Monday, January 11, 2010


As a workplace learning and performance professional I look for "gaps." The difference between desired performance and actual performance - the difference between acceptable and high performance - the difference between the behaviors that produce customer satisfaction and behaviors that produce customer loyalty - the difference between the skills employers are looking for in talent and the skills of many high school and college graduates.

I also look for the impact of these gaps. In order to build a business case for our interventions we need to determine the cost of these gaps in performance, what revenue is lost due to these gaps, and how much longer will it take to reach the productivity levels we want, if these gaps persist. We should also ask if these skill gaps impact the competitive advantage of our organizations.

I think of what Tony Wagner wrote in "The Global Achievement Gap." "In today's highly competitive global "knowledge economy" all students need new skills for college, careers and citizenship. The failure to give all students these new skills leaves today's youth - and our country - at an alarming competitive disadvantage."

Tony Wagner identifies, "The New World of Work and the Seven Survival Skills" as:
Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
Collaboration Across Networks and Leading by Influence
Agility and Adoptability
Initiative and Entrepreneurialism
Effective Oral and Written Communication
Accessing and Analyzing Information
Curiosity and Imagination

Do these “Seven Survival Skills” sound familiar? Are these competencies a current theme of conversations in your organization? You are most likely spending a great deal of energy identifying gaps in these competencies, finding their causes and recommending solutions to close these gaps in individuals and groups within your organizations. If you are closing the gaps, you are doing worthy work to improve the performance and results of your organizations. Perhaps your present gaps are not quite so large. These competencies may already exist within your organization and therefore you may be able to increase your productivity if you concentrate your resources on other causes for performance problems. Ultimately you want to focus your resources on improvements that will give your organization a competitive edge.

If we believe that our schools are not preparing our youth for the knowledge economy and that our industries and communities are not performing to global competitive standards, then we need to ask ourselves how this is going to impact our organizations. These gaps are going to impact us as learning professionals. How far do we go to look for the root causes of skill gaps? Do we stop at the door of the organizations we serve or do we do we reach beyond that into our communities?

If you are expecting that employees possess these competencies before they arrive at your organization, then it may be worth your time to take initiative and find a way to lead by influencing your community schools and universities. This way you can play an active role in the preparation of students who are potentially your future employees.

Many organizations chose to take on education and training as a strategic goal. Corporate university and extensive on-boarding and training programs are created as an attempt to close these competency gaps. The sheer popularity of these internal training programs should be a testament to their worth. The return on investment from these solutions must be sound. On the whole, our nation has set education as a high priority. All around us we see schools and colleges scrambling to meet demands for better results, higher performance and graduates that are prepared with the skills needed for today’s industries and citizenship. There may be some value in exploring the incorporation of some aspects from corporate university curriculums and internal training programs into our community programs.

My partner and I believe that there is much to be gained by sharing our corporate knowledge with the community and we are currently assisting a local college in their objective to retool their curriculums and help close these competency gaps in their graduates. Many people are out of work in this economy and do not have the skills to qualify for the industries that will be hiring. This displaced talent needs more than just the technical knowledge and skills. They need to be equipped with certain competencies, such as the “Seven Survival Skills.”

Together, my partner and I created our own truck maintenance school at Ryder System, Inc. when we noticed a gap in basic truck maintenance skills in tech school graduates. At the school we made sure students learned not only the basics of mechanics, but the “Seven Survival Skills” as well. We partnered with other tech schools in order to make sure they were teaching a comprehensive program. The schools were happy with the changes, because they could market themselves more effectively now that they were certified by Ryder, a potential employer.

So, how about you? Most organizations could use a boost in productivity and competitive edge during these economic times. Are there community educational organizations that you could partner with in order to yield a whole new generation of talent that may help your organization become a best-in-class, or a world-class competitor? Have you thought about the influence you and your organization has on your community? This could quite possibly be a very valuable project for your organization.

We wish you well in the exploration of gaps within your organization and the path you chose to take to resolve them.

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