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5 Ways to Close the Widening Skills Gap in Corporate America

April 20, 2021 at 10:00 AM

Companies large and small are reporting a widening skills gap between their current workforce and the needs of the business.

Wiley examines this phenomenon in a new report, Reinventing the Workforce 2021: Leveraging Education as a Benefit. According to 57% of participants, upskilling and reskilling employees is the top way to close the ever-expanding corporate skills gap, as opposed to hiring new employees or outsourcing.




Because the widening skills gap is a growing concern in the digital age, we will examine five ways employers can effectively address it.


Incorporate tuition assistance programs

The Reinventing the Workforce study found fewer than half of respondents’ companies had tuition assistance (TA) programs for employees.

In addition, 56% of those surveyed were hiring new employees to fill skills gaps. And close to one-third of study participants said TA wasn’t part of their organization’s strategic plan and/or did not enjoy leadership support.

What’s more, a large number of C-suite leaders indicated their employees did not require tuition assistance as an employee benefit.


Evaluate employees’ skills & abilities

Once an education benefits program is in place, it’s important to inventory the skills across roles in the organization, the Society for Human Resource Management suggests in a blog, “Bold Solutions For the Widening Skills Gap.”

If a position has historically been filed with someone possessing a college degree, ask yourselves if that is truly necessary today. SHRM found for the role of supervisors managing production workers, over two-thirds of job postings requested a bachelor’s degree or higher – but only 16% already employed in this role actually had a degree. 

For this reason, hiring managers should rethink the degree requirement and begin looking at ways to source so-called “non-traditional” talent. This includes hiring people based on their potential to be trained to fit the position.


Promote ongoing employee education

Companies that only provide employee education annually to fulfill requirements such as compliance training, need to rethink this approach and offer continuous learning opportunities, stresses HR Technologist.

That’s because recruiting alone cannot close the skills gap. Talent acquisition requires collaboration between HR and L&D, asserts TrainingIndustry.com. After all, while HR brings new employees onboard, L&D trains existing employees as well as new hires. The heads of both these areas of the business must be on the same page if their organization is to conquer the skills gap and successfully upskill its workforce.

In addition, they need top executives within the company to keep them in the loop on current and future business goals, because this will allow them to develop a viable learning strategy. Otherwise, they will always be playing catch up.

About half of human resources and learning & development professionals participating in the Wiley survey believe there’s a skills gap within their organizations. What’s more, among those working for companies that did not offer TA or reimbursement programs, 65% said having these programs would help develop leaders within their organizations.

Many organizations – 48% - currently do not offer TA programs. And 30% of companies that DO offer education benefits to employees, require them to work there for one year before they can tap those benefits, significantly contributing to the skills gap.




Provide workers with incentives

While employees may genuinely want to develop new skills, they can get sidetracked by the demands of their job and/or their personal life. But if the employer offers some type of incentive, such as formal recognition by the company or even a wage increase, those can be powerful motivators, HR Technologist says.

Another way to encourage employees to pursue training is to tie it to the performance review process.

The majority of Wiley study participants said a strong company TA program cultivates talent and develops leaders within the organization. However, only 36% of participants’ companies offering TA programs incorporated this benefit into employee performance reviews. This indicates there is room for improvement.


Create mentorships and sponsorships

We have all seen job descriptions where recent college grads are expected to have some basic skills for the position. However, that’s not realistic for most entry-level roles.

But if you bring onboard a young adult and pair them with a more experienced colleague or a management-level mentor, the new hire can begin to get some real-world coaching. They’ll also have the support they need to successfully grow into their role, HR Technologist says. Mentoring should also be extended to existing employees who show leadership qualities, along with the formal training they need to advance.

The Wiley report noted that the traditional offerings of scholarships and tuition reimbursement were both still viewed as effective in upskilling and reskilling employees. So organizations should take advantage of them to upskill and reskill workers.


Time to rethink the skills gap problem

To summarize, there is recognition among corporate leaders, HR and L&D executives and frontline managers that there is a widening skills gap in the workplace.

While there are steps companies can take to overcome this challenge, they require C-suite buy-in, time, effort and budget to execute.

Employers whose HR and L&D teams collaborate, adopt robust education benefits programs, mentorships and scholarships, and create incentives for members of their workforce to participate, will have a competitive advantage over organizations that don’t.

To learn more about how Wiley Beyond can partner with your company to achieve these goals, download Reimagining the Workforce 2021 and visit wileybeyond.com.




Deb Volzer

Written by Deb Volzer

Dr. Debra Volzer is Sr. Director of State and Workforce Development for Wiley Education Services. Her focus is to identify, engage and secure innovative learning partners interested in closing the skills gap. Her efforts work collaboratively with Industry and Learning Partners to identify and align models and solutions that increase learner success and streamline pathways to skills attainment. In this role she works to identify and align a shared vision and promotes collaboration of next-generation education solutions. Prior to joining Wiley, Volzer worked with corporations including Pearson North America, Barnes and Noble Education and Community College Futures Assembly and held administrative and teaching positions at the Ohio Board of Regents, Ohio Learning Network, the Ohio State University, Franklin University and Ohio Dominican. Volzer holds degree from the University of Kansas, Yale University and the Ohio State University.