Last summer I attended the Pacific Coast Builder’s Conference in San Francisco, where the shortage of available skilled labor was on the top of everyone’s mind. While the home building business at large is aware of, if not struggling because of it, the skills gap in California seems to be even more serious than other parts of the country. A few builders who shared stories told me that it wasn’t just skilled labor that they were unable to find, but any labor. One builder said that workers were in such short supply and demand was so great, that he couldn’t get even an unskilled laborer to show up on his job site for less than twice the hourly rate he could afford to pay, including lunch, and with a guarantee of at least 40 days of work. Of course, this is anecdotal, and I don’t know what any of the builders I was speaking with pay, nor do I know how they treat employees and contract labor, but I heard the same story enough to conclude that the problem was greater than I could have imagined.
Also, at the conference, I saw Fine Homebuilding ambassador Shawn Van Dyke speak. The topic that he decided to tackle was the skills gap. Shawn suggested that we, as an industry of building professionals, need to stop asking “what can be done about the skills gap,” and to start asking, “what can I do about the skills gap.” I liked Shawn’s message. It puts the responsibility on each of us to solve the problem for ourselves, on our own projects, and within our own companies. And it isn’t much of a mental leap to realize that if we each solve for the skills gap on our own, at the end of each day, there will be better trained, more highly skilled carpenters, electricians, plumbers, mechanics, nurses, and computer programmers to show for it.
The Association for Talent Development (ATD) is an international organization that supports its members in developing employees’ knowledge and skills. You may never have heard of ATD, but they’ve been around since 1943 and have members in over 120 countries and sponsor networking events and gatherings through local chapters, a lot like other professional organizations, like the National Association of Home builders, in fact. ATD recently published a white paper that not only sheds light on the severity of the shortage of skilled labor across industries, but offers case studies and practical insights on how we can help to close the skills gap in each of our organizations. The “key findings” of the study that lead to the white paper are:
- Eighty-three percent of respondents report a skills gap in their organization and 78 percent expect their organizations will have a skills gap in the future. Almost three-quarters say that the skills gap affects their organization’s service delivery, customers, or future growth.
- The biggest current and future gaps noted are in communication, critical thinking, and managerial and supervisory skills, showing that organizations need to focus on soft skills development programs.
- Survey results show reason to be concerned about a succession planning crisis. It appears that organizations aren’t effective at preparing people for senior leader positions. Half of respondents said their companies had insufficient leadership bench strength, and 47 percent said they expect a gap of leadership or executive-level skills in the future.
- Compared with data from ATD’s last survey in 2015, there has been a decrease in the percentage of companies offering internal training to help close the skills gap. The same is true of the percentage with internal certification programs. The percentage of companies offering offsite, vendor-provided training to employees and supporting enrollment in open, online courses has also dropped. This points to a disconnect—organizations say they want to shrink the skills gap but seem unwilling to dedicate the time and resources necessary to do so.
- The talent development function has seen an increased role in addressing skills gaps since 2015, and there is now more accountability for individual managers. However, success in identifying and closing skills gaps depends on the involvement of key stakeholders across the organization.
- Though government leaders have pushed for growth in apprenticeships, few respondents offer them. Most companies that do are in the skilled trades.
While there is an alarming aspect to the reporting, what I found most interesting about the paper were the constructive solutions that can be applied to each of our work. In fact, I learned two terms that alone offer an approach to closing the skills gap within even a small organization—Upskilling and Reskilling.
According to the paper, upskilling is “training designed to augment existing skills with new or significantly enhanced knowledge or skills to enable individuals to continue and succeed in the same profession or field of work.” Reskilling is “training designed to help individuals gain new knowledge or skills to enable them to perform new jobs or enter new professions.” What would the outcome be if we each looked at our employees, even our subs and determined which of these two approaches would best suit their careers and our own needs? If these two things aligned, we’d get better work and they’d become more capable and employable. That’s a win-win.
The white paper also outlines a six-point Action Plan that is helpful for each of us to access and close the skills gap. The points are:
- Clarify and understand the organizations performance metrics
- Identify competencies and skills that map to strategies and performance metrics
- Asses the skills gap
- Set goals and prioritize the path to filling gaps
- Implement solutions and monitor sustainability
- Communicate the impact
If that sounds like a load of business jargon to you, you’re not alone. I felt that way at first reading the paper, but as I read on about each of these points I came around. So, what if we rewrite the steps as a series of helpful questions:
- How is your business suffering due to the shortage of skilled labor? Quality of work, perhaps? Or profitability? It’s important to clearly know what we are trying to achieve.
- Specifically, what type of employee or sub, with what skills do you need to improve the quality of work or your profitability or to overcome whatever your specific need is?
- Is that sub or employee available within or from outside your business? If yes, get to work. If not, you have a skills gap problem.
- Can you offer formal training or take some other steps to subs or employees to help close the skills gap, resulting in better quality work and increased profitability?
- How will you do this and is it something that you have the right leaders and managers to keep up? What’s a reasonable timeline and what are the right measures to evaluate if the plan is working?
- At the end of your timeline, can you demonstrate the success of your efforts to all of your employees? Can you give raises and promotions? If so, you may have successfully closed the skills gap in your business, made more money for yourself, your crew, and your subs, and improved the talent pool for the industry as a whole.
What I’ve realized is that the skills gap is not an insurmountable problem. The solution is embodied in the old environmental slogan “think globally, act locally.” It’s empowering to realize that if we each do a small part in tackling the skills gap, the greater problem will diminish exponentially. If you are interested in reading the ATD white paper in its entirety, click here.