What Is a Skills Gap? (Plus How To Address One in 6 Ways)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated August 1, 2022

Published October 27, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

When employers make hiring decisions, their goal is to fill open positions with applicants who most closely match the needs of the role. They do this by comparing the skills and abilities needed to the skills and abilities potential employees have. Sometimes a company has difficulty filling open positions because they are unable to find applicants whose skills align with the tasks at hand.

In this article, we define the term "skills gap," list steps to take for overcoming a gap and list some tips for increasing the skills you already have.

What is a skills gap?

The term skills gap refers to the difference between the skills and abilities an employer needs its employees to possess to do their jobs well and the skills employees already have. Skills gaps vary by industry and over time, with changes in educational and training practices, technological advances and characteristics of first-time job seekers affect those numbers. Employees wishing to solidify their standing at work and move forward on their career paths benefit from addressing their own skills gaps.

Related: 5 Steps To Create a Career Development Plan for Yourself

How to overcome a skills gap

To bolster your qualifications, maximize your current successes and prepare for career advancement, narrow the skills gap that currently exists between what you can do and what you need to learn. Here are steps you can take to overcome a skills gap:

1. Identify your strengths and weaknesses

The first step in closing your personal skills gap is to take an inventory of your strengths and weaknesses. Identifying the skills you already have and the skills you need or want to improve requires you to set aside your ego and be very honest with yourself. You may want to approach your list as a brainstorming activity, noting every attribute you can think of about yourself without trying to edit or qualify the list.

For example, writing “I keep my desk straightened up” may lead you to realize that organizational skills are among the characteristics that make you a good employee. “I'm not always on time to meetings” may help you identify time management as an area that you want to improve. After brainstorming, start a new list called “skills I want to improve.”

Related: Creating a Personal SWOT Analysis for Your Career

2. Revisit your current job requirements

Sometimes it's easy to focus on all the small activities that make up a workday and lose sight of the primary responsibilities that are the foundation of your current role. A good way to refocus and reassess your potential skills gap is to take a close look at your actual job description. As you compare the responsibilities listed in your job description to the way you spend your time and energy each day, you may discover some discrepancies that indicate a skills gap.

For instance, if you realize that you regularly put off certain tasks until the last minute, it may be an indication that you aren't confident in your skills needed for that task. If there are responsibilities listed in your job description that you are uncomfortable with, add the skills needed to complete those tasks to your “skills I want to improve” list.

3. Review your recent performance evaluations

One of the best ways to determine which skills you may lack or need to improve is to look over your most recent performance evaluations and see what areas for improvement your manager identified for you. Add those items to your list of skills to improve.

Related: 20 Performance Review Questions to Ask Your Manager

4. Speak to your supervisor or manager

Now that you started a list of things to address in your skills gap, it's time to get some in-person external feedback. If you have a regularly scheduled check-in with your manager, bring your “skills I want to improve” list. If you need to set up a meeting, you may want to let your manager know why so they can prepare to discuss the skills you need to enhance.

You now have input on the list of skills to improve to overcome your skills gap from three sources: the person who knows you best (you), the person who oversees your work (your immediate supervisor) and the people who determine your job function (the people in HR, leadership and administrative roles who created your job description).

5. Locate education and training opportunities

After doing a self-inventory, talking to your manager and reviewing your job description and performance reviews, your “skills I want to improve” list is now an actionable map guiding you to overcoming your skills gap. Look at each item and locate the education, training and development resources to use. First, find out if your company has a dedicated organizational development and learning department or an online learning portal for you to explore. Next, investigate area junior colleges, colleges, universities and training institutes. Research other digital approaches to overcoming your skills gap, like webinars, podcasts, apps, professional organizations and other distance-learning opportunities.

Related: 20 Professional Development Topics That Can Help You in the Workplace

6. Make a definite plan

Closing your skills gap will take time, and you want to stay positive and motivated. A well-constructed plan, with specific steps and timelines, will help you remain focused and provide a way for you to track your progress. If you are new to making career-related plans, you may want to create SMART goals as your planning framework.

SMART Goals
Image description

SMART Goals:
Specific
Measurable
Attainable
Relevant
Time-based

Tips for increasing your skills

As you work to close your skills gap, these tips can help you in the process:

Find a mentor

Locate someone in your company or line of work whose work you respect and whose opinion you value. That person has invaluable experience and expertise from which you can benefit. If you are shy about asking someone to mentor you, remember that most people are flattered to find out they are someone you look up to and want to learn from. And if your first choice for a mentor isn't available, keep looking until you find the right one.

Be open to criticism

It may be helpful to remind yourself to take a step back and remove your personal feelings when receiving criticism about your work. It's natural to feel defensive or argumentative when hearing critical input. Once you set aside your emotional reactions, you can see the value of constructive feedback more clearly.

See things from your employer's point of view

When assessing yourself as an employee, it may be helpful to imagine the roles in reverse. Think of yourself as the person in charge of hiring someone to do your job. Ask yourself the questions you'd ask an applicant for your job. Determine the skills you would want your employee to possess to accomplish your job function.

Join professional groups

Networking is a great way to establish relationships that will help you throughout your career. Meet other professionals to discuss skills, training, education and career development.

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