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Experience Gaps: What It Is & How To Close Them

Asavari Sharma

November 10, 2022

There is always room for new talent in an organization. Companies are especially eager to bring in fresh perspectives and agile-minded youngsters whose abilities they can hone over time.  There is one thing, however, that the newbies cannot bring with them, and that is the experience.

As the old guard of employees begin to retire, companies struggle to get replacements with commensurate levels of experience in specific streams and job roles - something that cannot be taught in a three-month career development programme, however talented the new hire is.

This may sound like a chicken-and-egg problem, but luckily, strong learning and development initiatives can help bridge the gap and bring the experienced perspective companies need to grow. Let us examine this a little more closely:

What are experience gaps?

Experience gaps refer to the talent shortage arising as experienced employees retire or move to more senior roles elsewhere. These gaps exist due to managerial oversight from years or even decades ago, when new talent should have been brought in and nurtured to eventually take over the mantle from those who are leaving now.

Experience gaps typically occur for senior leadership positions, where years of experience matter as much as - and even more than - raw talent. You see, understanding the workforce is essential.

However, as soon as the company views every employee as individuals, they can better appreciate the quality and diversity of talent, experiences, and outlooks the business has acquired because of them.

Unfair Hiring Practices

It is just a matter of hearing what experienced employees really want from you and taking them seriously to enable change in their lives and the company. Workplace awareness and empathy serve as the foundation for fixing skill and experience gaps.

Why do experience gaps occur?

Companies across verticals are fast strategizing to retain top talent and reduce overall churn - especially after the pandemic upended our world and changed how we approached work. At the same time, there are multiple reports about companies laying off their workforce.

Still, employees are the biggest assets of an organization. Despite everything the employees do for you and you do for them, there is a clear gap regarding climbing up the seniority ladder. Here are some of the common reasons behind experience gaps:

1. Recessions and downturns

Economic slumps necessarily forced companies across sectors to cut down their hiring and lay off their employees. For the ones that had to do this in the 1980s and 1990s (such as oil companies), this led to big talent gaps that are making their effects felt today.

2. Short-term cost-cutting

By reducing the number of job types, and thus the number of employees that must be maintained, a company can certainly cut costs in the short term. The flipside, however, is that the company later loses out on many mid-career employees who never got the chance to start and build experience within the organization.

3. Physical demands

Many older employees are mentally willing to keep going. Physically, however, it may be in their best interests to retire. Companies are not sufficiently prepared for this, especially in industries where the physical aspect of work is underrated (such as IT).

4. Demographics

The baby boomer generation was among the largest contributors to the workforce. But today Gen X and millennials form a larger chunk of the workforce. However, this only makes replacing the baby boomers who are now retiring a tough call.

Is having experience the same as being skilled?

In a way, it depends. Skills are what allows a person to complete and excel at job duties in a professional setting. One can acquire these skills throughout their career or through training.

Experience usually comes in the form of years, job roles, and industry verticals an employee has worked. For instance, you can be a B2B copywriter (with 1-2 work experience) in the eCommerce space but you cannot be called experience because of the little amount of time you have worked. Experience is earned through time.

How to close employee skill and experience gaps

The good news is that these gaps can be closed sooner than one might imagine. What that calls for is a detailed succession plan that analyses company needs, predicts workforce gaps and proactively structures recruitment and training processes to prepare for those. There are four main elements to this:

1. Identifying skill gaps

Before you make any plans on how to bridge the skill gaps, the first step is to identify where they currently lie. This does not involve counting the number of people who will soon retire.

It requires a careful understanding of the day-to-day duties in a role, the retirement expectations senior team members have and any patterns in the career growth of those who worked their way up the ranks.

A skills gap analysis allows the company to anticipate future gaps and know precisely what it will take to fill those gaps. The exercise helps you narrow down your focus areas strategically. You can identify the skill gaps through:

  • Self, manager, and peer assessment surveys
  • Examples of work (displayed in a portfolio)
  • Scores employees have earned in specific modules or courses

Whatever parameters you choose - please ensure you establish clear frameworks for measuring them. A lack of consistency is the biggest roadblock companies face early on in closing the skill gaps. Make sure identifying them is not just some random activity.

A Skills Gap Analysis

Another thing, you can ask your hiring managers where they are facing bottlenecks and which talent is pretty easy to engage. Given the precision of data-driven insights, you can accurately identify the gaps.

In addition, leverage skills assessment tests, employee evaluation reports, and competency-based exams to refine your understanding of the skill and experience gaps. The more granular you get with your results, the closer you are to closing the gaps efficiently.

2. Training both new and existing talent

Employee expectations are constantly changing. The pandemic has brought about a drastic change in people’s needs and wants and you have to keep your ear to the ground and listen to what your employees are saying.

It is essential to conduct regular feedback surveys and pulse checks and deliver solutions that make a difference. Learning and development, for instance, should be easily accessible to anyone who wants it.

Talented people who show promise and have ambitions of leading someday should have the opportunity to accelerate their growth through specialized career plans designed to hone the skills needed to replace senior employees when the time comes.

This ensures that the company has a ready pool of talent to count on, rather than scrambling at the last minute to replace someone retiring. Research shows that companies with engaged teams are 21% more profitable, and happy employees are 12% more productive than their peers.

You should invest in targeted training platforms that allow employees to build skills at their own pace through short courses, tutorials, quizzes and webinars. Building tomorrow’s leaders calls for more than just regular on-the-job training.

3. Onboarding out the right talent properly

There will be plentiful applications for any senior-level job post. A filtering system will help you zoom in on the exact combination of skills, experience and qualifications you need.

This is especially important when running to a strict deadline, such as deploying a specialized team to research market potential in a different country.

Besides choosing the right person for the job, onboarding in this stage is critical for the employee’s sustainable performance.

It is very easy for any new person to establish an opinion of the company culture in a few months (or even weeks) and if that is negative, it can take a long time to fix. So you have to be careful about how to help the person get comfortable in the role they have been recruited for.

When you choose qualified people for the job, you want them to stay with you for a more extended period. Proper onboarding can help you fulfill the promises made during the hiring process and keep the brand reputation under your control.

4. Monitor your progress

Now that you have spent your energy, time, and monetary resources building the perfect learning program, you must have some measures to see how well you are progressing.

You can leverage analytics to track important metrics and keep your learning programs on track. Create opportunities within the company to exchange information with the stakeholders.

Whether you are dealing with senior-level employees or people with 2-3 years of experience, everyone deals with a skills gap at some point. Ask yourself: Are you doing enough for them?

Remember, learning is an ongoing process. Tracking its impact is crucial as it will help you determine what is working for your employees and what is not to drive lasting company-wide progress. In addition, you can conduct quarterly or bi-annual feedback assessments to capture insights and incorporate shifting expectations of your employees.

Over to you

Experience gaps can be tough to close, especially as the caliber a company needs increases at senior levels. Bridging the gap requires an open and honest dialogue. Companies can be more prepared for tomorrow’s needs with a carefully designed succession plan.

Tech-powered learning and development programs can help considerably with this by performing workplace data analysis, delivering predictive insights and optimizing processes on your behalf.

At the end of the day, though, your team needs to be committed to investing in the right talent and maintaining the continuity of the excellent service your company is known for.

Asavari Sharma

Asavari is an EiR at Adaface. She has made it her mission to help recruiters deploy candidate-friendly skill tests instead of trick-question based tests. When taking a break, she obsesses over art.

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