What is the Job Readiness Gap and how can you fill it?

“The only time you really know you are job ready is when you have actually done the job.” – Gerard Truesdale, Manager IT Systems & Security at Skillable.

As Susie and her team started receiving the hundreds of calls, emails and texts that people couldn’t properly use their website and cloud-based tools, they had to act immediately. But as seconds turned to minutes, minutes to hours, people demanded answers and they didn’t have one other than “we’re working on it.”

It was eventually fixed a day later, but it shouldn’t have taken that long. The issue stemmed from a misconfiguration aka a human error. It was a serious reality check.

You can see where this is going, and although it is a fictional account, it’s based on reality. 

While this example highlights how downtime will cost your business dearly—the average downtime cost is $9,000 a minute (more if you’re in e-commerce) and doesn’t include reputational and customer loyalty damage—these kinds of issues happen more than anyone wants to admit and they can’t be glossed over. People may have the knowledge, but it doesn’t always transfer to on the job.

No business is immune either. If it happened to AT&T and Amazon, it will likely happen to you.

Not all learning is equal.

Susie’s story is the perfect example of the gap that exists between knowledge-based training and job readiness.

The reality is that after taking a course or watching a training video, most people aren’t ready to move into a live work environment. And you don’t want their first chance to practice what they’ve “learned” to be in a real-world, real-consequences job setting. With how powerful and interconnected technology is and what’s at stake for organizations to succeed, not providing practice is irresponsible. Without testing someone’s skills in your unique operating environment, neither they nor you will know if they can perform them correctly.

Mind the (job readiness) gap.

This scenario creates something called the Job Readiness Gap, where an individual might theoretically know how to do something but put under pressure, in their jobs, that knowledge may not translate into job performance and capability.

It means your learning isn’t having a true impact on your business, and you may even be wasting resources on courses and classes. It also causes your skill data to be inaccurate and low quality as it misses a validation element. Even worse, it puts your organization at greater risk.

what is the job readiness gap in technology - connect learning to work with hands-on learning and virtual labs

One of the many reasons to care about this phase…security. 

According to IBM Security’s “Cost of a Data Breach Report,” 82% of breaches involved data stored in the cloud and the 3rd most frequent attack vector was due to cloud misconfigurations (a fancy name for human error).

How to bridge the job readiness gap.

Bridging the gap is the only way you can be confident that your people have the skills they need to do their jobs effectively (and correctly). For business-critical skills, it’s common sense to have a hands-on element that allows someone to practice their skills in a safe space, with added validation (aka confidence) that they can perform on the job.

This approach applies to much more than cybersecurity and cloud. Almost any business-critical skill will benefit from a hands-on approach, from digital and AI skills like database development or prompt engineering, to management, sales, customer service and marketing skills. Even Microsoft Excel. (Yes, even Excel.)

4 steps to job-ready learning plans.

To bring this to your organization or in how you enable customers and partners, focus on four key steps.

1. Add job-readiness preparedness experiences and application to your learning strategy.

An obvious point, but to know if your learners are job ready, you need job-readiness activities that’ll challenge and assess them. Research from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) found that after completing training programs, 55% of people still needed additional learning to perform better in their roles.

Many leaders may think on-the-job learning opportunities like stretch assignments fulfil this, but they are missing a crucial practice component that occurs before a person jumps back into the real world with varying levels of supervision. You need a safe space to practice, make mistakes, learn from them and repeat until your newly learned skill becomes completely retained and mastered.

This environment cannot be in a real-world workstream because it can threaten continuity and operations. Especially when someone is practicing with a database, algorithm development, cloud apps or cybersecurity.

A closer look: why is providing a safe place to practice skills so important?

One of the most critical and vulnerable stages during the skill development lifecycle is when people become “consciously incompetent” (they are aware of the skill but haven’t proven proficiency). There is a lot of emotion such as excitement, fear, anxiety, uncertainty, false confidence, etc. because they know they aren’t “consciously competent” yet (they can correctly apply the skill with little effort).

You want them to become consciously competent as quickly as possible so they prove to themselves (and you) that they can do the job, which is critical to building confidence and embedding the skill. The ultimate goal is “unconscious competency” (mastery).

Generic training content develops theoretical knowledge but can’t cover the last mile of learning (i.e., how to apply “book smart” knowledge in your unique environment and tech stack). Job readiness training for adults must connect learning to work.

2. Assess, practice and validate skills.

This is where hands-on learning experiences come into play. When aligned to your business outcomes, these engaging, relevant and realistic environments are an integral solution to meet the needs of modern skill development.

Virtual labs enable people to safely “assess, practice and validate” job-ready skills in the same type of environment they’ll be working in on the job. So, they’ll quickly learn what skills are strong and which need improvement—while also delivering valuable skill data back to your organization.

what is the job readiness gap in technology - how to solve job readiness with hands-on learning labs

To improve skill retention and recall, incorporate an “assess, practice and validate” approach into your job readiness training program... Help people develop skills so good that they can’t get them wrong.

Move beyond step-by-step labs and add the element of unpredictability. Through an approach called chaos engineering, users try to accomplish an objective but have random things “break” where they must adapt in real-time using critical thinking skills.

You can do this as individuals or in teams (great for security preparedness and response exercises). While this is advanced job readiness skills training, it’s more accessible than you think.

3. Address preconceptions about virtual labs.

Different stakeholders will have varying experiences and knowledge of hands-on learning environments like training labs. More tenured professionals may remember a time when hands-on learning environments were costly and hard to scale, often requiring a lot of manpower and time to set up and maintain. Technology has come a long way since then and today’s range of virtual labs are easier to implement, adapt to changing business needs and maintain. Using templates and AI Copilots, new labs can be created with just a few clicks and cloud-based labs give greater scalability and accessibility (so people can log in and practice no matter the time or location).

There are a host of different uses for hands-on labs too, from tailored-to-fit skill challenges for employees, custom lab environments of your software for customer/partner training or hands-on lab experiences at events for your attendees.

PRO TIP: If you’re familiar with virtual labs and haven’t read our co-founder and Executive Chairman of the Board, Corey Hynes’, overview about how hands-on labs have evolved, finish this article then read his.

4. Report on your successes aligned to outcomes.

The easiest way to gain buy-in for your hands-on labs is to show your stakeholders the results. Linking these to clear business impact will create a compelling reason for further investment in hands-on learning environments that assess, practice and validate skills.

Depending on your organization’s focus areas, this might be team and cost efficiencies. For example, Quest Software saved their proctors eight to 12 hours/week from manually scoring labs with automated skill validation so they could focus on more direct revenue-generating activities. They also automated manually numerous processes, one of which reduced course registration tickets by 95%.

If improving the learning experience is a priority, the automated feedback element of a virtual lab and step-by-step guides to aid learning may be something to report back on. This was the case at Hyland Software which reduced the strain of last-minute enrollments for their classes and events and enabled Instructors to provide more personalized learner support.

If your C-Suite is concerned about skills and wants to move towards a skills-based model in hiring, mobilizing and upskilling its workforce, then hands-on labs provide a vital source of high-fidelity skills data to base such decisions. Being able to report on job readiness and skill levels will make your training labs business critical.

Fast track job readiness using real-world scenarios and environments.

Getting started with a hands-on learning environment can be simple. Skillable has been developing and implementing virtual labs for two decades for companies such as Microsoft, CompTIA, Skillsoft and Comtech. Over five million people have taken over 35 million labs—we know labs.

Our experts can provide guidance and next steps based on your unique business needs.

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