london tube gap representing skills gaps
Training & Learning

How to Identify Skills Gaps in Your Organization

Most companies and organizations know they have skills gaps. 75% of CEOs say that lacking skills are the biggest impediment to growth. They’re also a key concern for employee development, and for managers trying to boost employee performance.

But identifying and remedying gaps is a challenge. It takes time and energy to survey your teams and uncover missing skills. It can be both a distraction and a hindrance. 

The alternative is top-down, where a few managers nominate the core skills to develop. But this is neither collaborative nor comprehensive. It’s just too subjective. 

And yet, identifying skills gaps is important. Today, skills-based learning is the best way to upskill and reskill your teams.

This article explores what skills gaps are and why they matter. Then we examine the classic ways to find skills gaps, slow as this process can be. 

Finally, you’ll see the best way to repeatedly spot skills gaps in real time, deliver the right training to close them, and future-proof your business against evolving a skills shortage.

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What is a skills gap?

A skills gap is the difference between the knowledge and competencies an employee or team has, and those that they need to perform at the required skill level as a valuable member of a successful company. 

This includes: 

  • Hard skills. For developers, this might be a coding language or certification with a certain software. In sales, it might mean knowledge and experience with CRMs or a cold email strategy.
  • Soft skills. These most often include interpersonal communication, giving feedback, and adapting to change. Negotiation and conflict resolution are other good examples. 
  • Proprietary skills. This is the institutional knowledge and know-how built up over time in the organization, which can’t be acquired anywhere else. 

It’s perfectly natural to have specific skills gaps in one or all three of the above areas. New joiners lack proprietary skills by definition, and even your long-serving workforce needs upskilling as your products and services evolve. 

Skills gaps exist at the individual as well as the team or organizational level. Employees themselves may lack the abilities to do certain functions, or may need more industry knowledge to perform well. 

And the company itself may have skills gaps. An obvious example is trying to develop an iPhone app with no iOS developers on staff. 

But this applies to soft skills too. A growing company needs new managers to negotiate contracts or conduct candidate interviews, but not have any internal resources to teach them. 

Skills gaps almost certainly exist in every role, at every level, in every department. That’s normal, but you mustn’t allow gaps to grow.

Why identifying skills gaps is essential

Diagnosing a weakness is the first step to overcoming it. You can’t help your teams improve if you don’t know what needs improving. This then informs your overall learning and development (L&D) strategy and gives you a base to grow from. 

Unfortunately, too many L&D programs don’t start here. Instead, most take a topic-based approach to L&D, believing that with enough content, some of it must surely be relevant. 

But that’s more hope than reality.

Carefully identifying current skills gaps

  • Helps the company spot current and future issues, including talent and knowledge shortages. 
  • Gives employees a clear career progression path with next steps.
  • Ensures team members are being evaluated fairly, with real reference points in their performance reviews.
  • Keeps the company focused on continuous improvement.
  • Creates a more adaptable, future-proofed culture.

There’s also value in spotting skills gaps but choosing not to invest in upskilling around them — at least for now. Perhaps they're not urgent, or the impact of certain employee skills gaps isn't as crucial as others identified. It's ok to not address all skills gaps simultaneously.

How to identify skills gaps in the workplace

The standard approach to identifying skills gaps is not particularly revolutionary. It also tends to be slow, overwhelming (especially at Enterprise level) and leave a great big 'what now?' at the end. But this doesn’t have to be the case, as we’ll see shortly.

The typical steps to finding skills gaps include: 

  • Surveying team members, and managers in particular.
  • Employee skills assessments
  • Using KPIs and company metrics to spot areas of opportunity or poor performance.
  • External benchmarks and industry best practices
  • Conducting skills gap analyses at the individual and team level

This list isn’t exhaustive, but any honest effort to find skills shortages in a business should include them. 

Even doing the bare minimum, it's often seen as overwhelming and too time consuming to try. Organizations may already have spent up to five years mapping critical skills, only for their maps to be out of date by the time they're published. That’s a very real issue. 

As Director of People and Culture at 365 Retail Markets Brandon Caldwell explains, “I’ve sat on calls with a team of L&D professionals, SMEs and executives for hours and days on end, trying to define what seems like a simple premise: what does a person in this particular role need to do, and what are the right skills they need to have to do it? It’s an excruciatingly long exercise and can take months to get to a working draft of the skills a person needs to have in one role.” 

