skills and hiring flow
Future of Work

Why You Need A Skills Strategy Today

What are the most critical skills for your company today? And to thrive in 3 years? Do you know the answer? If not, it’s time to find out, because your leaders expect you to know. PWC reports that 74% of CEOs are concerned about the availability of key skills. Of those, 32% are “extremely concerned”. Company leaders understand that access to critical skills is crucial to company growth: CEOs with an established upskilling program are very confident about realizing their growth targets over the next 12 months.

A recent study by Oxford Economics showed that over the next 12 months, only about 38% of all HR leaders expect to invest in learning programs for reskilling and upskilling. The US is a notable exception: just 22% of respondents expect to do so, with respondents from Mexico and India most likely to invest. Even then, the highest number is only 50% – which means that over 50% of companies aren’t thinking about their future needs. It’s difficult to see how they can survive, and attract workers with the right skills and competencies?

Oxford Economics Survey

From knowledge to skills

You might wonder why I place so much emphasis on skills? Weren’t we just talking about the knowledge economy? Very true, but knowledge and access to knowledge have become commodities. You can “google” knowledge and facts (yes, and much more…but that’s another story). What’s now needed are people who can apply that knowledge in such a way that it leads to a competitive advantage for your company.

Unfortunately, because the pandemic required so much attention on accelerated digital transformation efforts, there was less focus on corporate learning and training. And even then, traditional approaches to education still prevail, where knowledge is acquired over a longer period but not applied in the real world.

That simply won’t work anymore: you’ll need a new, action-based, just-in-time approach with a heavy emphasis on skills that an employee can apply today. You need to make it attractive by introducing gamification. You need to make it actionable through microlearnings. You can’t just teach people in a classroom, you also need to give them the opportunity to apply it immediately, so they can turn their new learning into an acquired skill.

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Where do you start?

Choose a data-driven approach and use predictive analytics to help define a few future workforce scenarios. These scenarios should be plausible, and help you remain agile for potential changes. It’s impossible to know exactly where you’ll be in a year from now, but it’s entirely possible to look at the scenarios and define the underlying skill sets needed to achieve the intended outcome. That’s a much less riskier bet, because it allows you to create a dynamic workforce with skills that can be applied differently, given a change in external circumstances.

When looking at jobs and roles, you should evaluate the following 5 types:

  • Jobs that will no longer exist
  • Jobs that will not change or only slightly
  • Jobs that will be automated and no longer require people
  • Jobs that will be augmented by technology so people need additional skills
  • New or emerging jobs that require new skills

Once you have completed this analysis, you then define a list of skills required and match that against the skill sets of the current workforce. The next step is to identify the people who execute roles that will disappear or roles that will be (partly) automated, and help them acquire new skills to transition into new roles. In most countries, it’s far cheaper to retrain and redeploy your workforce than to make them redundant and hire new employees.

But do you even know the current skill sets of your people? Where do you start with your inventory? The unfortunate truth is that even if you have an HCM platform, it’s very likely the skills section is empty for 80% of your employees and that means you’ll have to first put in an effort to make them visible. I spoke with two founders of solutions that can help you through this change and uncover those hidden skills: Alice Tranchant from huapii and Arik Waldman from Glean Labs. They each take a different approach to enable the skills economy.

huapii enables connections that matter

huapii originated within Solvay. A few years ago, the company wanted to reinvent HR, with the goal of making it more people-centric. The project team interviewed hundreds of employees to understand what they thought was most important. The most burning question was: how can we connect people within the organization and make skills visible? Unfortunately they couldn’t find an external solution that ticked all the boxes and so huapii was born.

huapii’s main goal is to organically help employees connect and transparently share skills. Using an agile approach, the first version was launched in January 2018 to a pilot group. A few more iterations followed and in September 2018 the solution was rolled out to all 25.000 employees. One of the most visible successes was that the solution enabled 500 active mentoring relationships (up from 0) resulting in enhanced knowledge transfer and improved collaboration because it overcame silo thinking. And because other companies showed an interest, in the summer of 2019 the founders decided to launch the solution to the public.

huapii makes the skills within an organization visible. Employees are asked to engage in a self-reflection exercise before publishing a profile. They discuss with their manager which skills they want to list on their profile. Colleagues can then validate those skill sets and give feedback after working together, which nourishes the strength of the profile. Employees are in the driver’s seat, rather than HR or the leadership. When an employee needs someone to help in a project, they can look up the required skill set, regardless of that person’s current department, and reach out.

talent profile view
huapii talent profile

It’s clear that job descriptions and profiles have become too rigid for the current pace of work – companies change too quickly and too often, and people don’t like to stay in one role for too long. Work is becoming more project-oriented. A skills-based approach to hiring can allow employee to partially cover more than one job role and so make people multi-employable. Especially in large companies, where you can’t know everyone and their capabilities, a solution based on skills breaks down silo-thinking and fosters internal recruitment, simply because you can find and involve the person with a certain skill when you need them.

