The Biggest Human Capital Management Challenge: Closing the Management Skills Gap | Burning Glass Technologies

Management skills represent one of the biggest skill gaps in the job market—in fact, management roles have larger skills gaps than those of the people they manage.

There are 1.3 management and supervisory roles open for every available worker, according to the latest Burning Glass Technologies research on the skills gap. That compares to 1.02 roles per worker across all roles. This holds true across a wide range of occupational groups.

The public debate over the skills gap usually focuses on technical skills, and certainly there are severe challenges in technical fields like health care. Yet almost all fields, with the notable exceptions of information technology and transportation, have bigger gaps in management skills than technical skills.

One reason for this is that companies want to hire managers with prior experience, which is only logical. Some have argued that “a good manager can manage anything,” and there are a distinct set of management skills that cut across industries. But in reality, managers need to understand their field. You can’t hire an information technology manager to replace a nursing supervisor.

There’s also a challenge when it comes to management training. Most managers, in fact, are line supervisors. In previous research, Burning Glass has found that the skills demanded from a line supervisor are different from those demanded in jobs that require an MBA.

Line supervisors and managers need people skills. Jobs for MBA graduates, by contrast, emphasize analytical skills. Ideally, managers should have both skill sets, but they are distinctly different—and not necessarily taught together in training programs.

If anything, the management skills challenge is likely to grow worse as baby boomer managers retire and take their hard-won skills with them. To close this gap, human capital management leaders need to apply some of the tactics to management skills that companies use with technical skills. In technical fields, companies often partner with higher education and training providers to ensure graduates have the necessary skills. This requires human capital managers to have a sophisticated understanding of the skills available in their current workforce, as well as the skills likely to be in demand in the future.

Frequently, building management skills requires a combination of on-the-job training from employers and more formal training from higher education. Employers are also in the best position to identify workers with management potential who can get the most out of this training.

This is potentially a more effective strategy than some of the approaches hiring managers use today, such as requiring bachelor’s degrees for what were formerly middle-skill management jobs (more on that here). True, a bachelor’s degree can be a useful proxy for more sophisticated skills, but also reduces the available talent pool without guaranteeing the specific skills companies need.

Any company will fail if it is poorly managed. Stronger connections with local education institutions can allow employers to build a talent supply chain that ensures firms have the managers they need.

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