But advances in AI-powered tools now mean that time and effort are no longer limiting factors. You can now identify and address skills gaps with remarkable efficiency.

How AI helps you identify and map skills gaps

Generative AI has already had a profound impact on much of the business landscape. And while AI use is not yet widespread across the L&D world, it’s only a matter of time. Organizations are now creating safe and secure environments for their teams to incorporate it into their day-to-day. And reaping the enormous benefits.

Generative AI and automation have a few very clear uses related to skills gaps:

  • The tools can automatically (and instantly) identify the most likely skills gaps based on your roles, team experience, tenure, and plenty of other factors.
  • AI will map these skills shortages to staff at the individual level. Which means no more manual skills mapping, and you can have skills training much more tailored to real people, rather than job descriptions. 
  • AI tools can analyze and update skills gaps in real time, so you’re always up to date. 
  • The tools incorporate your proprietary knowledge and documentation just as easily as industry best practices. So even when using the same LMS system as other companies around you, your training and learning content will be all your own.  

All of this takes what would otherwise be a long process and executes it in record time. And crucially, your source of truth for skills never goes out of date. This is a dynamic, collaborative approach based on regular input and feedback from your teams. 

And in learning and development, collaboration is critical. 

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An augmented collaborative learning environment

We’re obviously huge fans of collaborative learning — we actually wrote the book on it. So is there a danger of AI taking over and removing the need for proper collaboration? 

No. In fact, artificial intelligence makes collaborative learning easier and more effective by removing the usual hurdles. Most often, collaboration falters because subject matter experts don’t have enough time to prepare training materials and teach others. 

Instead, AI can draft courses for your SMEs, who can then update and improve from a great starting point. Their role goes from creator to validator.

And more SMEs will be happy to take part, knowing that their load is much lighter. 

Courses no longer take months or years to create and launch, and every team member has the resources they need to upskill and succeed.

A dynamic approach to skills gap analysis

A skills gap analysis helps you decide what you do with the skills gaps you’ve identified. It’s typically a matrix that sets out your biggest opportunities, and therefore where you should invest in training. 

Here’s an example based on BCG’s growth-share matrix

  • Stars are training courses related directly to business objectives, and therefore should be a top priority. 
  • Workhorses are (usually) built off already-existing training materials and help you do the basics well. 
  • Question marks are difficult to train for but have a potentially high impact. 
  • Dogs are skills that are hard to train for but provide very little impact. 

This kind of skills gap analysis is helpful, but also time consuming if done in full. And it too will be out of date before you take action. 

Which is why AI-powered skills solutions are more than just useful for L&D, they’re essential.

Build your skills source of truth in minutes with SkillsGPT

Time — or lack thereof — is always a key issue for L&D professionals. Thankfully, you can now automate the most time-consuming tasks, and focus on closing the skill gaps that may be holding your business back. 

SkillsGPT by 360Learning takes what would otherwise be an unbearably manual process — often taking years — and automates the bulk of it within minutes. 

“The first time I used SkillsGPT, I couldn’t believe what I saw. In about seven minutes, it really dawned on me the amount of blood, sweat, tears, and investment at my prior company needed to make this type of thing happen,” says Brandon Caldwell, Director of People and Culture at 365 Retail Markets.

In practical terms, SkillsGPT will:

  • Draft skills & job ontologies specific to your organization
  • Use coordinated skills assessment campaigns to detect proficiency levels, and map skills across the organization
  • Launch upskilling and reskilling campaigns to close skills gaps
  • Tag content in your learning catalog by skill, and detect the skills that aren't covered by some piece of content in the catalog
  • Where new content is needed, use dedicated workflows to create courses by identifying the best experts to close them

This lets you completely automate almost everything we’ve seen in this article: defining skills, identifying skills gaps, and performing skills gap analysis. And AI-powered authoring tools even write your training courses alongside subject matter experts.

Most excitingly, your skills ontology is always up to date. In real time, team members and their managers can see what’s required to progress in their careers, and take real steps towards achievement. 

It has never been this fast or painless to manage your organization’s skills. 

Already using ChatGPT Plus? Try SkillsGPT by 360Learning now.

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