Addressing the skills gap: how to up-skill in your business

As a growing small business, the standards you set, the goals you aspire to, and the customer demands you need to meet will keep evolving. This means the skill sets you require within your team will also shift.

Dr Greg Chapman, Director at Empower Business Solutions, and author of The 5 Pillars of Guaranteed Business Success, says this is common in the period he calls “youth”.

“Youth is characterised by exponential, fast growth, but it's sort of uncontrolled,” he says. “Basically, founders need to replace their own skill set while they're trying to manage the business. At that point, they need to bring in more people."

Paul Broadfoot, entrepreneurial strategist and author of Xcelerate, adds that it can be hard to keep ahead of the skills needed, because markets and technology are advancing so fast.

“There are common skills gaps in the ability to reinvent businesses, find new areas of growth, and deal with new competition,” Broadfoot says.

It might seem easy to fix, but small business can fear that filling gaps will blow their budgets. Yet Chapman warns that not getting the right help will land you on a growth plateau.

“Over time that plateau takes you downhill,” he says. “On a personal level, struggling along can mean you’re constantly fire-fighting and you'll burn yourself out”.

It’s clear that you can’t let skills gaps stump your business's potential. Here are some tips to help you identify them quickly and clever ways to overcome them.

Without being able to develop their skills, your team members may feel unsupported, overworked and experience burnout

Lunchtime 'power sessions' and industry meet-ups are great ways to up-skill

1. Identify the existing gaps

Take a close look to see where gaps exist. What skills shortages are causing issues for you, your team, and your business? If it's not immediately clear, Chapman suggests turning to your customer complaints.

“Customers will tell you where your service is lacking. They can be much more forthright than you really want! Find out why clients didn't choose you. Were other businesses better at certain things?”

2. Anticipate future gaps

With business moving fast, you need to think about the skills you’ll need in the months and years ahead.

“If you're going to grow your business by 15 to 20 per cent in the next year, what's the impact going to be on your team requirements? If you're changing the nature of your clients, do you need different types of people to support those new clients?" Chapman says.

It’s also important to keep an eye on what competitors and the industry as a whole are tapping into. Broadfoot advises assigning a project team to the task.

"Spend a couple of hours a month talking about things external to the business, such as customers, market trends, competition or new technology. This will bring identification and discussion around the gaps you find,” he says.


3. Up-skill your team

Once you know the skills you need, decide if your existing team can be up-skilled, or if a new hire is required. If up-skilling your team is feasible, Broadfoot says to think creatively to save time and expense.

“There's an incredible amount of free information and affordable courses online,” he says. “Look for thought leaders on LinkedIn. Attend webinars, go to meet-ups, or join online communities.”

A great tip is to draw on the talents of experienced people in your team to mentor others - including 'reverse mentoring'.

“The tech savvy Millennials can orient the generation X’ers and the Boomers toward new social norms, buying behaviours and social media consumption,” he says.

Have your team members list the fields they have expertise in, and set aside time for regular training 'sessions' so they can share skills with others in the business, as well as developing their own presentation and communication skills. “

You can form an ‘Intrapreneur’ learning team for those keen to launch learning-projects. This works very well for new initiatives," says Broadfoot.

Lunchtime ‘power sessions’ are another great way to launch your knowledge-sharing journey. Focus on subjects such as great leadership, technology trends, fostering innovation or improving customer service with experts in your network, or bring in your suppliers and contractors to impart specific technical knowledge to your team.

Chapman says that it’s really important to set out an individual training plan for each employee in their performance reviews. They will see where the extra learning will take them, and feel more engaged with the process.


4. Hire with care

If you can't find or build the right expertise within your current team, Chapman says it may be time to call in a recruiter for help with hiring, so you get it right first time.

Take the time to hire the right people for your small business

Take the time to get the right people into your team.

If the gap is cyclical (such as at month end, or holiday periods) it could be that freelancers or short-term contractors are the solution. This is where the ‘gig economy' can be great to tap into, Broadfoot says. “Businesses should build into their budget a small group of experts, and a support network that can keep them up-to-date in areas like sales, social media, content marketing, pricing theory and strategy."

Ultimately, there’s no ‘one fix’ to filling skills gaps, but by building a great culture of knowledge sharing, engaging experts in your network, and perhaps hiring new people, you’ll get off the plateau and back into growth.