Developing Critical Employee Skills Amid the Talent Crunch

This week’s post is By Nick Somasundram, Certified Human Capital Strategist, Halogen Software our latest contributor who is based in Kuwait. Nick discusses the much discussed topic Skills Development. This is a global problem and having just come back from UK and listened and read in the media the corporate lament that schools are not supplying much needed work skills, and then further education is forced into catch-up which then translates to a poorly equipped workforce, with employees having to spend much on basic training, which could have been trained at school. Having worked for 6 years in employee engagement it has never been more crucial to spend money on developing the skills of your workforce.

The Middle East’s rapidly growing economy has created a heightened need for skilled and qualified labour. In fact, a Price Waterhouse Coopers study found that 87% of CEOs in the Middle East believe that the limited supply of candidates with the right skills will present the biggest organisational challenge for this region in the next three years.

At the same time, nationalisation mandates require that organisations hire a set quota of nationals into their workforces. With a large percentage of the population under the age of 30, addressing this skills shortage and nationalisation mandate will require Middle Eastern companies to develop a talent management strategy that attracts, engages and retains this younger demographic while focusing on developing the skills of their existing national workforce.

The Majority of Skills are Learned on the Job

Research by the Center for Creative Leadership tells us that up to 90% of what we need to know to do our jobs, we learn on the job. To address the skills shortage in this region, Middle Eastern employers should focus on employee development as a key strategy for ensuring their existing workforce has the critical skills needed to meet organisational goals. This focus on employee development can also help organisations become more attractive to younger nationals looking for the best career opportunities for they will seek out and remain loyal to opportunities where employers view development of their staff as a high priority.

Why Invest in Developing Your People?

Employee development will help your organisation align the workforce towards achieving the same goals, and increase employee morale, engagement, productivity and most critical in the Middle East – retention. Effective skills development programs can also help to preserve organisational memory/knowledge/domain expertise — all of which can help you to establish and maintain a competitive advantage.

Helping managers effectively coach and mentor employees, and ensuring they understand goal setting and skills management best practices is an excellent way for your organisation to support on-the-job learning opportunities for employees.

Coaching and Mentoring

To foster on-the-job learning and to create a culture where employees are engaged in developing their skills and knowledge, managers should actively provide performance feedback and coaching to employees at least once a week. Coaching should focus on developing the competencies of greatest importance to the organisation’s success, and link their performance to goal achievement. Employees will then better understand how their work contributes to the bigger picture and become more engaged in the task at hand.

However, on-the-job learning doesn’t always have to be driven by manager feedback. Peer-to-peer mentoring activities can also be valuable, such as pairing less-skilled employees with high performers, or by allowing employees to shadow another employee in a more senior role or who works in a different part of the organisation.

The Center for Creative Leadership also suggests giving employees opportunities to stretch their skills. Great examples of this include assigning a stretch goal that takes an employee just beyond their comfort zone, or assigning employees to a short-term “acting” role where they temporarily take on some or all of the duties of another employee.

Skills Management

Identifying and managing the skills (competencies) required to achieve organisational objectives is critical in terms of addressing skill gaps and creating a strategy to develop your talent. Identifying these employee competencies and then mapping them to your learning and development programs ensures that training is relevant and supports your organisation’s needs on an ongoing basis. This helps your managers and employees to identify and execute the most appropriate development activities to address a particular knowledge or skills gap.

Linking learning activities to the competencies employees need to develop also gives employees context for why they need to develop in a particular area. By creating this link, employees know what knowledge/skills/expertise/attributes they are expected to acquire, and understand the purpose of the development activities to which they’ve been assigned. Providing this context increases employees engagement in the learning activity itself and can help increase motivation to grow and develop in a given role.

Additionally, with a tight link between competencies and development activities, your HR team and organisation as a whole can measure the impact of training on performance. Measuring the true long-term impact of training is a challenge unless you can map the completion of training to changes in employee performance. By mapping every learning activity to the competencies it supports, you can compare before and after competency ratings to determine if there’s been any measurable improvement in on-the-job performance.

Real-Life Application: Developing Critical Skills

Kuwait-based International Turnkey Systems (ITS), a leading provider of IT solutions across the Middle East, Asia and Africa, puts a strong emphasis on ongoing learning and performance for its 2,800 employees. Over the past two years the company has modernized its approach to talent management by focusing on coaching, goal setting and learning and development.

The company’s new strategy, which is supported by an online HR system, has enabled it to create business efficiencies across multiple offices and to eliminate tedious administrative tasks. The HR team and managers are now able to focus on higher value activities related to employee performance and development. A key change for ITS has been the greater alignment between competency measures and overall goals. The company is now better able to assess performance and identify learning requirements.

Ehab Omran, Director of HR for ITS, explains, “We are able to be much more competitive when it comes to attracting and retaining talent, and we have much more insight into where learning and development activities are required. In these ways, we are building a world-class workforce.”


Incorporating employee development as part of an overall performance management strategy can help organisations in the Middle East to address the skills shortage in the region while, at the same time, making their organisation attractive to young nationals.

By making a commitment to develop and enrich your employees’ skills and experiences — you increase your ability to find, recruit and retain the “right people” who can move your organisation into the future.

About the Author

Nick Somasundrum is a Certified Human Capital Strategist and Regional Sales Manager at Halogen Software, one of the leading providers of talent management software. Nick is focused on helping Halogen’s Middle Eastern customers optimise their employee performance management processes. To read more about Halogen’s global success, visit

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