The most important tool you need to execute your project is beyond financial backing, it is the people on your team. The team members are arguably the most crucial resource when it comes to completing your project. The vision that you have for your business and company won’t come to fruition without a skilled and competent team of employees. Things like productivity decline and billion-dollar losses have been caused by an acute lack of skills. You’ll frequently discover that a team can overcome the toughest obstacles to the project’s completion if armed with the right level of skills and diligence.
Knowing the technical requirements of a job isn’t the only thing you need to be skilled for it. Soft skills are another factor in smooth project execution and ensuring that everyone on the team is focused on the same objective. Project management leads must know how to spot skills gaps and what to do about them if they are found. Every team must have the appropriate technical and non-technical or soft skills to carry out their projects. In an age where AI and remote working teams has become more and more prevalent, they are important factors to take into account when trying to solve the skills gap issue as a project manager. This article will offer advice on how to go about this process.
key skills required in every team
Technical skills: these are skills required to do the job effectively such as a professional qualification or a technological proficiency (like the technical skills for business proposal writers, or skills needed to use collaboration tools).
Soft skills: such as communication and interpersonal skills (that can determine the quality of team communication.
Why solve the skills gap problem?
In the simplest of terms, this is when a team member lacks a required skill that prevents them from executing tasks effectively. It’s the disparity between the desired skill set of an individual and their actual skill set. Sometimes it’s a technical skill, other times it’s a soft skill. Whatever the case, the important thing to note is that inadequate skills will lead to a myriad of problems that will cost you more and reduce your productivity.
One of the most important reasons for addressing the skill gap problem is to avoid project lags and unnecessary expenditures that are incurred with the delays that follow. For example, a software development project could be delayed because the team lacks expertise in a particular programming language required to complete the project, or a company loses revenue because their sales team lacks knowledge of the product and its features, leading to missed sales opportunities. It could also be a case of poor project management, time keeping and work ethics.
Solving a skill gap can help you avoid fixing costly mistakes. It can also lead to a situation that boosts work productivity by equipping your team with the skills and work ethics that allows them to be more productive, efficient, and maintain a high level of excellence and work integrity.
how to solve a skills gap problem?
In the following paragraphs, I’m going to share simple ways you can solve a skills gap problem. But first I’m going to highlight a few ways that you can identify a skills gap problem:
- Your project is lagging.
- You’re spending valuable time resolving conflicts within the team.
- Your team members are not able to execute their jobs at the required level.
- Other teams within the organisation are negatively affected by the operations of your team.
Admit that there’s a problem that needs to be addressed
This is not the time to bury your head in the sand like an ostrich, it’s critical for you to admit that your team has a problem and confront the issue. You shouldn’t soldier on, trying to manage a bad situation. Remember, if your team lacks the necessary skills, the project is at risk of failure.
This was the case with a creative team I led in 2016, where despite my best efforts, we could hardly make headway with regards to our goals. Every quarter we would review our performance and determine that something needed to change, but we would return the next quarter with the same problems. It wasn’t until I finally accepted that the skills gap within my team needed to be fixed that there was any improvement at all. I often think about all the time I wasted, trying to make things work when the team needed intensive training.
Comparing the present level of performance or productivity to the required level for the position or industry is one approach to acknowledge a skill gap problem. If there is a noticeable difference, it could be necessary to upskill or reskill. Another strategy is to examine your talents to find your areas of strength and weakness, then create an improvement strategy. To successfully address skill gaps, it’s critical to have an open mentality and a commitment to learn and develop – continuously.
You may need to evaluate your team members (by reviewing their performances) or look out for specific skills in new members of your team (when they aren’t apparent). Often, even daily assessments will show that a team member is lacking in some areas.
Additionally, your team can self-identify where their shortcomings are and how they think about their personal growth. By conducting employee engagement surveys, you can find where your team thinks they need to develop, giving you a comprehensive view of where you need to invest in training. It also gives you the benefit of showing your employees you want to listen.
Another alternative to employee engagement surveys is conducting brainstorming sessions. This is a great way to empower employees and encourage them to submit their own ideas on how to solve issues like skill gaps. By giving them more agency, it encourages them to improve both themselves and the company around them in a more positive and authentic way.
Recognising that there’s a skills gap and admitting that you need to do something about it, is the first step towards solving the problem.
