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Skills gap: companies short on talent, but stingy with training

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Accenture study of more than 1,000 employees finds training opportunities to be few and far between -- at a time intense global competition is making talent scarce.

We live in a time of crushing global competition, and a lot of companies now begging for skilled talent that can help keep them on top of their game. However, a new study finds most companies are not doing enough to provide the training or education necessary to acquire the skills they need.

At least that's the view from the employee trenches, as found in a new study of 1,088 employed and unemployed US workers by Accenture. The study finds that majority (55%) of workers report they are under pressure to develop additional skills to be successful in their current and future jobs. However, only 21% say they have acquired new skills through company-provided formal training during the past five years.

While 52% report they have added technology skills in the past five years, few have updated other in-demand skills such as problem solving (31%), analytical skills (26%) and managerial skills (21%).  It's worth noting that the fact that 48% have not received adequate technology training in the last five years is disturbing.

More than two-thirds (68%) of workers believe it is primarily their own responsibility, rather than their employer’s responsibility, to update their skills.  However, guidance is needed. For example, 53% unemployed workers report they understand which skills are likely to be in demand in the next five years, compared to 80% of employed workers.

The study suggests that employers may be hindered by not be having a complete picture of all of the skills they have within their organization to handle specific jobs.  Just over half (53%) of respondents said their employers document their skills, but more than a third (38%) said their employers look only at specific job experience and education to match employees to jobs rather than looking at all of their talents and capabilities.  Again, looking at this data another way, 48% of employers are not documenting skills.

It's actually surprising there isn't more support for on-the-job training and skills updates, given that there is an enormous push across the board to automate as many processes and services as possible -- the implementation of which requires greater technical knowledge. Even the most automated systems, after all, need live, thinking people to keep tabs on them.

There's also rigidity in corporate organizations to blame. Limited ability to shift employees to different jobs within their organizations may also be preventing companies from fully utilizing their workers’ skills as well, the study suggests. Only one-third (34%) of respondents report that it is easy to move to another job within their company where their skills would best be utilized, and slightly less than half of respondents (49%) report that their employer does a good job of providing a clear understanding of the skills needed for different roles and career paths.

David Smith, managing director of Accenture Talent & Organization, says the data points to an "escalating talent crisis." More proactive analysis of workforce synergies would help:

“Our study shows that workers are prepared to improve and expand their skills, but they’re not receiving sufficient support to develop those skills.  In addition to investing in training, employers will have to become more transparent about their talent requirements and more creative about leveraging the skills they already have within their organizations. Many employers have hidden talent in their organizations that they haven’t effectively tapped. New analytical tools can help managers develop a better, more detailed view of the skills in their organizations, and by creating more flexible career paths and HR processes they can more easily deploy employees to different roles where their skills are more relevant.”

One can surmise that the company that provides for comprehensive skills training will be leaders in their markets -- because they will be among the few.

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Joe McKendrick

Contributing Editor

Joe McKendrick is an independent analyst who tracks the impact of information technology on management and markets. He is a co-author of the SOA Manifesto and has written for Forbes, ZDNet and Database Trends & Applications. He holds a degree from Temple University. He is based in Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure