There are a couple of things that all employees and employers have to learn to live with: no one is the total package, and everyone must make themselves adaptable. To land a job or advance up the ranks, workers are asked to master more skills than ever, and the pace of innovation compounds that request.

The way we do our jobs is changing much faster than ever before, and everyone has to continually learn new skills to stay fresh when stasis equals death in this economy. It’s no longer just about the product, but how prepared individuals and teams are to effectively play in the new ecosystem. When we use abstract terms like “agile” and “lean” management, our teams experience an overriding need to train and build their skills.

We are already seeing individuals take a new, more flexible path in response to these external forces. For example, marketers are effectively becoming data scientists as they sift through troves of data to nail down the perfect marketing campaign. Salespeople are schooling themselves to become industry experts by strengthening their ability to communicate not just with executives but also with those in development and operations who often work directly with the product.

So what does that mean for the worker? What about the employer? Whether you are an individual or corporation, there needs to be a plan for change. There’s a new normal in the workforce that requires us to rethink what we consider to be “good enough” and how the workforce can improve to meet that new bar.

We Must Bridge The Long-Standing Skills Gap

The skills gap has long dominated our conversations. (Before you roll your eyes and think “Here we go again” I reiterate this drumbeat message because ignoring the problem will not make it go away.) Unfilled positions due to unqualified applicants persists across industries. Period. Yes, recent unemployment numbers showed the rate declining, but an astounding 7.2 million Americans still wake up jobless, and countless others have settled for part-time work or have stopped looking altogether. Yet, nearly 60 percent of U.S. employers have job openings that go unfilled for three months or longer, a fact that costs the average company nearly $1 million annually, according to a CareerBuilder survey.

Why is this still a problem? As mentioned above, the increased rates of innovation and change are the culprits. Deloitte estimates the half life of skills has dropped to five years, and most people aren’t equipped to build those new skills. We need to think about skill development the same way we do the gym. Yes, it can be hard work, but sustaining a routine is essential for a long, productive and fruitful life.

Unfortunately, there is still a lot of work to fix the problem. The National Skills Coalition estimated that middle-skill jobs in computer technology, health care, construction, high-skill manufacturing and other fields account for 54 percent of the labor market while only 44 percent of workers are sufficiently trained.

Speaking of the workers, they’re well aware of this gap, even the ones who have jobs. According to the 2016 Emerging Workforce Study by Spherion, nearly one-third believe their current skills will prevent them from earning a promotion and 35 percent are concerned about falling behind in acquiring the new skills required to succeed in more advanced future positions.

The process of acquiring new skills is keeping them from their dream jobs. But what can they do about it?

Making the Dream a Reality Works Both Ways

Attaining and retaining the ideal job relies on gaining new skills and updating current ones. Moreover, this process for workers builds confidence, provides flexibility, adds value and allows them to better contribute to their teams.

To strengthen their positions, workers are steadily shifting away from live, face-to-face training and toward online learning platforms, picking up new skills while refreshing old. In its latest State of the Industry report, Association for Talent Development (ATD) found 2015 to the be the first year that less than half an organization’s available learning hours were delivered in a traditional classroom. And with 73 percent of adults considering themselves lifelong learners, workers are primed to pick up skills.

But it’s not up to the worker alone. Employers must invest in training their workforce as well so that they can find a candidate with the foundational training and capabilities to upskill to the next level. Employers should look for potential and cast a wider net based on criteria that includes flexibility, hunger to learn and proven ability to do so. They can begin this by revisiting and revising boilerplate job descriptions–especially those that include unconscious bias, which shrinks the pool of great applicants. They should broaden their vision for what the ideal worker should be for a given position. This is likely a shift in a company’s hiring philosophy, but it’s a long overdue move in the right direction.

The good news is that we’re seeing corporations that once forced segmentation–locking their marketers into solely being marketers, for example–are now relaxing their rules and boundaries and welcoming multidisciplinary roles. But I believe they can push that practice even further to surface more and more workforce talent.

Here’s the thing: This is the new world, and companies must adapt. Those that embrace this progressive way of thinking quickly and efficiently are going to thrive. Those that cling to old models risk becoming the next Sears…or worse.

Page Last Updated: February 2020

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