Closing the Skills Gap Involves Matching the Right Person to the Right Job

A great way to help resolve the skills gap challenge at your organization is to map each employee to the best job for them and for the company, and to provide training and reskilling to help employees improve their productivity and their value to the firm.

Cisco’s solution
One company that has made this a strategic priority is IT and networking firm Cisco. Since 100% of Cisco’s manufacturing is outsourced, the firm needed a way to ensure it could find the highly skilled workers it needed throughout its supply chain. Cisco first sought to understand the workforce it had, and then came up with a plan to retrain or reskill anyone who needed to improve their fit with the company. Cisco examined their physical footprints and partner network locations, among other things, to ensure that the right people with the right skill level were in the right jobs.

Chief Executive spoke with Lori Osterback-Boettner, Cisco’s senior director of Global Business Operations, about how the process is working. “We evaluated the employees—not assessing them on their current skills but evaluating their roles,” she said, to determine whether the “right supply chain role is in the right location,” and whether each person had the “right experience to create critical mass across the supply chain and across disciplines.”

It took about a year for Cisco to get alignment across its global supply chain leaders, but once everyone was on the same page, the leadership team made its priorities clear to employees at all levels.

“our employees know exactly where they stand relative to their careers.”

“Every site is designated as either an invest and grow, optimize, or remote,” Osterback-Boettner says. “So, our employees know exactly where they stand relative to their careers.” For those employees in locations designated as remote, Cisco provides them with clear options, including reskilling.

“Everyone has the opportunity to learn new skills and be part of reskilling,” she said. “There are a high percentage of employees that opt in, and our attrition over the last three years has remained very consistent relative to our prior decision to come out and say we have a deliberate workforce plan, a site strategy and a regional location strategy,” Osterback-Boettner says.

Shinola offers a personal touch
Another company, Shinola, has found a more grassroots way to overcome the challenge. The Detroit-based manufacturer of luxury watches, leather bags, bicycles and accessories that blend mechanization with artisanal cool is leveraging the Motor City’s available workforce by training people as skilled craftsmen.

Unskilled people from in and around the area were hired and trained to become skilled watchmakers. “We pay more than the minimum wage and provide an environment in which people feel they are providing value, making things they can feel a sense of pride and ownership about,” explained Steve Bock, president of Bedrock, Shinola’s parent company.

Chief Executive writers Patrick Gorman and Russ Banham contributed to this article.

Chief Executive magazine (published since 1977) is the definitive source that CEOs turn to for insight and ideas that help increase their effectiveness and grow their business. Chief Executive Group also produces e-newsletters and online content at and manages Chief Executive Network and other executive peer groups, as well as conferences and roundtables that enable top corporate officers to discuss key subjects and share their experiences within a community of peers. Chief Executive facilitates the annual “CEO of the Year,” a prestigious honor bestowed upon an outstanding corporate leader, nominated and selected by a group of peers, and is known throughout the U.S. and elsewhere for its annual ranking of Best & Worst States for Business. Visit for more information.