Fear not! How you’ll survive the "Skillspocalypse"

Marc Ramos

Chief Learning Officer, Cornerstone

This article was originally published in Chief Learning Officer in December 2022.

If you’re like me, I can’t go a day without hearing more and more anxiety about skills. Questions like: “How do I stay competitive with skills?” “How do I address skills FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)?” “If I don’t prioritize skills, will I get left in the dust?!”

Whether the topic is about skills gaps, skills shortages, reskilling or upskilling, there’s this flurry around the rising impact of skills and an extreme sense of urgency to build them as quickly as possible.

But the fact is, many companies are still grappling with where to even start. When I talk to my peers in HR, my customers and even my own team, there is a deep and real sense of anxiety around skills. I see universal uncertainty about how to build the right skills programs, how to ensure you have the right budget, and what are the right tools and systems to use. I also hear a lot of HR leaders wondering what their competitors are up to and if they’re falling behind.

We all know it is imperative to have the right skills to stay competitive and innovative, but is there really a major skills crisis on our hands?

I do believe this anxiety is a bit appropriate. We all need to be ready for the future, and skills are constantly evolving. But skills development isn’t anything new. We’ve been reskilling for decades. We all need to take a deep breath and realize there is no doomsday, or “Skillspocalypse” around the corner.

In my opinion, we should view this as an opportunity. We have proven best practices, emerging technologies and a cultural thirst for knowledge that is creating massive tailwinds behind our sails. This moment in time is an opportunity to learn from the past, learn from each other and lean into skills in a practical way.

Reskilling isn’t anything new

Let’s face it, reskilling — as a business function — has been around for more than 100 years. Organized skills development is a foundational part of many industries, whether that’s manufacturing, research, medicine, IT, or even the military.

Think back to the early 20th century, when we started automating factory lines. Factory workers had to learn how to work with those inventions, fix them and manage faster product output. Those were all new skills that had to be developed and advance quickly.

The same skills development framework we’ve been using for decades still applies today, and the great news is, new technology advancements exist now that make these types of skills development approaches even more effective.

Take it one step at a time

Let’s use the foundational framework companies have been using for years and take it one step at a time. We need to break down the components of a successful skills-led organization by identifying tangible pieces that we can tackle first.

According to McKinsey, companies should start with quick wins, such as amplifying skills during the recruiting process by removing degree requirements from job postings and replacing them with skills requirements. Another idea is to prioritize skills-based goals in performance management and track skill competency within existing reviews cycles.

We need to take small steps across the entire talent journey, from recruiting to performance management to career progression, and over time, use that data to continue to refine and expand skills development programs across the organization. It won’t happen overnight, but it’s a process we can start activating right now.

AI will lead the way

I realize this sounds easier said than done. In the same report from McKinsey, survey participants cited sourcing skills, validating skills and scaling skills-based practices across the organization as three of the most common challenges faced when implementing a skills-based approach.

That’s where we need to lean into technology, specifically, artificial intelligence. You already have data about your employees, so let AI do the hard work for you. AI can comb through skills data across your organization to better understand your people, the skills they currently have and the skills needed to fill current and future job roles. AI can then connect your people to the exact learning content they need to fill their skills gaps in the moment of need.

This technology exists today and is maturing.

Best practices on modern skilling already exists

While there is growing interest, and in some cases a bit of FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) regarding getting your skills strategy right, there are proven approaches that can help you with operationalizing your strategy. Tried and true steps include:

  • Leverage the needs analysis methodology to help you and your skills stakeholders across the business confirm what skills are needed and the size of any current gaps.
  • Conduct task analyses or work observations to identify the actual skills required to succeed on a task or process, as well as understand the level of complexity to accomplish that task.
  • Work closely with your recruiting or workforce planning team who have already confirmed key skills to hire and attain, and give your learning function a headstart to purchase the best content or build if required.

We’re on the right track

So here’s my proposition to you: Don’t panic. There is no “Skillspocalypse” today or around the corner. Yes, our world is changing and the workplace is undergoing a massive transformation, but the tools and procedures — though classic and universal — to address these gaps are already present and proven. Together, we can use these reliable — and maturing — methods to ease our collective anxiety.

And check out the latest episode of Voices of CLO, “The Skillspocalypse shouldn’t make you shiver — here’s why.”

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