‘HR must focus on employees’ existing skills’

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HR leaders are finding it increasingly difficult to quickly find and develop talent with the most in-demand skills, yet 58% of the workforce needs new skills to get their jobs done.

According to global business consultancy Gartner, the total number of skills required for a single job has been increasing by 10% year-on-year since 2017.

The company’s research also suggested that one in three skills in an average 2017 job posting in IT, finance or sales were already obsolete. Emerging skills gaps that were down to continuing business disruption and rapidly evolving needs have accelerated as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, it said.

Alison Smith, director in the Gartner HR practice, said: “Many organisations have focused on talent acquisition to get the skills they need; however, 74% of organisations froze hiring in response to Covid-19.”

She said that hiring was not currently possible for many organisations. “Instead, companies can look at current employees who have skills closely matched to those in demand and utilise training to close any gaps.” Gartner used the term “skills adjacencies” to describe this process.

HR had a key role in initiating this process and had to:

  • Increase transparency of current employee skill sets
  • Identify and mobilise non-obvious skills adjacencies
  • Adjust career pathing strategies to encourage flexible career progression

First of all, HR leaders needed to collect information on current employee skill sets, said Smith. This would enable them to map out secondary and tertiary skills.

Many organisations have focused on talent acquisition to get the skills they need; however, 74% of organisations froze hiring in response to Covid-19” – Alison Smith, Gartner

Many organisations mistakenly focused on collecting key skills data. Instead, a complete picture of current employee skill sets was necessary. For this to be established, employees and their managers would have to be empowered and encouraged to maintain a portfolio of skills that were visible to HR, which would then contribute to HR’s comprehensive view of skills for the organisation.

Smith said that to address critical skills needs through leveraging skills adjacencies, HR would have to determine which secondary or tertiary skills to begin building upon. Leading businesses were using machine learning and data to identify and unlock the power of skills adjacencies at scale. Gartner had seen that more “progressive” HR leaders had partnered with their own internal data teams to ground upskilling efforts in current knowledge of employee capabilities. This allowed them to prioritise which skills could be applied immediately.

Gartner also proposed that firms should encourage “flexible career progression”. Smith said traditional career frameworks relied on the assumption that roles would remain relatively unchanged for years and move in a ladder-like trajectory. But as skills adjacencies begun to uncover new connections and career options, career paths would need to be more fluid and unrestricted by traditional roles and skills requirements.

She said: “Career paths need to be flexible enough to enable employees to move around in – often unconventional – ways that allow the organisation to best leverage employees’ skills adjacencies. Uncoupling employees’ concept of ’progress’ away from just roles and titles empowers employees to be dynamic and ready to change course as the organisation needs.”

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