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The Productivity Gap: 
A $1.3 Trillion Problem

See also: The Skills Gap

Everywhere you look today people are talking about the effect the skills gap is having on our economy.

With new technology being announced every day, one would think we’d be in the age of enlightenment for individual productivity. In reality, we are experiencing quite the opposite: from 2000 - 2007, productivity grew by 2.5%, whilst in the first quarter of 2014 growth in labor productivity has slowed to a number not seen since the 1950’s - just 1%.

We have a wide variety of new, revolutionary tools at our disposal, and the age-old mantra still stands: just having the tool isn’t enough. You need to learn how to utilize it effectively and efficiently, or productivity stalls.

Let’s Look at the Numbers

There are over 200 million employees in the digital work force of the United States, and only 10% consider themselves to be adequately skilled with the tools and software they use on an everyday basis.

With tight schedules and even tighter budgets, companies are finding it increasingly difficult to make time for proper digital skills training.  This resulting skills gap is responsible for a staggering $1.3 trillion loss in the United States economy, and with a Deloitte study concluding that digital skills have a half-life of 2.5 years due to the increasing pace of technological advancement, this loss is set to grow at an exponential rate.

Approximately 77% of companies identify the lack of digital skills as a key issue holding them back from their digital transformation. And while policymakers are beginning to place a heavier emphasis on digital education, many organizations simply cannot afford to wait.

Let’s Close the Gap

First thing’s first, take a step back and define the overarching goals of your business. Now drill into the individual departments: is each one properly equipped to help your business reach its goals? Chances are there will be room for improvement, which you need to build into your schedule and budget.

Brian Balfour of Hubspot writes that Hubspot provides each of their employees with an annual $5,000 learning budget, which has helped them quickly adapt to the ever changing digital landscape.

Eight Skills Worth Investing in to Help Close the Skills Gap:

Document Creation & Management

From a legal pad to the cloud, effective document creation and management is the backbone of an organization. Understanding how to create, annotate, locate and share is of the utmost importance and helps to decrease wasted time and out of sync communication across teams.

Collaboration on Projects

A company is a living, breathing organism with individual teams working together to create a whole. Teams can be spread across offices, cities, and countries. To facilitate this, there is a need for streamlined, effective collaboration efforts via technology like video conferencing, file sharing, and project tracking. Not having a complete and up-to-date knowledge of collaboration technology will be a hindrance to you, your team, and your workplace.

Attention Management

Many modern digital employees work on several monitors at once, with multiple devices at their disposal, ingesting pages upon pages of information simultaneously. With that amount of information, it is far too easy to fall victim to distraction and inefficient multitasking, turning what could have been a productive day into a hectic one. Be honest - how many of you have made it this far in this article without switching to a different tab temporarily, or checking your email?


A July 2012 McKinsey Global Institute report shows that we spend 28% of our workweek sorting, prioritizing, writing, and responding to email. That’s just over 11 hours/week for a 40-hour workweek - a fairly staggering number. Understanding how to efficiently communicate with co-workers, and when it is appropriate to utilize SMS, Skype, HipChat, etc. can save hundreds of hours a week across an organization.

Search & Research

We live in an age of seemingly infinite information at our disposal, which is a blessing and a curse. Inefficient research can quickly bog employees down, which only tacks on to the 28% of our workweek dedicated to email. The sheer amount of information available can be overwhelming, and understanding how to quickly and efficiently analyze online sources will save hours.


With vulnerabilities like Heartbleed, and over 2 million records lost since 2013, user education and training for online security is absolutely vital.

Digital Etiquette

The proportion of workplace and customer communication conducted online is increasing at a very high rate, with some companies going as far as handling all customer service via social media platforms like Twitter. With this paradigm shift, it is integral that team members understand all risks associated and are properly trained.

Platform Flexibility

Software and hardware evolve at an immensely rapid rate. Businesses are shifting from utilizing Microsoft products, while Apple and Google operating systems are steadily gaining market share. Smartphones and tablets have changed day-to-day work habits. If employees are not properly trained to adapt and grow with this ever-shifting landscape, and utilize the best tools available to do their jobs, productivity suffers.

The requirements for digital training may seem overwhelming at first, both in time and money. But if your program is designed to be ongoing, up-to-date, and scalable, investments will be repaid several times over.

Productivity in the workplace will increase, and employees can feel a sense of empowerment as their workplace invests in expanding and polishing their professional skill-sets. And as Dr. Noelle Nelson writes: “When employees feel that the company takes their interest to heart, then the employees will take company interests to heart”.

Take a hard look at yourself and your organization. Where do you need improvement and what digital skills do you feel are needed for a successful future?

About the Author

Jeff Fernandez is co-founder and CEO of Grovo, helping to educate the digital workforce with an end-to-end training solution that delivers quality results in a short amount of time.