There are some 6.9 million unemployed Americans and 6 million job openings– irony that’s not lost on economists and business leaders, according to US News & World Report. The gap continues to widen as new jobs become available, while not enough qualified graduates enter the workforce – especially across the computing and high-tech industries.

Matching open positions with skilled workers has become an imperative for organizations across the nation. In a majority of cases, companies are not able to fill postions because available workers lack the appropriate education and training for the skills required, and the aging population has created a decline in candidates with enough job experience and skills to do the job.

According to Code.org, less than 43,000 students graduated with computer science degrees 2016, eventhough more than half a million jobs were available for people in the computing fields. Similarly, Bloomberg reported shortages of workers for middle-class-wage jobs such as nurses, construction workers, truck drivers, automotive technicians, industrial technicians, heavy equipment operators, computer network support specialists, web developers, and insurance specialists.

If jobs can’t be filled due to a gap in skills, employers will experience losses in productivity and the U.S. can expect an economic decline. The challenge for organizations is to find new ways to close skills gaps and to maintain productivity and profitability.

If you’re looking for ways your organization can narrow the skills gap between open positions and available talent, here are three big ideas you can leverage to stay ahead:

#1 Anticipate a skills shortage

Traditionally, when employers are looking for talented, qualified employees to fill job reqs in their organization, they look outside of the organization at people in competitng companies, or at active job seekers.

In the current market, there are more jobs than available candidates and the likelihood you’ll find someone who can fill the requirements of the job are lower than ever. Instead of endlessly searching outside the company for the right candidate, it may be time to consider capitalizing on the talent that already exists within your organization.

When you have a position to fill that requires a particular skillset, there may be people within your organization who possess the skills you need – they just might be using those skills in another role within the company. Unfortunately for most organizations, there are no systems in place to track the evolving and developing skill sets of the existing workforce, even if they are, quite literally, sitting right next to you.

In most companies, HR miight have a record of a person’s skillsets from resumes or other documents collected during the hiring process. Unfortunately, skills-tracking usually stops there. Few businesses have an official system in place to actively track individual skills, or update those skillsets as the person acquires new abilities through work experience or outside classes and programs.

While companies are thinking about the skills employees will need in the near and distant future to propel the company to continued success, they aren’t always putting the plans in place to address those needs proactively

For example, a company that’s gearing up to roll out robotic technology to automate manual tasks may become focused on the automation changes but fail to anticipate the talent and new skills that will be needed to manage the new technology. Often teams and companies become so focused on innovating and growing that they forget to think ahead to the staffing requirements needed to support the new innovation.

Organizations can begin to proactively close the skills gap by first understanding which skills gaps they have currently and will have in the future , and then having processes in place to help you discover how current employees can fill those skill gaps.

#2 Build employee skillsets

Instead of expecting employees to have exactly what you need at the exact time you need it, successful organizations will start preparing employees to be the talent of the future. Give employees a chance to grow into employees of the future by offering job shadowing, on-the-job training, and internships to prepare them for anticipated skills gaps.

When employers are trying to fill a role, they typically look for people who are a 90% match to the requirements of the job. If you shift your thinking about the hiring process to find people who have some of the skills required for a job, and then if you are willing to invest in those people, suddenly the skills gap narrows. The first step for hiring managers and HR professionals is to broaden your definition of what makes a qualified candidate – get out of the habit of only interviewing and talking with “perfect match” candidates.

Rob Kaplan, president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas and former Dean at Harvard Business School, argues that to close the skills gap, skills-training partnerships must be created locally, starting with local government and community leaders. He wrote about the success of a training program between nonprofit YearUp and a local community college that combines education, coaching, and on-the-job training into one package for students. So how do we mimic skills-training partnerships within our own organizations?

Companies need to build their own on-the-job training, as the structure of each business varies. For organizations hoping to grow employees from within their ranks, internship programs offer a way for companies to provide interested employees with an opportunity to explore new career opportunities and develop a new set of skills – while carrying with them the institutional knowledge they’ve gained through being a part of your organization.

Many organizations only think about internships as programs offered to recent grads. But, internships are a great way to offer a flexible workplace environment while meeting the growing needs of organizations to fill roles with qualified workers.

Consider offering internship opportunities to adults, as well a students, who are new to your industry or a role within your organization. You can start adult internship programs by offering opportunities for learning to current high-performing employees. Although you may experience a short-term loss in productivity, it’s well worth the long-term gain of helping employees learn new skills that will ultimately close a skills gap for your organization.

#3 Institute cultural change

In today’s workplace, employees need more than a paycheck. Workers are looking for opportunities to find purpose at their jobs. Salary and benefits are important, but so is a flexible career path and a meaningful experience. PwC found that 52% of millennials list “career progression” as the most desirable quality in a workplace, followed by wages and financial incentives. Companies hoping to keep employees engaged and satisfied will need to find ways to provide ample opportunities for workers to try something new.

When you shift your company culture to focus on the employee experience, you’ll automatically begin to look for opportunities to help employees use and expand their skills and abilities – all the way through their journey with your company. An employee-centric organization, for example, will encourage its employees to work on new projects or cross-functionally with another team to improve their skills.

We no longer live in a world where employees come in and “do their time,” so to speak. The employee lifecycle is much more connected to the experience they have with your company. The most talented professionals will always have other opportunities on the table. Employers hoping to stay ahead of the curve will put additional efforts into fostering a company culture that supports the career growth of highly-skilled employees. Employers that take a holistic approach to creating an excellent employee experience are the ones that are able to staff roles with talented, highly-skilled employees.

By adopting a vision of the employee experience as a fluid relationship, employers will begin to improve their abilities to find and retain top talent. Today’s employees are naturally seeking new opportunities for growth. Keep them satisfied by finding ways to capitalize on their curiosity and willingness to learn. Learn to anticipate what skills your organization will need to succeed in the coming months and years– and don’t overlook your talented employees who are willing and able to learn, grow, and fill the gaps across your company.

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