s a real opportunity for growth across the board.

How a Skills Gap Can Help Your Company

According to the World Economic Forum, 50% of employees worldwide will need reskilling by 2025.

Upskilling (teaching advanced skills) or reskilling (training for different roles altogether) workers is a great way to save budget on hiring new employees while retaining, incentivizing, and empowering current employees to learn new skills. While you may have to pay top dollar for professionals with established skills for a role you need filled ASAP, upskilling and reskilling are solid alternatives when you can do so. And it will pay off. That same World Economic Forum report states that “greater private-public collaboration on large-scale upskilling and reskilling initiatives could boost global GDP by $6.5 trillion and lead to the creation of 5.3 million net new jobs by 2030.”

Upskilling and reskilling are also essential for building an equitable and diverse workplace. If you prioritize continuing education in your company, you’ll create pathways for people from marginalized groups and non-traditional backgrounds to contribute their varied experiences to your team.

5 Ways Companies Can Embrace Skills Gaps

Companies that embrace skills gaps — instead of fighting against them — are primed to succeed, as long as they are willing to put in the work.

Here are five ways you can address a skills gap at your organization:

  1. Shift your hiring focus from fully hard skills-based to soft-skills focused. Soft skills are extremely helpful (and often underrated) in the workplace. A worker who can respectfully engage with fellow employees, clients, and customers has a valuable skill that is arguably harder to master than some technical abilities. In fact, skills like influencing and negotiating, handling conflict, and emotional intelligence are often cited as some of the most desired and necessary abilities in the modern workplace.

  2. Hire more inclusively, including people with education gaps, to build a more diverse company. Due to rising costs and the pandemic, people — and companies — have been reconsidering higher education as a concrete job requirement. Additionally, there are career changers, professionals who completed some (or no) university, and others — people who’ve taken time off to travel, gone on a mini retirement, or served as a caretaker — who have gained valuable real-world experience. If you refuse to consider non-traditional potential employees, you can miss out on valuable voices, experiences, and skills.

  3. Invest in employee education, which may improve retention. You don’t need to hire externally for every new role. A great way to keep costs down — and inspire your staff — is to invest in their continuing education. Upskilling and reskilling willing staffers can help you keep your best employees. Consider offering a yearly stipend, scholarships, or other educational funds that workers can use to keep their skills sharp and learn new ones as needed. If your budget is tight, free online learning platforms (like Trailhead) are also a great, cost effective way to help upskill employees.

  4. Start a mentorship program, which can improve hard skills and communication within the company. It’s important for workers to have a roadmap of where they can go both in your company and in their careers. That’s why a mentorship program can be beneficial for your organization. Consider pairing senior employees with junior staffers who are looking for guidance on how to best grow their careers. This provides an opportunity for both sides to grow their network, pick up new skills, and give back. Company-sponsored lunch-and-learns are also a good way to introduce employees to both career paths and different roles altogether. Also, be sure to do your research and learn how other professionals are helping to bridge the digital skills gap at their company and in their communities.

  5. Encourage employees with days off or financial support, to support their communities by volunteering with educational charities and organizations. Some companies offer a set number of days a month, quarter, or year in which an employee can use a paid day to volunteer or take off-site training. If an employee only has the weekend to improve their skills, they might not have the time or desire to pursue it (not to mention they could risk burning themselves out). You can start by offering one day a quarter and tweak the policy, if necessary, as time goes on. Or, ask employees to provide a summary of what they’ve learned with their “free” day.

Training Can Create a More Inclusive Workplace

As stated above, reconsidering the skills gaps within your company can help build a more equitable, diverse workplace. The truth is, if you are too demanding of hard skills in your job descriptions, you could be neglecting fantastic candidates who would excel at the position. These could be older individuals, people of color, women, neurodiverse individuals, members of the LGBTQIA community, or other marginalized or underrepresented groups.

Assess your current needs and create a plan to target skills gaps. You might choose to assign degrees of urgency to the gaps, too. For instance, a professional experienced with creating content for several social media platforms can likely learn the ropes for a new social tool with some research or a short online course — this would qualify as a less serious skills gap. On the other hand, a data analyst on the marketing team who wants to transition to the cyber security department at your workplace would require lengthier, costlier training, and be a more intensive process.

Companies have the potential to do better by employees and candidates by broadening the scope of roles, as well as who can apply — and be trained — for them.


Replacing disengaged employees who leave your business can potentially cost you tens — even hundreds — of thousands of dollars to replace, according to Gallup. As we’ve learned here, the value of your employees can be directly reflected by your own willingness to support them through the inevitable skills gaps that arise. The world is always changing. And while that fact is unavoidable, training (or retraining) staffers is a cultural necessity that can save you money, encourage productivity, and foster a culture of success.

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