Employers want certain skills. Employees don’t have them. Why?

A few weeks ago, a distraught client called and urgently requested for a meeting. During our 3 hour talk, he intimated to me that his organization is facing a skills shortage and that this acute lack of talent is threatening growth and competitiveness of his organization in his industry. From our conversation, it was rather clear that there is a significant gap between his organization’s skill needs and the current capabilities of its workforce.

Skills gap

An organization faces a skills gap when its employees do not have the right skills to deliver results and drive the organizations goals and strategies. This is a risky place to be as the organization can no longer grow and/or remain competitive in its industry.

What are some of the biggest gaps?

  • Basic skills

There is a shared frustration from Human Resources Managers and Recruiters that a significant portion of employees lack these ‘basic but not so basic skills’. These include research and information gathering, writing, decision-making, planning and prioritizing, problem solving, critical thinking, team work, etc.

  • Technical skills

These are skills that reflect specific practical knowledge and are required to accomplish a specific task. Employers often screen candidates based on their technical skills, so as a job seeker or employee, you may want to make sure you present these skills properly. These include driving, data analysis, specialised ICT skills, email, project management, training, needs analysis, database management etc

  • Professional skills

These are mostly industry specific skills. To be successful, all working individuals and professionals needs significant competency in their chosen area of practice. These include IT proficiency, content writing and editing, recruitment, carer coaching, nursing and midwifery etc

  • Management and leadership

A lot has been debated on whether one needs to be a better manager or a better leader. Fact is, a successful job seeker, employee or business owner needs to be both a strong manager and leader to get their teams to follow them as they work towards their shared vision. Some of the key skills needed to achieve this include organising teams, delivering on the organization’s mission, strategic leadership, strategic planning, staff productivity, employee inspiration and motivation, Foster commitment etc

  • Emotional intelligence

This is the capacity of an individual to recognise their own and other people’s emotions and to use that information to guide their thinking and behaviour/actions. Employers value Emotional Intelligence (EI) over Intelligence Quotient (IQ) because people with high EI tend to be empathetic towards their colleagues, lead by example, are generally calm under pressure, have the ability to resolve conflict effectively and they are more likely to put more consideration in business decisions. Here’s even more exciting news, one study found that companies with high EI managers registered a 34% higher profit growth!

  • Language & Communication Skills

I shudder at how our present generation writes and speaks. Just the other day, I was communicating via text message and eventually a phone conversation to a sales agent from a new provider who was meant to coordinate internet connection to my house. With missing letters, reversed syllables and poor grammar, I eventually called the head office to lodge a complaint about his language and communication skills. Well, these critical skills include the ability to master the use appropriate body language, delivering a well written speech, clear verbal communication, personal presentation and appearance, effective listening etc

What then is causing these gaps?

  • Educational attainment is lagging the need for skills.

At the very core, the skills gap is an education issue. There is a wanting mismatch between our current education curriculum and the skills demand in the labour market. There is equally a strong shared belief that education from first grade through College/University and career training is outdated and needs to be revised.

  • The nature of jobs are changing

The workplace has gone digital transforming how we collaborate and produce results. The impact of emerging technology is quickly outpacing our present expertise. Millennial’s and generation Z’s are also less likely to stay with one employer for their entire career making employers compete for talent to meet their skills demand.

  • Businesses are not employing strategies to leverage staff performance

The key investment that any business has is not necessarily its technology but its people! In today’s world, businesses that fail to consistently review their learning and development practices often struggle with growth and productivity. Therefore, the key to achieving high impact staff performance is to include performance improvement strategies like mobile learning solutions and social learning activities into the learning / training process. This is commonly referred as High Impact Learning.

What are some of the signs that your organization may be facing a skills gap?

– There is a mismatch between the skills the organization needs (current and future) and the capabilities of the workforce. e.g an organisation needs more IT savvy staff while the current ones have little or no training in new and emerging technologies

– A high staff turnover

– The organization did not invest in learning and development /capacity building for the it employees and is struggling to catch up on their performance.

– The increasing number of highly skilled, specialized jobs needed to take the organization forward

– A high percentage of baby boomers in the workforce that are or will soon be heading for retirement

How do we attempt to solve the skills gap crisis in our organizations?

  1. Understand the organization’s key strategies and performance metrics. Be sure you know the answers to these questions, and can articulate the connection between key business metrics and learning.
  2. Identify core business functions and organizational strategies that depend on skilled talent for their execution.
  3. Assess the skills gap. Understand the demographics of your workforce. Are many employees nearing retirement? Are you at risk of losing key skills if employees leave?
  4. Identify targets for closing the gap between current skill sets and those needed to support the future goals of the organization
  5. Create an organization wide learning plan to address skills gaps by measuring employees’ progress on the learning plans against individual and organizational goals and communicate the impact. This can be achieved by deploying learning resources through an internal learning management system.

Serrainne Nyamori

The writer is the Founder and Lead consultant for Sustainability Africa, a Management Consulting and CSR Strategy firm based in Nairobi, Kenya. For more of our services please visit us at or Email