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The double skills gap

Building a skilled workforce requires new employment strategies, but one must not forget what experienced employees have to offer

Modern history has been marked by various industrial revolutions, and the one taking place currently—the fourth Industrial Revolution, so to speak—is bringing about the most sweeping changes since manufacturing was first transformed centuries ago.

Driven by a digitally savvy workforce and defined by large-scale business transformation, the fourth Industrial Revolution, or Industry 4.0, has seen businesses rethink the way they work and turn to new technologies like automation and data analytics. The possibilities afforded by new innovations are endless, and are the determining factors in whether or not a business is successful—or gets left behind. A business, therefore, needs a staff which understands how to get the most out of these technologies.

How an organisation performs and operates depends on how knowledgeable and adept its employees are. In the context of Industry 4.0, this means employees who realise the benefits that can be gained and who can extract the best value from these technologies. In the end, a business is only as good as its employees—and there seems to be few in the existing talent pool that possess the necessary skills.

This dearth in talent is evident if you skim the headlines with phrases like “lack of jobs” or “youth struggle to find employment” inevitably jumping out. Over the years, this seems to have become a recurring motif in news covering business and the global economy. A recent report from the United Nations suggests global youth unemployment will hit 71 million this year. In some European countries like Spain and Italy, more than 35% of youth aged 15-24 are looking for work but cannot find a job.

In reality, the situation is more nuanced. There are many open roles out there but many young people simply do not have the skills required in today’s job market. The current landscape is highly competitive, demanding candidates with a diverse skillset, and the stark truth is that most just do not match up.

On the other hand, the new generation comes with a different set of expectations. Payment and growth prospects are only one part of the qualifying equation. Elements like company culture, ethics, work atmosphere, and a flexible work environment are equally important to young professionals. They are increasingly likely to begin their job hunt by checking a “best places to work” list or visiting online platforms like Glassdoor for first-hand accounts of life with a prospective employer.


Human resources (HR) departments, therefore, need to help the company build a compelling employer brand to attract these prospects. While this demands a broadening of skills, it also presents an opportunity for HR teams to make their efforts more visible to the wider business and add measurable value in the boardroom.


However, as organisations focus their efforts on attracting skilled new prospects, they can potentially overlook a crucial demographic.

At the other end of the age spectrum is a ticking time bomb with a 10-year fuse. Highly knowledgeable baby boomers are reaching retirement age and their departure risks creating a second skills gap for the overall experience of the workforce. All too often, we see retirees take their knowledge with them.

Today, the HR leader is tasked with ensuring that senior workers share their knowledge and expertise across the ranks so that young workers have the competencies to carry the organisation forward. Today’s collaboration technologies help with this as they make it easier for employees to work in multi-generational teams and learn from each other.

Diversity is not just healthy for the organisation—it is actually favoured by young employees. According to a recent McDonald’s survey, a young staff who works with people of various ages is 10% happier than those who work exclusively with colleagues of a similar age. It is also worth noting that younger techy-savvy employees have their own unique skills to impart to senior team members. Not only do younger workers have the opportunity to learn from their senior peers; they also take pride in assuming the role of teachers to help their seniors better leverage new technologies and tools.

Never before has the role of the HR leader been more dynamic. They are challenged to think more like marketers to win the talent war, while also being tasked with finding innovative ways and means to retain the extensive experience and knowledge of senior peers within their organisation.

If they can help the company overcome the impending skills gap on both fronts, HR leaders will continue to prove how vital talent management has become to the modern business.

Andy Campbell is an HCM strategy director at Oracle.


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