What's Happening?

Skills gap? What skills gap?



I was thinking the other day about why I so often hear a bleat about a lack of skills in the insurance industry. Companies are poaching skills from one another, the cost of employing “good” people is rising incrementally, there is increased pressure on senior practitioners to deal with lower-level matters, people are not committed and motivated, there is “no one down the line I can trust to do what I can do”, a shortage of skilled workers to fill key roles and other comments, ad nauseam.

Back to basics

I thought about it some more and I am not convinced that there is a lack of skills. I think there are plenty of people out there, but we are collectively not making sufficient effort to identify them and attract them into our industry. There are good initiatives designed to recruit and a vast pool of human resources does exist; noting the efforts made by the likes of INSETA, tertiary education institutions and the FIA. 

This is not a note with any empirical evidence about the lack of skills but rather a commentary about the practice of employing people. Bad employment practices lead to a lack of skills, and this has a direct impact on the bottom line of the company.

There are numerous elements that affect the practice of employing people. There is the obvious need to recognise that people are a crucial part of any business. This means they must be professionally challenged and be provided adequate opportunity. Remuneration models must make sense and be aligned to business strategy while remaining competitive. Training and development programmes must be in place. Today the work-life balance and employee health are in sharp focus. Quality, open communication and collaboration are important.

But there remains a problem, assuming one does all these good things, and this is what I want to highlight.

Management and the practice of employing people is often a failure. How often have I heard, “this person is hopeless”, “this person can’t do the job”, “they are not committed”, “we need to get rid of this person”? If you are a manager, does any of this sound familiar, given your frustration with a particular employee?

Well, here is the blunt message – it is your fault not the fault of the employee and their lack of skill. This is a high contributor to their supposed lack of skills.

Set up to fail

This is why it is your fault. It begins with the inadequate identification of a need to employ someone, the lack of definition of the role in very specific and crystal-clear detail, the lack of a high-quality penetrative interview and matching the right person to the right job. It is a failure to test the candidate about not just what they can do but also where their weaknesses lie. Ensuring there is an understanding of the applicant’s general views and of their likes and dislikes, how they would react under certain circumstances, to get a proper sense of who they are and, in doing so, measure the individual against your culture and company fit. These are critical to successful hiring.

No matter how much effort is made subsequently, if the beginning is off key, the manager will blame the employee, labelling them as incompetent and unwilling. This ends in tears and is destructive to the business. This often leads to an exit occurring or being required.

But if the beginning is done well, really well, now you have got the skill in place. Now, the hard work starts to grow and develop the individual to full potential. You now have great skills in your business. There is always an inherent risk that they leave to go on to bigger and better things but what an accolade in recognition of your input. Alternatively, it will result in your business and your employee skill set growing and developing together and will ensure you remain an employer of choice.

Skills gap? None if you make the effort.