If you’ve been involved in staffing discussions in the past five years, chances are you’ve heard the phrase “skills gap.”
With unemployment at post-recession lows, attention has shifted to the quality of employment and the needs of businesses in rapidly evolving industries. A whopping 83% of U.S. talent development professionals report a skills gap in their organization, according to the Association for Talent Development (ATD).
ATD’s findings focus a great deal on soft skills that are missing as employees rise in the ranks, from critical thinking and problem solving to effective management. But even beyond these general skills, specific industries see needs based on how fast their worlds are changing. The Society for Human Resource Management notes that STEM-related fields are among those most affected by this gap.
Take manufacturing, for instance. Deloitte estimates 2.4 million jobs in this field will go unfilled between now and 2028, for an economic impact of $2.5 trillion.
So how do associations working in the manufacturing space respond? For the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, step one has been rethinking its approach to learning and development for the professionals it serves. Arin Ceglia, the society’s director of learning and development, says ASME has identified priority areas such as additive manufacturing (think 3D printing at the scale of manufacturing) and industrial automation, areas in which skills education hasn’t always kept pace with the rapid change of technology.
But ASME’s emphasis on technology doesn’t just focus on engineering itself. In fact, learning technology and how education is delivered matter most in addressing the skills gap, Ceglia says.
Rethinking learning and development
“There used to be (and perhaps still remains) a misconception that you could not replace face-to-face learning with online learning,” Ceglia writes for ASME. “However, cognitive scientists and instructional design experts have learned a lot about adult learning and learning modalities since the beginnings of online learning.”
Associations are wise to keep up with these lessons, since not all solutions will come in the form of the classic certification or on-site course. ASME, for example, is designing courses both for individuals and companies that place an emphasis on portability and what Ceglia calls “stackability.” The learning can be paced according to a specific student or company’s needs. They make use of blended learning, with a mix of in-person and online offerings. They place an emphasis on the practical, even down to the level of proprietary checklists designed to improve manufacturing results.
“We are adding courses that contribute to this knowledge base with a focus on new and advancing engineering technology, including additive manufacturing and industrial automation,” Ceglia says. “These courses fulfill a need to deliver this information faster, smarter and in a more convenient way.”
Interestingly, Ceglia notes that this approach to learning also has a heavy emphasis on critical thinking skills, so it’s addressing those soft skills challenges as well as specific industry needs. It also provides new, detailed ways to measure learner progress in these hard and soft skills, so supervisors know where to focus future investment.
Connect with educational content
Rethinking course offerings is one thing. Letting members and, maybe more important, prospects know your association is on top of the skills gap is a separate, but connected, need.
Offering comprehensive resources and proprietary research is one highly effective approach. For instance, the Project Management Institute (PMI) has incorporated the talent/skills gap into its recurring research on job growth. And rather than being a one-time report, this information makes its way into PMI’s full editorial planning, from its flagship print magazine to social and digital content.
In ASME’s case, the focus of new content has been on boosting thought leadership in high-priority technology areas and in crafting storytelling that lets decision-makers know about the organization’s new approach to professional learning and development. The former is a full-funnel program called ASME Essentials, with a strong emphasis on practical content that can help mechanical engineers on the job. The latter is content such as Ceglia’s POV posts and how-to videos for the people who might choose a learning program for their company, such as human resources professionals and other leaders.
The strategy and tactics for each of these examples differ, but the underlying message is common. And it’s one professional associations need to repeat as often as possible in this era of free information and expertise: We have the knowledge you need to navigate your industry.