What you need to do after you’ve identified a skills gap problem
- Determine what type of training is required.
- Determine what the mode of the training will be. Will it be a virtual training, or will it be an in-person training?
- Determine the timeframe in which the training will be done—think of this in relation to how critical the situation is or what your long-term goal is for your team.
- Make sure you’re consistently tracking the amount of progress your team has made in developing the skills they need to fill in the skill gap.
- Whether it be an external consultant or someone from your company, it’s important to assign a coach or tutor that specialises in the exact skills your team needs to develop.
- Provide plenty of opportunities for your team to practice the new skills they are learning.
- Evaluate their results after they’ve completed their training. Have they acquired the necessary skills? Are they applying them to their work?
Involve team members in your skills acquisition strategy
At the beginning of every business year, it might help to discuss with your team members about their self-development goals. In some cases, they already know what type of training they require and where they can get it.
I finally had a talk with my team about what we needed to change, and the types of training I had identified as necessary for our collective improvement. What was remarkable about the conversation was that some of them felt they were doing just fine. It seemed that I was worrying over nothing. I believe it was the first time I acknowledged that maybe the entire team couldn’t work as I had hoped.
We clearly were not all on the same page, and some were only on the team to get their paycheck. It was a very humbling experience to discover that my visions for the team were only lofty, as more than half the team did not even care. You’re probably wondering why I did not just let them all go. Well, not everyone on the team was uncaring. I imagined that they could influence the others, and that perhaps, our results would inspire the uncaring ones.
Discussing with team members about skill acquisition will help you to identify a couple of things:
- Dedicated team members who are willing to improve their skills and ultimately benefit the team.
- Opportunities that you’re not aware of for team improvement.
- An estimate of the cost of skills acquisition.
It’s critical for you to identify dedicated team members and encourage them, because they ultimately bring whatever skills and resources they have to the growth and benefit of the team. It’s also helpful for you to identify team members you can delegate more responsibilities to and understand ways you can help them to become more valuable to the team.
Conducting a skills assessment to determine areas of strength and weakness is a smart idea. Create individualised learning plans for each team member using the data you gathered. These plans may combine formal training with mentorship, job shadowing, and other on-the-job learning opportunities. Encourage team members to take responsibility for their own growth by defining objectives and monitoring results, and offer ongoing encouragement and support to keep them on course.
Also, discussing skill acquisition strategies with your team members helps them to get involved in the process. Therefore, they can approach skill development, not as a chore, but as valuable work. I soon came to recognise the dedicated team members when we commenced training. It wasn’t hard to spot those who were barely participating because they thought they didn’t require these new skills.
How to involve team members in your skill acquisition strategy
- Schedule regular feedback that gives room for team member involvement.
- Have a skills acquisition plan and share it with your team members. You can communicate this visually, showing them the correlation between skills acquisition and target accomplishment.
This is not to say that you should hand over the decision-making to your team members – the goal is to make the best decision for the team, based on the information you have gathered and the information that they offer.
Make a financial plan – prepare your budget
To solve a skills gap problem, you must be willing to part with some funds. Financing skills acquisition for your team is an investment that will guarantee that your entire project management plan will work on time and within the stipulated budget.
To ensure that you can afford and execute your goals for your team members, it is important for you to prepare a budget. A budget helps you to see how you can execute this plan and what it will require. It will also help you to determine when you can sponsor the skills acquisition plan for your team members, and aid planning and strategy.
However, funding skills acquisition might prove to be difficult, despite your best intentions. This is why it’s important for you to engage your team members. They are likely to know of development opportunities that are more affordable. You may also decide to offer them loans towards this.
Another alternative to funding skills acquisition is getting your team members to make some financial commitment towards their own development. This way you are both contributing towards this goal and your financial burden is reduced. This again underscores the importance of involving your team members in this discussion.
You can determine the expenses related to learning new skills, such as training programmes, seminars, conferences, or hiring outside specialists, with the use of a carefully constructed financial plan. You can prioritise investments in skill development, monitor progress over time, and establish financial objectives by making a budget and defining financial goals. A financial plan may also assist you in determining the return on investment (ROI) of your efforts to acquire new skills and in making decisions about where to allocate money in order to attain your goals.
Cross-training is essentially an exchange of skills that enables employees or team members to perform other functions in other departments within an organisation or team. It is an effective way to get team members aware of what other teams are doing and be able to replicate these functions as necessary.
