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Tammy Johns is cofounder & CEO of Skills.com, a sponsored community platform that enables people to create and share inspiring skills development content that powers careers. She formerly led global sales and innovation at ManpowerGroup.
Johns participated in a recent White House Summit on upskilling the American workforce. The Aspen Institute has partnered with the White House and national business organizations to recognize leading employers that provide expanded career opportunities for their workers; promote the widespread adoption of business policies and practices that increase economic opportunity; and cultivate education and workforce development efforts that support and advance these initiatives.
Read below about how gaining new skills helped her advance in her career.
We are using web-based platforms to share everything from cars to couches. Now we need to apply the sharing-economy mindset to building new career skills.
My own career is attributable to a village of people who shared what they knew and gave me opportunities to practice and master new skills.
I skipped college and went to work as a receptionist at a staffing firm, where a strong leader in the company taught me how to communicate with confidence, deliver great customer service, and sell the company’s services. She showed me how to make a cold call and then sat beside me as I made one call after another, providing constructive feedback throughout.
A few years later, when I started my own temporary-help company, my network of bankers, customers, and employees could have trusted their staffing needs — and careers — to a more skilled entrepreneur. Instead, they chose to help me develop the concrete skills that I needed to grow a viable business.
A bit later down my career path, the leaders at ManpowerGroup took a chance on me from a field of more experienced candidates and continued to find opportunities for me to learn and grow. Ultimately, I earned a seat on their executive management team. It was the type of position few people occupy with just a high-school diploma and a handful of continuing education classes. What I did have by that time was a lot of practical knowledge, and my lack of a college education was not an obstacle to career advancement. After 20 years of career success, I got my MBA. But for me, that MBA was the icing on the cake, not the genesis of that success.
I had the good fortune to meet the right people at the right time. I’m eternally grateful to all the coaches, coworkers, and colleagues who shared skills with me over the years. But millions of people do not have access to experts to show them how it’s done or mentors who invest in them gaining those skills.
We face an extreme mismatch between the skills required for employment and the ways people learn those skills. For many positions requiring a college education, the degree is often just table stakes to secure an interview. Even with a degree, workers are expected to have proven skills.
What kinds of skills? Certainly specialized skills like software development, but according to my research using Burning Glass Analytics, at least one of seven skills showed up in more than 45 percent of all job postings: skills such as sales, communication, organization, customer service, and financial literacy. Additionally, most job postings required previous experience, which I believe is a proxy to assess “know-how” in a world of rapidly changing certifications and badges.
So we have a chicken-and-egg problem: how do people gain the experience that employers are looking for if they can’t get the jobs that will give them the experience?
At a moment when the number of open jobs in America has reached a 14-year high, surpassing the 5 million mark, it’s time to put a new twist on an old idea. We need a way for workers who want to acquire new skills or enhance existing ones to easily interact with experts who have mastered those skills. We need to remove common barriers — cost — and obstacles — time — that prevent people from learning skills, even when they have a strong desire to do so.
Everyone has skills to share. If we each contributed our expertise so that others could enhance their careers — and lives — we would all be socially and commercially richer.
The Summit brought together 150 people — from employers, to labor union representatives, to tech innovators — who are passionate about solving the skills gap. This gathering followed the president’s January call-to-action to equip frontline workers with the skills to advance into higher paying jobs without having to leave their current jobs to go to school full time.
This was serious work. We broke into groups, rolled up our sleeves, and brainstormed about how to expand our efforts and find new ways to help people acquire the skills they need to succeed. It was inspiring, seeing the owner of a small trucking company in North Carolina with 14 employees sharing his ideas with the chief human resources officer for UPS.
I am honored to collaborate in this national movement. I created Skills.com to offer everybody the experience of having a mentor sitting beside them — virtually. I describe it as “Wikipedia meets Khan Academy,” with real people sharing practical, relevant skills in short videos that are curated in an online library. Can you imagine how the supply of skills in the world could grow exponentially if we all shared our expertise?
At the White House Summit, I felt the start of a true movement that shared in my passion for helping others move up the career ladder. There’s no denying that we face a serious skills gap. But a part of this problem can be solved faster than most people think. It’s time for all of us to share what we know, one skill at a time. Our economy and society can only be strengthened when we commit to grow together.