Glean Labs automatically discovers skills

The speed with which new skills emerge and current skills become obsolete is only increasing: especially in technology, the lifetime of a skill is about 12-18 months. And if you look at most HR platforms, it’s clear that employees aren’t the most diligent in maintaining their profiles. That’s why Glean Labs thinks it’s in everyone’s best interest to do that for them.

Glean Labs offers a different approach to uncover the skills of employees: where huapii relies on employees to create and share their skills, Glean Labs uses an automated approach. It uses advanced machine learning algorithms to help organizations map their employees’ skills, knowledge and experience. Their automatic competency mapping solution provides visibility into who knows what, who does what, and who’s skilled at what in your organization.

Skills view
Glean skills overview

How can Glean automatically map employee competencies? By integrating with operational and collaboration systems and evaluating the data that results from actual work in programs like Slack and Jira etc. Mapping is done across all of the systems employees use as part of their work day. The resulting skills map and catalogue are continuously updated as employees develop, and as new skills emerge. So how does that work exactly?

Glean comes with a dynamic, pre-defined external ontology that is based on market competencies and can be combined with an internal one, that’s specific for the company to create a comprehensive skill base. It’s focused on technology professions, but the ontology is flexible and can be applied to other professions, eg medical, as well. The real question is: how can Glean understand the difference between people just using phrases belonging to skills and people that are actually proficient in them?

As employees complete assignments, Glean recognizes key phrases that reflect a certain skill set as well as the proficiency of the worker. As example, when a person knows how to works with a certain parser and pushes code to the company’s code store, that can be used to assess their understanding of a programming language, and also their level of understanding.

Glean only analyzes non-private data – it does not connect to email systems or other private channels. It uses project data on a company’s servers that is available to all of their workers. Employees know exactly what’s listed on their profile, and they can edit and add to it. They can also include links to their public profiles, like LinkedIn and GitHub. They find that valuable because it allows them to showcase unknown capabilities to the organization.

The talent opportunity

Solutions like huapii and Glean focus on uncovering relevant workforce data to assist you in making people-related decisions. From scenario planning to internal hiring, via workforce planning, through learning & development and gap analysis, to succession planning – an organization that has visibility into its talent, and knows its strengths and weaknesses can utilize the talent pool better, and is much more likely to succeed.

This becomes even more important as the traditional internal talent marketplace is evolving into an opportunity marketplace. This next-generation marketplace goes beyond just matching people with new roles: it allows employees to showcase their skills (which is different from job roles) and provides them with access to gig work, mentoring, rotation programs, stretch and volunteering assignments, and innovation and skill-building experiences that align with business needs.

Why? Because employees are looking to maximize experiences and their contract with you is just one of their opportunities. They are not looking to make themselves dependent on one employer – they’ve seen over and over that that’s too risky. So they are looking to diversify as a risk-mitigation strategy. It’s also a way to expand and maximize their skills, and to put into action a certain skill they obtained, but can not fully exploit in their current role.

As example, during the pandemic many people have started a side business to monetize their passion or special skill. With the average tenure of young employees dropping below 2,5 years, allowing people to work on other interests is one of the ways HR can retain employees for a longer period of time, even if it’s only on a part-time base.

Through the opportunity marketplace, people can actively explore opportunities by making themselves more visible. It’s what they do every day on social media. Younger workers don’t want to be put in a box, or be defined by a job description. They want to be able to try different things, and are less inclined to stick to one role for a longer period of time. These solutions enable them to be seen, make connections that matter happen and find new opportunities. And it’s a way for your company to surface hidden skills and benefit from educated and experienced talent longer.

The larger the company, the more critical it is to make the skills inside the organization visible so people can find each other and make the right connections. Keeping people connected digitally, while also developing their skills, will continue to be pivotal for both HR and the business as a whole. And because only16% of business leaders reportedly feel their company is ready to address this skills gap – it’s time for HR to take action.

To write this article I interviewed Alice Tranchant from huapii and Arik Waldman from Glean Labs. Thank you both for sharing your knowledge and ideas with me.

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