US Skills Gap Includes Management, 'Emotional Intelligence'

December 18, 2006 ( - The skill gaps facing the US workforce include basic abilities in reading, writing and math; technical and professional skills; management and leadership; and emotional intelligence.

That was a key finding of a new research report from the American Society for Training & Development (ASTD) about the problems employers face in finding and keeping workers with the requisite skills – skill sets that can change rapidly over time.

“When an organization can no longer grow or remain competitive in its industry because employees do not have the right skills to help drive results and support the organization’s goals and strategies, it is suffering from a skills gap,” ASTD researchers wrote. “Business leaders and learning executives must act quickly to close the gaps by increasing the capability and skills of their workforce, or risk losing a competitive advantage.”

According to the report from the Alexandria, Virginia-based training professionals’ organization, the skills shortages cover:

  • b asic skills including reading, writing and math as well as customer service, communications and basic business acumen.
  • technical and professional skills including computer/ technology skills as well as abilities needed for specialized industries such as automotive or construction work.
  • management and leadership skills in areas such as supervision, team-building, goal-setting, planning, motivation, decisionmaking, and ethical judgment; and
  • emotional intelligence covering skills such as self-awareness, self-discipline, persistence, and empathy.

An organization likely has a skills deficit, according to the study, if:

  • there is a mismatch between the skills the organization needs (current and future) and the capabilities of the workforce.
  • the organization did not train employees during hard times and is struggling to catch up.
  • the number of high skilled, specialized jobs needed to take the organization forward is increasing; and
  • there is a high percentage of baby boomers in the workforce that are or will be leaving soon.

Organizations suffering from the problem should first c onduct a workforce review to determine the status of current and future skills gaps by organization/ division, job category, and demographic segment, according to the study. This should be accomplished through a comprehensive skills inventory for all employees, from entry-level workers to senior executives.

Next, they should determine the most important skills gaps the organization faces now, in one year, three years, five years, and potentially 10 years. Then, based on the assessment, determine the largest skills gaps and which employees most need skills development.

ASTD researchers said organizations undertaking such a skills probe should consider these questions:

  • Are the gaps more pronounced in specific employee groups?
  • Are the gaps in specific lines of business?
  • Are the gaps geographically-based?

The paper includes seven case studies from organizations such as BD (Becton, Dickinson and Company), Caterpillar Inc., Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and the Social Security Administration's Office of Systems.

ASTD also argued in the study that the federal government should play a role in helping employers stay current in the skills gap race.

The research included a survey of more than 240 global learning executives conducted in 2006 by ASTD and IBM. The study, Bridging the Skills Gap: How the Skills Shortage Threatens Growth and Competitiveness…and What to do About It, is here .