Bridging the skills gap

The UK’s skills gap is in danger of becoming a yawning chasm: the Institute of Engineering and Technology (IET) recently reported that the gap has increased for the ninth year in a row, and that over half the IT and engineering firms surveyed could not find skilled staff.

Lack of required skills applies across the board too: according to The Economist, about a quarter of the UK’s productivity gap with America is due to poor management, while reports suggest that about 20% of British adults lack basic literacy and numeracy skills.

There is also something wrong when the majority of UK manufacturers struggle to recruit people with the right skills at the same time that over a third of their employees feel their skills are under-used. With a higher proportion of low-skilled jobs than other developed economies, and the second-highest proportion of over-qualified employees in the OECD, skill supply and demand imbalances lie at the heart of challenges facing many UK organisations.

One obvious solution is to equip existing staff with the skills and abilities to bridge this skills gap. The shift from increasingly professional L&D functions towards greater integration with business goals – with more awareness and recognition of the importance of evaluating business impact – will be a step in the right direction.

In the latest CIPD Learning and Talent Development survey, on-the-job learning continues to be ranked the most effective learning method (53%) followed by in-house development programmes (39%) and coaching by line managers (32%).

Interestingly, the vast majority of learning and development professionals say that books, journals and articles are their main method of developing their own knowledge, followed by seminars, events and external conferences. Interactive learning

CIPD also reports that as learning and development moves from instruction to interaction, this ‘social shift’ involves more interaction with colleagues, customers and suppliers as well as the job and the organisation. New social learning technology – online courses – is one reason: in 2014 nearly three-quarters (74%) of organisations used some form of e-learning, with 15% ranking it among their most effective learning and development methods.

One new form of learning (‘social’ or ‘collaborative’ learning) embraces not only group webinars and mentoring, but also learning on-the-job and ‘around the water cooler’. This is cited by 65% of CIPD respondents when asked what they regarded as social learning: some 40% of them felt this an important part of their learning strategy, with 60% believing it important to support employee performance and engage talent.

This underlines the move from instructor-based training to more business-focused, social/collaborative learning, heavily reliant on line manager and employee input. CIPD reports organisations’ most commonly anticipated major change is more effective integration between coaching, organisational development and performance management to drive change – one third of organisations expect greater responsibilities to be devolved to both learners and line managers.