The Role of Business in Closing the American Skills Gap | Maher & Maher
Maher & Maher, an IMPAQ Company - Investment Advisors for Talent Development.
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The Role of Business in Closing the American Skills Gap

The skills gap in America offers an opportunity for the private and public sector to merge their missions and develop true partnerships. The skills gap may be one reason why, since 2004, U.S. worker productivity has been expanding at its slowest rate in the post-war era.  This ominous gap is a key focus for Maher as we partner with our clients to create talent development solutions to up-skill workers. It’s also top of mind as we provide technical assistance to workforce systems challenged with helping job seekers advance their skills to achieve economic security and a meaningful career path. 

For our two worlds (private and public) to share common challenges is not new.  However, the pain associated with this specific challenge goes deep for both private and public entities.

The skills gap is a real and growing challenge – and may be nearing crisis mode.  In a recent post, America’s Skill Gap Grows!, our president Rick Maher refers to the challenges the national workforce system faces in preparing job seekers for employment. Our private sector clients are also impacted as they deal with rapidly changing market conditions and technology, manage stressed and overburdened workers, and look to fill new positions with skilled candidates.

There is awareness, as a study by Career Builder explains that workers themselves describe their skills as lagging, with 1 in 5 (20%) saying their professional skills aren’t up to date. Employees are overextended, many times doing the work of more than one person, and leaving little or no time for developing new skills.  The resulting burnout dulls engagement, increases stress and ultimately decreases production. 

The impact of the gap doesn’t stop with employees, as research by Career Builder and a mix of Talent Development and Training associations points out. “Organizations are experiencing higher employee turnover, reduced staff morale, lower quality work and lost revenue associated with the skill gap.” Matt Ferguson, CEO of CareerBuilder and co-author of The Talent Equation, says "There's a significant supply and demand imbalance in the marketplace, and it's becoming nearly a million-dollar problem for companies."

What can the Private Sector do to help their employees master the learning curve? 

Talk to the front-line workers, talk to the customers, and identify the critical knowledge and skills that drive exceptional outcomes.  Capture what’s working, and what needs to be changed—our current state is X and our future state should be Y.  This workflow and performance criteria must be clearly defined.

Ensure this performance or “competency set” lines up neatly with the business objectives of the organization and is fully supported by company leadership and culture. 
Implement personalized learning programs that assess each worker’s skill level and specific knowledge gap. Engage the workers in building their own development plan with support from managers. Create a user-friendly online library of resources, including interactive training, publications and videos that workers can access on demand. Assign mentors or peers who can provide feedback and reinforce progress.
Provide feedback on specific productivity indicators and celebrate success when the needle moves. Demonstrate clearly that when worker performance excels, the organization excels. 

Aligning performance and training is crucial to your success. A company’s analysis should not overlook current training curricula.  You’d be amazed how many clients we encounter who have changed their performance expectations but feel that they don’t need to change their training curricula -  either in content or in delivery method.

Essentially at the base level, we recommend applying a Continuous Improvement mindset to Talent Development.  High performing organizations look at every aspect of their business with this mindset and improving their people should not be excluded.

To help businesses hire the best fit talent, workforce organizations are charged with developing the talent pipeline that provides skilled workers to them. But if there’s not a strong connection between the regional workforce organization and key industries, the public sector partners may not be investing in the right skills at the right time. Business must not only redefine its own approach to talent development, but it must also partner with State and Regional governments to redefine how job seekers become work-ready and sustainably employed in our ever-changing economic climate.   Investing time in serving on a regional workforce board or a training program’s advisory board is an investment in your future talent pool.

Private and Public Sector partners each have a crucial role to play, and they must work together to align job readiness with job demands in order to address – and eventually, shrink - the Great American Skill Gap.

If you’d like to hear more about how to realign your Talent Development strategy and implement personalized learning and other modern-learner approaches, contact Catherine Baker, Director Private Sector Practice and Chief Learning Officer at Maher & Maher at cbaker@mahernet.com or 732-918-8000.

Maher & Maher is a specialized change management and talent development consulting firm based in Neptune, NJ and in Washington, D.C. The Firm’s Private Sector Practice specializes in customized learning design and delivery for the Deathcare, Financial Services, Life Sciences, and Media & Communications industries, and partners with our peers to do the same for government clientele. For more information about our services, visit us at www.mahernet.com or call us at 1-888-90-MAHER.

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