I found this very useful in another team I led some years ago. We were a small team trying to accomplish this huge digital marketing project for a client. Funds were tight and I needed to prove to this client that we were capable of making his business a household name, and we did. One way that we did it is through cross-training. All hands were on deck, everyone could at least attempt the other person’s job, so that when one of us had to go on a sick leave it didn’t cripple our operations. I still work with that team today.
Cross-training prevents obstruction in the workflow due to unexpected circumstances like sickness, accidents, death and burnout. It also builds skill acquisition, the morale of team members, and work efficiency. While the peculiarities of certain job functions might prevent just anyone from cross-training without a requisite knowledge of the task, cross-training presents a unique opportunity for project managers to close skills gaps within their team.
Cross-training requires effective planning that considers the schedule of learning, the eligible participants and its impact on the project or business. It will also involve recognising employees and supervisors who can transfer knowledge successfully, and a clear identification of goals. This way you can fix existing or impending skills gaps within your team.
To guarantee that the training is effective, it is crucial to give the required tools and assistance. Regular progress reviews are important to gather input and make the necessary corrections. Encouraging a culture of continuous growth can assist team members in maintaining motivation and developing their abilities.
How to cross-train
- Identify what departments you want to be involved in the training.
- Identify suitable team members who will be willing to take on a new challenge.
- Identify suitable trainers—other employees, supervisors.
- Map out a strategy for cross-training, including the period, cost and expected outcomes of the training.
- Set up a training management system which will oversee the cross-training process.
Test the new skill
It isn’t just enough to set your team members up in a skill acquisition programme, it is also important for you to ensure that they’ve truly gained the skills that necessitated the programme. You can measure this by giving them higher tasks that will test the new skill they’ve just learned.
The purpose of skills development is defeated if team members maintain the same level of responsibility. This is why it’s important for you to evaluate the skills gap and the problem you particularly want to solve, before engaging your team members in skills acquisition programmes.
If the evaluation reveals the same problem, then you need to assess the training you’ve selected or the team member. If the latter is the problem, then this is a different challenge you need to address.
Real-world projects, simulations, and practical exercises are all excellent ways to put newly learned abilities to the test. These give the chance to put new information into practice and get feedback. The mastery of new abilities can also be assessed through formal examinations and peer reviews.
In the team from 2016, I eventually had to let some team members go. Despite my best efforts, they couldn’t see the reason why they needed to upgrade their skills and it was not sustainable to carry on the project with low levels of performance. By this time, we could see direct impacts on our cash inflow.
Being a good project manager involves making hard decisions, such as what team member is good for your team and what to do with unproductive members.
How to measure progress
- Assign them new tasks and assess their ability to execute them.
- Compare the team’s productivity levels before and after the skills acquisition programme.
- Compare the individual’s present performance with the former.
Implement AI in your work process
As a project manager, you can leverage AI to solve the skills gap problem within your team. AI can help you identify the skills gap and recommend training to fill the gap.
Firstly, assess the skills gap within your team using AI-powered skills assessments. Artificial intelligence (AI) can examine feedback, project performance, and employee profile data to gain insights into the skills that are lacking. This assessment can help you determine the skill sets each member of your team currently possesses as well as any areas where they may need to grow.
Once the skills gap has been identified, you can recommend training sessions or programmes that will help your team members develop their skills using AI-powered training recommendations.
Based on the unique requirements of each team member, AI algorithms can analyse the skills gap data and recommend the most efficient training programmes.
Additionally, you can provide your team members with specialised training through AI-powered learning platforms. Based on each team member’s skill level, preferred learning style, and development, these platforms use AI algorithms to tailor the learning experience for them. In order to close the skills gap, this guarantees that your team members receive the most pertinent and efficient training.
Analytics powered by AI can reveal employee skill and knowledge gaps. Gamification and AI-powered simulations can make learning interesting and interactive. AI can be used to improve learning outcomes and fill skill gaps in the workplace.
With these six simple steps, you can solve a skills gap problem effectively and continue to see the results you desire in your project. Remember that your team’s productivity is paramount in whatever decision you make. Do your best to be objective about your decisions, and don’t compromise on the quality of the training you choose.
Photo credit: Miguel Á. Padriñán