Blog Post

9 Examples of Skills Gaps in the Workplace (and How To Close Them)

Robyn Hazelton
June 29, 2023
illustration of puzzle pieces on permission background

In a perfect world, every employee would know exactly how to complete every aspect of their job, every customer would fully understand the entire product suite, and every partner would create and retain many happy clients. 

But perfection is a fantasy; learners will always require training and ongoing support. And during an economic downturn, the need for education and training only balloons.

Over the past few years, many organizations have laid off staff to extend their cash runway. Not only do lay-offs create employee skills gaps, but they also create a ripple effect: Without support from skilled employees, customers and partners suffer, too—resulting in more skills gaps.

In this article, we’ll discuss:

We’ll also share some data insights from our recent report, The State of Education Initiative Ownership, which examined the economy’s impact on workplace education—and the professionals who train employees, customers, and partners. 

Common employee skills gaps 

When we talk about “skills gaps,” we mean areas where a person lacks the knowledge or competencies to perform critical tasks. 

Common employee skills gaps include hard skills (like technical know-how) and soft skills (like active listening). 

The Association for Talent Development surveyed 316 organizations to create its 2022 Skills Gap Report. According to the report, the three most common skills gaps among employees are:

  • Critical thinking and problem solving skills 
  • Managerial and supervisory skills
  • Communication and interpersonal skills 

Critical thinking and problem solving are necessary regardless of job level or functional area. 

Managerial skills—including communication and interpersonal skills—are essential for current managers. And also for individual contributors who are interested in management. As part of career pathing and employee development efforts, companies must train current managers and aspiring managers to help them gain the requisite competencies. 

Other common employee skills gaps named by Forbes include:

  • Teamwork and collaboration skills 
  • Negotiation skills 
  • Digital and technology skills

Of course, organizations suffer when workers don’t effectively perform their jobs—but workers suffer too. Our State of Education Initiative Report found that employees who say they lack the knowledge and training needed to succeed are less engaged and less happy to go to work each day. 

Engagement impacts employee productivity. Low productivity exacerbates skills gaps—resulting in numerous negative results like high customer churn, low product adoption, and decreased business goal performance.

Our research found that 12% of all respondents feel they’re capable of making a greater impact, but lack the training and skills they need to succeed. What’s more shocking is that 10% of executives and directors surveyed admit they lack the requisite skills and training. 

Closing employee skills gaps—for employees at all levels—is mission critical. 

Common customer skills gaps

The most common customer skills gaps include:

  • Selling skills 
  • Teamwork and collaboration skills 
  • Digital and technology skills 
  • Critical thinking and problem solving skills 

Let’s dig into these skill gaps and chat about why they occur.

First, you might be thinking, “Selling skills? Why would a customer need to sell?” Well, in many business-to-business transactions, the decision to purchase a product or service is made by a group of people, not an individual. Often, the champion must sell or convince their co-workers that the purchase will deliver ROI. Convincing others requires both internal selling as well as collaboration with other stakeholders. 

Customers need digital and technology skills to utilize the product to its fullest extent. Some customers need little training; others require lots of training and ongoing support. 

Finally, critical thinking and problem solving skills come into play when a customer is unsure how to accomplish a task. An individual with developed critical thinking and problem solving skills might follow protocol (e.g., search the knowledge base for a video walkthrough) or use their judgment and past experience to solve the issue. An individual who lacks this skill set might get frustrated and call customer support as a first step—even though better options exist.

Why are these skills gaps common?

There will always be baseline skills gaps. That said, economic conditions play a role, too.

Underskilled employees and understaffed customer-facing teams mean customers don’t get the support they need to achieve their desired outcomes and realize product ROI. In fact, 60% of learning professionals we surveyed say, “Within my organization, we are good at selling the dream to our prospective customers, but not good at helping our paying customers achieve their desired outcomes.” Also, 23% respondents say their customers use half or less of their product’s full functionality. 

It’s no wonder 20% of companies saw customer churn increase last year.

Organizations can combat rising customer churn by using education and training to close the customer-product skills gap. (We explain HOW to do that below.)

Common partner skills gaps

There are various types of partners, from reseller partners (who sell a product) to affiliate partners (who promote a product to get a commission).

While not every company has business partners, some do—and addressing partner skills gaps is critical to company health and growth. Underskilled partners can be a resource drain if you invest in partner acquisition, onboarding, or support. 

