Do Your Employees Need a Skills Bootcamp?

Posted by Penn Foster on December 6, 2018

In almost every industry, for almost every business, finding qualified middle-skills candidates to fill open jobs is difficult. The low unemployment rate isn't helping. Jobs are harder to fill and keeping existing employees is more important than ever. Meanwhile, rapid changes in technology and the development of new ways of doing business, mean that even existing employees may not have the right skill sets.

You want your employees to have all of the skills they need meet your goals, but many don't. Employers everywhere are bemoaning the lack of soft skills among job candidates and employees. Changes in the education system might help over the long-term. In the meantime, businesses are finding ways to upskill existing employees.

Knowing whether your employees need a skills bootcamp or other training or upskilling starts with understanding which skills they've mastered and which still need work.

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Look at your results

Start at the end and look at your results first. What are employees actually achieving for your business? Are they reaching performance goals? These might be sales numbers, customer satisfaction results, productivity goals, or whatever else your business expects employees to achieve on a monthly, quarterly, or yearly basis.

If employees are routinely meeting goals, or at least least meeting goals most of the time, their skills are probably sharp. If they sometimes or often miss goals, their current skill level might be to blame.

You'll likely find that one or two high performers meet goals no matter what, you can safely ignore their numbers for the purposes of this exploration. You may also find that a small number of employees never meet their goals. In that case, you may need more than a skills bootcamp to get them into shape. The most likely scenario is that the bulk of your employees only meet goals sporadically. If this is the case, it's time to ask yourself: Why is this happening and what can I do about it?

Test current skill levels

If many or most of your middle-skills employees seem to be struggling to hit their goals, it's time to assess their skill level in key areas. These skill sets include: 

  • Communication
  • Problem solving and decision making
  • Planning and organization
  • Tools and technology
  • Professionalism
  • Teamwork
  • Customer focus

These are all soft skills, meaning that they're harder to define and therefore, harder to evaluate and test. As a result, an employee can be highly qualified on paper but still lack the soft skills to do their job effectively.

Harder to evaluate doesn't mean impossible. The best way to gauge soft skills is through observation. Observe the employee at work and assess how well they apply each of the skill sets above.

You can also speak directly to the employee about where they feel they excel and what they feel they need to work on. This is only effective if the employee feels comfortable actually telling you where they need improvement. You need to make it clear to all employees by word and action that you will not punish them for admitting faults. Instead, you are looking for ways to help them succeed at the highest level.

This works well in an informal setting. Share lunch with your employees either one-on-one or in small groups. You can also host small events like employee breakfasts, holiday parties, or team-building activities. While employees are interacting with you and each other, you'll be able to evaluate their communication, problem solving, teamwork and other skills.

As soon as the meeting or event is over, write down your observations while they're still fresh. Remember, soft skills are hard to measure, so go with your gut. There are no wrong answers here. You're just trying to get an overall sense of your employees' current skill level.

In addition to soft skills, it's important to make sure that your employees also possess all the hard or technical skills needed in there current job. If they possess all of these, you should also examine the overall need of your business, determine if there are any shortages of skills (or roles) within your organization, and map out if you can upskill your current employees into these roles.

Identify Problem Areas

When you've collected enough information it's time to look for trends. Grade each employee on their level of skill in each of the seven skill areas. Again, this isn't for disciplinary purposes, it's a tool to help you understand what training and support might be necessary.

This is a subjective process. Depending on your industry, some skills might be more valuable than others. You might set a higher standard than your competitors. That's okay. High standards just mean you'll give your employees more opportunities to learn and grow.

Try to identify the skill sets where employees need the most improvement. If many employees are struggling with one or two soft skills, you can supply them with a training that focuses specifically on those skills.

However, you may find that employees are below standard on many different skills or that groups of employees struggle with different things. In that case, a skills bootcamp or a more comprehensive upskilling program could be the solution you need.

Solve the problem

Finally, it's time to introduce a solution. Customized training solutions can help your employees build skills to deliver the results you want. If you need to focus on just one or two skills you might offer employees focused courses focused on a specific topic, such as Supervision & Leadership, Business & Technical Writing, or Information Literacy.

A more holistic course can also be beneficial, such as Penn Foster's Career Readiness Bootcamp, which build skills across all seven soft skillsets and beyond. Employees who are performing below standard can get up to speed, and employees who are already performing well can hone their skills even more.

A digital skills playlist can also be used to deliver customized training for every employee in your organization. Playlists deliver short, online courses that are available in pre-packaged sets or you can customize a set to meet the unique training needs of your middle-skill workforce.

You can choose from options that include:

  • Foundational Skills - including basic and business math, basic and business English, reading and literacy, safety and more.
  • Workplace Skills - includes problem solving, teamwork, and other essential workplace readiness skills perfect for new hires and junior employees.
  • Career Skills - offer career-specific playlists for all kinds of industries including hospitality, veterinary, skilled trades and more.
  • Customized Playlist - Partner with Penn Foster to create a customized playlist that meets your employees' unique training needs.

To learn more about training opportunities for your middle-skills workforce, view our complete overview of education & training solutions for your organization.