Rethinking How Establishment Skills Surveys Can More Effectively Identify Workforce Skills Gaps

44 Pages Posted: 7 Mar 2012

See all articles by Wesley Schwalje

Wesley Schwalje

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE)

Date Written: March 7, 2012


Through a multicountry, practice-based review of establishment skills surveys, this article identifies conceptual issues with defining and measuring skills gaps. By harmonizing divergent conceptualizations, an operational definition of skills gaps as a situation in which current employees lack the skills to perform their jobs which results in the compromised ability of a firm to meet business objectives is proposed. This operationalization of the concept offers a more complete answer to how firms are impacted by workforce deficiencies in achieving business objectives implying that understanding job proficiency without assessing the organizational context in which workforce skills are deployed towards market objectives is insufficient. By addressing measurement issues, an alternative approach to establishment skills surveys is advanced that can play a more effective role in determining how workforce skills influence achievement of firm business objectives. The open systems model of the firm is used to explain how skills gaps serve as a bottleneck to the overall functioning of the firm and to demonstrate that firm mitigation strategies are subject to managerial perceptions which can influence the effectiveness and level at which strategies are targeted. A typology of the causes of skills gaps is also proposed as a starting point for government intervention.

Keywords: skills formation, skills gaps, skills shortages, establishment skills surveys, workforce development policy, skills gap causes, skills gap impacts, skills gap mitigation

JEL Classification: J24

Suggested Citation

Schwalje, Wesley, Rethinking How Establishment Skills Surveys Can More Effectively Identify Workforce Skills Gaps (March 7, 2012). Available at SSRN: or

Wesley Schwalje (Contact Author)

London School of Economics & Political Science (LSE) ( email )

Houghton Street
London, WC2A 2AE
United Kingdom


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