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Causes and Solutions to Soft Skills Gaps

Skills gaps – the difference between the skills required for a job and the skills employers possess.

Skills gaps have always been prevalent in the workplace, whether in a single individual, across a department or in an entire organisation. Organisations recruit, train, develop, mentor and coach to close those gaps and thereby create effective workforces to drive productivity.

Following the Covid-19 pandemic, skills gaps have increased dramatically and have become the topic of concern for many organisations. HR and learning and development professionals alike have been scrambling to find intuitive ways to bridge the widening gap. 

But what are the reasons for increasing skills gaps and is it possible to prevent gaps from occurring?

Causes of Skills Gaps

Skills gaps occur when the demand for new skills is not met. This need for new skills can be attributed to a number of both external and internal factors.

Economic conditions

Organisations may implement strategy shifts, approach new markets or expand on their product or services offering, either in response to economic conditions or in response to the evolution of operations.

Employees may also decide to immigrate or look for alternate opportunities in response to economic shifts, leaving skills gaps as they go.

Force majeure incidents

Natural disasters wreak havoc as they go. Employees may be lost. Damage may lead to financial ruin for organisations or strategy shifts.

Technological changes

New technology, processes, procedures and even automation require different skills that may or may not be available within an organisation.

Education and training

In a fast-changing world, learning content may be outdated. This is true for formal training providers as well as organisation-specific courses. 

Where organisations do not provide company-specific training, the increase in skills gaps may be exponential as they struggle to maintain existing skills and attain new skills.

Personnel changes

Skills gaps are especially prevalent in companies with high staff turnover whether through resignations, terminations, retirement or a combination of all.

Poor contingency or succession planning can also have a devastating impact on the availability of required skills.

Labour market trends

The number of applications received for a position depends on many factors including company culture and reputation, as well as the platforms used to advertise vacancies. Low numbers of applications limit the skills pool from which to choose from. 

In recent years, soft skills have become the focus for many organisations, realising their importance and contribution to hard skills, job requirements have been amended to emphasise the need for specific soft skills. This however brings to light new causes for widening skills gaps.

Misrepresentation of skills

Discrepancies exist between how job seekers communicate their skills and how employers advertise the skills required.

In our latest ebook, The Ultimate Training Needs Analysis Playbook, we explore this challenge with particular reference to soft skills and how it is open to interpretation.

Education and training focus

Education and training providers focus on developing hard skills, leaving incredible soft skills gaps.

75% of employers can’t find new graduates with soft skills.

64% of companies have difficulty finding qualified candidates with critical thinking skills.

(Jaiswani, 2021)

Changing skills priorities

According to LinkedIn, members’ skills for the same occupation changed about 25% from 2015 to 2021.

In essence, irrespective of the skills listed on the job application, if skills are not properly assessed during recruitment, employers may source and employ the incorrect skills simply due to miscommunication.

How to close those skills gaps?

Considering the various causes, it is unlikely that skills gaps will ever be completely filled, but several strategies can be implemented to reduce and respond proactively to gaps.

Training needs analysis

One of the most effective and accurate ways to address skills gaps is through a training needs analysis also known as a skills gap analysis or skills audit.

Here skills gaps can be identified and corrections targeted based on priorities and future needs.

A training needs assessment also allows for the optimisation of recruitment processes and gives the organisation the opportunity to create a supply of skills in anticipation of changing demands 

Read our latest ebook for step-by-step assistance and templates to get started.

Improve internal training programmes

Company specific training is an essential contributor to the longevity of an organisation. 

Read our ebook on soft skills on tips around how training can be incorporated in day to day activities of employees. 

Enlist the expertise of external training providers

Training is a specialist skill, and though internal training is essential, expertise is required for more advanced skills. 

In our ebook on soft skills, we explored various learning methodologies for best results and seamless integration.

A widening skills gap can be overwhelming to address. It will also take time, considerable effort and resources. 

But as Nelson Mandela wisely said: ‘It always seems impossible until it’s done.’

Our recommendation is to take a targeted approach to ensure resources are used optimally and essential skills are prioritised to ensure the longevity of the organisation. 

Download our latest ebook on how to conduct a training needs assessment for step-by-step guidance on how to identify and close skills gaps.

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