Getting Your Skills on Track- Part One: Identifying the Frontline Worker Skills Gap

According to McKinsey & Company 87% of companies worldwide are aware that they either already have a skills gap or will have one within a few years.

Is your organization having trouble finding  frontline workers with the appropriate skills for the job? If you answered yes, you are not alone. Research has found that many organizations are experiencing similar problems. This is the skills gap you have most likely been reading about.  More specifically, a skills gap can be defined as when your current employee or new hire  skill sets don’t fully align with the skills required to do their job. To address this ongoing dilemma, we are releasing a three-part series , “Getting Your Skills on Track.” This first blog , outlines how to identify the skills gap within your organization.

A recent report by Microsoft found 88% of organizations employ frontline workers; over 30 million according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Fueled by the pandemic, sectors that employ a significant portion of these workers (manufacturing, healthcare, retail, finance) are seeing increased disruptions across all aspects of their organizations, making work that much more difficult, particularly for those on the frontline. For those who employ frontline workers, these disruptions are widening the frontline worker skills gap and it’s a business imperative to identify the skills gaps in your workplace and develop strategies to close the gap. This blog addresses the first issue; how to identify skills gaps in your organization and how culture impacts your ability to close those gaps. Our next blog will outline a framework to close the skills gap through reskilling and upskilling.

In its simplest form, a skills gap is the difference between what employees can do compared to what they need to be able to do to achieve maximum productivity and job satisfaction. In an environment where 3 to 4.5 million U.S. employees quit their job each month, it’s critical to have a strategy in place to address upskilling and reskilling to close those gaps. In fact, nearly 60% of the CEO’s recently surveyed noted closing skills gaps by upskilling and reskilling as top priority.


Nearly 40% of learning and development professionals report their focus is on helping leaders identify current and future skills gaps and developing tools to help build internal mobility programs. These are some common indicators of a skills gaps that may be happening in your organization.

  • Increased errors – Tracking errors is one of these simplest ways to identify a skills gap. Once you know where errors are concentrated (a specific department, shift, or individual) you can then use surveys, assessments, or even on-the-job observation to pinpoint gaps.
  • Long delays in filling open positions – Consistently needing to hire from the outside for newly created or recently available positions is another potential skills gap indicator. Developing a skills and competency inventory for each role, with a method for ongoing assessment of each team member, will make it easier to identify who from within your organization is the closest “next person up” as openings become available.
  • Lower employee satisfaction scores and high turnover – Over 30% of frontline workers surveyed said more training and skill development would motivate them to stay with their current employer. However, on average, less than 60% of retail and grocery frontline workers combined are getting new opportunities to advance their careers, with grocery lagging behind retail by about 15%. With over 50% reporting they only receive training during big job changes (35%), or rarely or never at all (20%), if you are seeing lower employee satisfaction, it is likely you have a skills gap problem.
  • Lower customer satisfaction scores and high turnover - 73% of consumers will forgo a brand after three or fewer negative customer service experiences. With many shoppers reporting they feel more knowledgeable than the store associates they interact with, if you are seeing lower customer satisfaction scores and high churn, you may have a skills gap to address.

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Once you determine where your skills gap may lie, you need to develop a comprehensive strategy to address closing it. Like all successful strategies, a successful upskilling and reskilling plan is heavily dependent upon culture. In our 25 years of experience addressing workforce development challenges, we have found that organizations that create a culture of learning experience the greatest success. That’s not just our experience, studies show a positive learning culture is directly linked to increased agility, revenue growth, and employee engagement. Organizations that foster a culture of learning:

  • Set clear mastery paths for each role
  • Provide a multi-faceted learning approach to upskilling and reskilling
  • Continuously measure performance provide regular feedback, and consistently recognize and reward successes
  • Make learning accessible including empowering managers/supervisors and their direct reports to manage upskilling and reskilling at the point of work

Workflow learning ensures that each person gets the specific learning content they need, when they need it, which significantly increases their ability to retain and apply knowledge over time. Our partner Apply Synergies are pioneers in workflow learning offering proven products and services to enable your organization to perform optimally in an environment of unrelenting change with a workflow learning solution.


So, what did we learn here?

Organizations that employ frontline workers are seeing increased disruptions, causing a skills gaps. In most cases, frontline workers are not fully empowered and digitally well-equipped to succeed. Some common indicators of a skills gap  include increased errors, delays in filing open positions, and lower employee and customer satisfaction scores, causing higher turnover. It is imperative to identify the skills gap in your organization and develop a strategy to address it. Establishing a culture of learning and implementing workflow learning are effective methods to close those gaps. Workflow learning provides just the right amount of content or guidance necessary to a team member to learn a skill as its being performed on-the-job.  Look out for our next blog “Upskilling and Reskilling – Your Business Depends on It!” to learn about a framework to close the skills gap using upskilling and reskilling as well as how to successfully promote and implement this practice in the workplace.

"The skills gap is a reflection of what we value. To close the gap, we need to change the way the country feels about work." -Mike Rowe