These 4 myths about the skills gap will hold your company back

“If companies really want to help employees gain new skills, there has to be a basic understanding of what learning is really all about.”

These 4 myths about the skills gap will hold your company back

When it comes to competing in the workplace of the future, 80% of executives are worried about the availability of key skills, according to PwC’s 21st CEO Survey. This fear has led companies to invest more resources in training and recruiting, but concerns about the skills gap won’t be resolved if you rely on outdated training methods and hiring expectations, says David Blake, coauthor of The Expertise Economy: How The Smartest Companies Use Learning To Engage, Compete, and Succeed.


“Companies conflate knowledge and skills,” he says. “There is no distinction made, and everything is thrown into a bucket called ‘training.’ If companies really want to help employees gain new skills, there has to be a basic understanding of what learning is really all about.”

To find or create employees who have the skills needed, leaders need to get past these four common myths about learning:

Colleges will solve the skills gap

Some leaders argue that colleges aren’t graduating students who are ready for the workforce. This may be true, but if CEOs and business leaders are relying on a “hire only” strategy to get talent with the skills they need for their future, they will have to think again, says Blake.

“We’ve shifted away from a world where information is scarce and where it was the job of higher education to gather that information and make it accessible for learning by bringing the best minds and best books to single campus,” he says. “Students who are graduating have been taught a lot of eternal principles, but they’re not being taught what to do in a world with organizations swimming in data.”

Even the best universities are increasingly failing to prepare students with the skills they need, says Blake. With the education system in transition, individuals need to arm themselves with the skills they need and companies need to look beyond the college degree.

“There are fantastic new platforms for people to develop skills, and companies need to move past traditional signals, such as college degrees, to find someone who has those skills, irrespective of how or where they developed them,” says Blake.


Traditional school methods are best for company training

In the business world, leaders often believe if there’s a problem, employees must have been lacking information. They solve the problem with lecture-based training designed to transfer knowledge. Employees sit passively and listen, and are quizzed on the topic later. But applying this university-based approach to the workforce isn’t effective, says Blake.

“In school, one of the most common questions from students is, ‘Will this be on test?'” he says. “Students may gain sufficient knowledge to pass the exam, but few acquire the skills needed to apply that knowledge.”

Companies get similar results. “Employees largely forget most of what they learned and rarely apply classroom knowledge to their work on the job,” he says. “It’s what you do with the knowledge you gain that’s most important.”

Instead, companies should implement learning via loop-style training, says Blake. This involves obtaining knowledge through reading or watching a video–whichever method the employee prefers. Next, the employee should practice the skill, get immediate feedback, and reflect on what they hear so they can modify and go through the learning loop again.

Quick learners are smarter

If you value the ability to be a quick learner and think it means one person is smarter than another, you might be underestimating employees. In his book, The End of Average: How We Succeed in a World That Values Sameness, Todd Rose, director of the Mind, Brain, and Education program at Harvard Graduate School of Education, shares that people often confuse quick learning with intelligence. However, his research shows that in education there is absolutely no correlation between learning fast and being smart.

“Our system of education is really very punishing of slow learners,” says Blake. “In his TED talk [Kahn Academy founder] Sal Kahn shows a Kahn Academy chart of classroom students where some have lines that show suppressed growth. But after spending a little extra time on a concept, they get through it and race ahead. It shows that anyone can learn anything if given the proper time.”


Instead of rewarding someone who learns quickly to get to the next promotion, celebrate people who take the time to learn deeply enough to become an expert, says Blake.

External factors motivate learning

Companies often use external methods as a method for motivating employees to learn. Instead of autonomy and choice, they have a command-and-control method for telling employees what and how they should learn, often called compliance training. Instead of mastery or understanding, employees simply check a box that the training is complete.

Instead, companies should tie learning to internal motivators. “Everyone is looking for an answer to why they should care,” says Blake. “Employees want to see their work connected to a larger purpose. It’s, ‘Here are the skills we need and why. Let’s go get them.'”

What today’s employees want is the ability to have an impact in their work, the flexibility of when and where they do their work, to see their work connected to a bigger purpose, and to have the opportunity to learn and grow in their careers.

“Most organizations haven’t done the work to help give transparency to what skills they need and which are missing,” says Blake. “If you can give employees that, it’s motivating. It’s like having a personalized GPS for their careers–just like Google Maps will show you the fastest route and alternative route. People haven’t had that with skills. Tech can provide that to organizations.”