it’s not a skills gap

The lack of skills is not the main problem facing most organizations today, in spite of what many managers and executives might say.

Researchers Dave Swenson and Liesl Eathington identified several factors contributing to hiring challenges, but a widespread lack of skilled workers was not one them … The Iowa researchers’ conclusion? “When employers say there’s a skills gap, what they’re often really saying is they can’t find workers willing to work for the pay they’re willing to pay,” —GE Reports

Neither is a lack of tools the core issue in organizational performance. Many organizations have more tools than they need. I worked with a company that had several hundred software platforms and programs at its disposal. It still had issues around sharing knowledge, managing institutional memory, and collaborating across departments.

Tools and skills are easy-to-fill buckets, but meta-competencies of learning to learn and working in digital networks take significant time, effort, and support to fill. A long-term strategy to support these meta-competencies is lacking in most organizations today. Everyone wants a quick fix. Projects are designed around clear short-term deliverables. Few measure competencies for the long term.


The Institute for the Future has identified 10 Future of Work Skills. These meta-skills all require discipline and practice to develop.

  1. Sense-making
  2. Social Intelligence
  3. Novel & Adaptive Thinking
  4. Cross-cultural Competency
  5. Computational Thinking
  6. New Media Literacy
  7. Transdisciplinarity
  8. Design Mindset
  9. Cognitive Load Management
  10. Virtual Collaboration

The discipline of personal knowledge mastery can address four of these skills: sense-making, social intelligence, new media literacy, cognitive load management. When people practicing PKM get to work together they can develop more of these essential competencies through social learning, by working out loud, from modelling behaviour, or being supported through cognitive apprenticeship.

Transparent knowledge-sharing can change the nature of work. It helps make transparent what is happening in the organization and democratizes knowledge creation. First of all, everyone must be engaged in observing their environment (PKM). Then groups of people can work on problems together and learn as they work. The results of working and learning out loud can then be codified as organizational knowledge, which is always open for modification as knowledge flow becomes knowledge stock.

Transparent knowledge-sharing in teams and with diverse communities of practice can develop more of these essential future of work competencies, such as virtual collaboration. But this work must be done in an environment of ‘perpetual beta’. Experimentation and learning by doing must be part of everyday work. When work is learning and learning is the work, then novel and adaptive thinking can bubble to the surface. This is working in perpetual beta.

We do not have a traditional skills shortage and we do not lack the tools. The meta-competencies of learning to learn and working in digital networks cannot be taught in any classroom. They need to be embedded in the organizational operating system. This includes:

  • Providing time and space for self-directed learning
  • Encouraging working out loud
  • Supporting communities of practice for all workers
  • Promoting cooperation across departments and outside the organization
  • Openly supporting experimentation

We do not have a skills gap but a lack of organizational systems to develop the necessary meta-competencies needed for the network era.

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