Common partner skills gaps include:

  • Writing skills 
  • Marketing skills
  • Selling skills 
  • Communication and interpersonal skills 
  • Digital and technology skills 

Partners must market and sell products on behalf of the company they work with, and so they need to possess the required skills to do so successfully.

Once customers sign on to use a product, some partners step into an advisory role, helping customers extract maximum value from their purchase. However, if the partner is unable to effectively coach and support their customers—whether due to their lack of product knowledge, poor communication skills, or both—customers are more likely to churn.

And during a time where many companies are running a skeleton crew post-layoffs, organizations need high-performing partners to fill the gap and support customers. 

graphic listing the 9 common skills gaps in the workplace

How to identify workplace skills gaps 

The first step is to research common workplace skills gaps and assess your employees, customers, and partners to understand which are applicable. (The list of nine common skills gaps above is a great place to start!)

Next, survey or interview individuals from each audience group. Formats you can use range from simple Google Form surveys to 1:1 interviews and small focus groups. 

You’ll want to get answers to questions like:

  • What skills do employees feel they lack?
  • What skills do employees feel their co-workers lack?
  • What skills do managers feel their employees lack?
  • What skills do customers feel they lack?
  • What skills do customer-facing employees feel customers lack?
  • What skills do partners feel they lack?
  • What skills do partner-facing employees feel partners lack?
  • What skills do customers feel their partners lack?

If you’re hiring, you can assess candidate skills gaps via skills-based hiring assessments. Additionally, behavioral assessments can help you to identify high-potential candidates who are wired for the role and willing to learn.

How to close skills gaps with organizational education

Hiring highly-skilled talent is one way to close your workplace skills gaps. (The better employees you have, the more successful your customers and partners will be.) However, you might be in the middle of a hiring freeze. Or there might be a shortage of highly skilled talent within your functional area. When qualified talent is unavailable, education saves the day.

Organizational education is the strategic act of training employees, customers, and partners in order to reach specific business goals.

Organizational education allows you to:

  • Hire high-potential employees and train them up
  • Train and upskill existing employees
  • Train and upskill customers 
  • Train and upskill partners
  • Close employee, customer, and partner skills gaps

In the previous step, you identified the problem (or problems) you want to solve. Now you can start to address the gap (or gaps). 

Conduct a training needs analysis to map out:

  • What does the learner know?
  • What does the learner need to know?
  • What are their challenges?
  • What are their motivations for learning?
  • Where do they currently go for information? 

From there, you can build education initiatives for each audience you need to train. 

You might tackle this work on your own, using a strategic framework such as the Intellum Framework. If you need to train employees, customers, or partners on anything related to your business (products, services, point of view, brand), this is generally the right path. Bring on external vendor support as needed—instructional designer, curriculum developer, videographer, etc.

Or, you might partner with an academic institution, a technical school or an online certification program. For example, perhaps you need to improve your managers’ leadership capacity and find the perfect leadership training course. It could be easier and more cost effective to put managers through that program versus building it from scratch.

Closing skills gaps requires the right resources and tools

Building educational programs and initiatives for multiple audiences from scratch might sound daunting. But it doesn’t have to be a heavy lift. (And if your team is short on budget or headcount right now, it can’t be a heavy lift.) 

Building modular content is a scalable way to educate multiple audiences in the workplace. Essentially, you break up a topic—like Leadership—into modules, then use modules for different audiences in different combinations. Managers may need to complete every module to pass a leadership course, while aspiring managers only need to complete certain modules. 

Likewise, product content created as part of new hire onboarding can be repurposed for customers and partners. Of course, the talk track and positioning will differ by audience, which is why building in modules, and assembling those modules based on audience, is a smart way to educate multiple audiences with less effort. 

The Intellum Platform enables you to build personalized learning paths for different audiences. And since we designed it with learner engagement in mind, you can easily deploy flip cards, carousels, flow charts, sliders, responsive tables, interactive video, and more to boost learner engagement.

About the Author

Robyn Hazelton headshot
Robyn Hazelton
Vice President of Marketing and Growth
Robyn is the VP of Marketing and Growth at Intellum and helps to ensure that every interaction an individual has with the brand is as awesome as possible. An experienced and trusted leader with a history of consistently impacting revenue, she's always talking about funnel management and biased toward action.