Finding Skill Gaps

Jill W.

Does your workforce have a skill gap? Skill gaps can be responsible for poor productivity, failure to meet business goals, unsatisfied clients, error-prone processes and even safety incidents and injuries. They can develop for any number of reasons, but successful companies don't let them continue.

Are you wondering where skill gaps might be hiding in your organization? This article will introduce and discuss four steps for finding the skill gaps that are causing you problems.

What Is a Skill Gap?

The term skill gap has several definitions. For our purposes, it refers to "a gap between what employers want or need their employees to be able to do, and what those employees can actually do when they walk into work." This is also called a competency gap, although that term too has a variety of meanings.

It might seem that skill gaps should be obvious, and sometimes they are. You ask your employees to perform a task. Each employee either fails or succeeds; either there is a skill gap or there isn't. But the difference between failure and success is often complex. If 87% of the widgets your company produces pass quality control, you still need to know:

  • Is 87% a satisfactory pass rate?
  • If not, which of the 27 steps in widget production went wrong?
  • Did it go wrong because of a skill gap or for other reasons?
  • How can you identify employees with insufficient skills?
  • If you do end up identifying skill gaps in your workforce, what should you do about it?

And that's when the skills at issue are technical. Soft skills are harder to assess and evaluate. Nonetheless, it's work that pays off if you want to improve performance.

So how do you go about identifying these gaps? This four-step process will get you started.

Finding Skill Gaps

1. Plan your approach

Step one involves defining your aims and selecting data sources for the rest of the process.

A. Define and document your goals

A variety of data sources are available for Step Two: Identify Required Skills and Step Three: Assess Existing Skills. Your goals and reasons for conducting the assessment will determine which resources are best to use, so you'll want to make sure everyone is on the same page from the beginning.

Organizations often embark on a skill gap search to:

  • Identify problems or shortcomings in current training
  • Plan training initiatives for new requirements (i.e. find out what skills employees already have and what ones they need to develop as a company expands into new areas or changes processes)
  • Determine whether skill gaps are responsible for a failure to meet business goals
  • Improve overall workforce efficiency
  • Identify strengths

B. Select data sources for steps two and three (identifying and assessing skills)

Identify the data sources that are available to you and will best help you meet your established goals.

Poor decisions at this stage could mean failing to identify all skill gaps and thereby perpetuating current problems. For example, a common recommendation is to use existing current job descriptions to identify required skills. However, your current job descriptions may be the cause of your skill gaps, not the answer to it. If job requirements were poorly written or have become dated, they will not include the skills employees need to meet current business goals. The same can be said of some employee interview techniques. If what you're doing now isn't working, you need to find data that will tell you what you should change and not simply document the inadequate skill set you have now.

2. Identify required skills

The next step is to develop an inventory of the skills the corporation needs to achieve its goals. Potential data sources for skill requirements include:

  • Job descriptions and other documentation
  • Key performance indicators (KPIs)
  • Industry competency standards
  • Benchmarking - Observe and define the skills of the top-performing employees
  • Skill profiling workshop - A Skill Profile is another name for an organizational skills inventory
  • Employee interviews - Interview employees at multiple levels, including:
    • Senior Management
      • What business results do you need to see that you aren't seeing?
      • What behaviors do you need to see from your employees? Are they meeting expectations?
    • Managers and Supervisors
      • What skills would an ideal employee have? How is this different from reality?
      • What skills do top-performing employees have? What skills do they lack?
      • What prevents employees from developing or using the skills they need?
    • Employees
      • What skills do they have?
      • What new skills would be useful?
      • What skills do they think their coworkers should have?

3. Assess existing skills

Now that you know what skills you need, you can take a look at which ones you already have. Employee interviews and workshops can be leveraged for both questions. Other data sources will be different:

  • Employee performance reviews and assessments - Assessments are more useful for evaluating skills you already knew you needed than ones you've just discovered.
  • Observation - Spend some time in the office or shop floor to see what employees are doing in real work situations. This strategy is particularly useful for determining whether a performance problem is caused by a skill gap. Do employees really not know what to do, or is some aspect of corporate culture or a required process preventing them from using a skill they have?
  • Skills management software - software like Skills Base or Skills DB Pro and can automate skills testing and tracking.
  • Tests and measures - In the widget factory, what proportion of widgets pass quality control? In a call center, how satisfied are customers? Most industries have measures of some sort, so spend some time considering how you can use the statistics that matter to you.

4. Analyze data

The final step in finding your skill gaps is figuring out what all the data you've collected tells you. Which of the skills you need do you already have, and which will you need to develop?

As you review your data, always remember that a performance gap is not necessarily a skill gap. Be alert for situations where outside factors prevent employees from using the skills they possess.


This article has reviewed the four steps to finding skill gaps: plan your approach, identify required skills, assess existing skills and analyze data. But finding skill gaps is just the beginning. Now that you know where they are, what are you going to do to close them? Often, the answer is to develop your current workforce. If that's your goal, consider some of these interesting and effective approaches to training:

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Jill W.

Jill is an Instructional Designer at BaseCorp Learning Systems with more than 10 years of experience researching, writing and designing effective learning materials. She is fascinated by the English language and enjoys the challenge of adapting her work for different audiences. After work, Jill continues to leverage her professional experience as she works toward the development of a training program for her cats. So far, success has not been apparent.