Part 6: Mind the Gap

In the first five parts of this discussion, we described many of the “whys” around The Workforce Conundrum.  As we pointed out with Part 1, one of these major influences is the skills gap.  There are and will be millions of jobs that are currently going unfilled because employers cannot find employees with the right skills set to fill the open position.  What do we need to solve this? The answer seems straightforward – we need trained and capable workers.  So, why don’t we have more trained and capable?  Time to work on the “whats.”

Welcome to the Technical Workplace, Welcome to the Future

Today’s workplace is increasingly technical in nature. What may seem to some to be 1,000 years ago, there was a position in the corporate world called a secretary.  A typical secretary would need to know how to take short hand (see Figure 1 for a sample of what may seem to be a foreign language – but is indeed, short-hand), there was a typing speed test (how many words per minute can you type without any errors), and the interactions or desire for hearing a secretary’s opinion on any topic was virtually non-existent.

Figure 1: Example of Shorthand[i]

Compare that with the closest modern-day equivalent – an administrative assistant.  Yes, they still need to know how to type – on a computer as opposed to a typewriter, they manage an electronic calendar, help create presentations, and will often manage the entire office environment.  The parallel carries to the manufacturing floor as well.  Yesterday’s factory worker would often work on a single production line for months if not years doing essentially the same job or task which was often a more manual task like inserting several screws in an assembly.  Today’s factory worker will be operating equipment that costs thousands to tens and hundreds of thousands of dollars.  This equipment might be a robot, it could have integrated artificial intelligence or might be an additive manufacturing device (3D printer).  Welcome to the future. Today’s factory worker not only needs to understand these complex levels of equipment (technology beyond what the President of the United States had access to 40 years ago), but they also need to have some understanding of failure analysis as well as be able to shift between several manufacturing lines.

The work has changed – and obviously the skillset required to do the work has changed along with it.

With this kind of skillset required, is it any wonder that even those seeking manufacturing employees are struggling to find individuals who can fill their positions?  We need to be preparing better workers.  This is not a judgement on the workers.  This is a judgement on the preparation and the understanding that such preparation needs to be added to the workplace.

What Skills are Needed?

Not only are the required skills more involved and more comprehensive, but they are continually changing!  It has been just over a decade since the was no such thing as an ‘app,’ or a smartphone.  Products, processes and innovations are changing on practically a daily basis.  Beyond the specific skills (typing or programming) required for the job, there are soft skills required as well.  The list of soft skills required varies from study to study just as each workplace is different. In one list[ii], the insightful inclusion of “positive attitude” and “willingness to learn” were included as must have soft skills.  In a recent Price Waterhouse Coopers study[iii], it showed that 42% of CEOs participating are establishing continuous learning initiatives for their employees.  As we move forward, I would not be surprised if soon over 85% of all workplaces instituted such programs, if for no other reason than savvy workers will migrate toward companies that will continue to keep them marketable and sharp.

We need to be providing training at every possible touch point if we are to fill this ever-widening gap in skills to fill the jobs of today and the future.

Next week, I will examine some strategies individuals can leverage to make sure they are not on the losing end of The Workforce Conundrum.


[i] www.long-live-pitmans-shorhand-reading.org.uk

[ii] https://www.careers.govt.nz/plan-your-career/not-sure-what-to-do/skills-employers-are-looking-for/

[iii] https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/ceo-survey/2018/pwc-ceo-survey-report-2018.pdf

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