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Sure the skills gap exists (just not for me)


In 1981 a famous study was undertaken to try and gauge our opinion regarding our driving ability.  The participants, split between the USA and Sweden, all believed themselves to be really rather good.  An impressively delusional 88% of American respondents revealed that they thought they were better than average drivers.

The study has been a classic example of the illusory superiority bias that has been shown to exist in so many walks of life since then.  The latest example comes via a recent survey commissioned by the MOOC network Udemy into our perceptions about both the skills gap in the workplace, and how our own skills match up.

The survey of 1,000 Americans of working age found that whilst most thought a skills gap existed, an impressive 95% thought that they themselves were either adequately qualified, or indeed over qualified for their current role.

If the problem doesn’t apply to them, it doesn’t paint a particularly positive picture of their prospects for actually developing their skills.  After all, you are hardly likely to try and fix a problem you don’t think exists.  It also suggests that the feedback systems in place in our organizations are scarcely fit for purpose, as they appear to leave huge swatches of the workforce unaware of just how lacking their skills may be.

“These findings indicate that despite a widespread recognition that the skills gap exists, American employees share an ‘It’s not me, it’s you” mentality,” said Dennis Yang, CEO of Udemy. “The data also shows that while higher education may be effective at helping individuals score their first job, skills and knowledge learned at academic institutions become obsolete as Americans change professions and skill-set requirements change. We’re beginning to see workers take ownership of their own skill-set development with particular emphasis on developing technology skills, but in today’s competitive economic climate, it’s simply not enough.”

A social business is, if nothing else, one that learns extensively, both on an individual and an organizational level.  Whilst it’s great that platforms such as MOOCs offer employees the possibility of learning on a regular and flexible basis, you first need to have the appreciation that learning is required.

Of course, the flip side could be that organizations are not fully utilizing the knowledge that exists within their workforce.  The study also revealed that many employees are using a fraction of the knowledge they gained from their formal education.  Open innovation challenges (internally), have revealed that employees often contribute in ways far beyond their traditional job description.

As with most things in life, I suspect the answer lies somewhere in the middle.  Employees need to develop the mindset of continuous improvement, whilst organizations could do much more to both understand what knowledge they have, and to provide more flexible ways of releasing that talent.

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