Anticipating skills requirements is a core HR function

Cornerstone Editors

The human resources discipline encompasses a wide variety of roles and responsibilities, all centered around the employee. These tasks span everything from recruitment, payroll and administration to strategic workforce planning and training.

HR's primary responsibility is skill management, encompassing the assurance that the company acquires the necessary knowledge and expertise to handle daily operations, contribute to its success and foresee future talent needs, especially during periods of talent shortage. Companies must proactively acquire the concepts and solutions required to address these challenges.

A hub for skill-building

Whether manufacturing products or providing services, the modern enterprise is where skills converge to achieve a specific goal. It organizes and coordinates a succession of precisely and expertly executed steps, which, when properly aligned, culminate in a new house, a tool, a bottle of shampoo, a bank transfer or even a new hairstyle. People with the requisite skills must execute all these steps. HR aims to optimize these skills and thus contribute to the company's overall performance.

In a conventional industrial manufacturing context, where technology was evolving continuously but relatively slowly, skills management involved recruiting (internally or externally) the right fit for the job and regularly financing updates and refresher training. In this age of the knowledge economy, marked by high staff turnover, rising candidate and employee expectations, and rapid market and technology transformation, skills management has taken on an entirely new dimension. Companies now have to respond simultaneously to three specific challenges:

  • Continuously monitor the organization's skill assets, encompassing daily utilized and latent and unused skills.
  • Anticipate short-term, medium-term, and long-term skills requirements and plan the necessary measures (such as training and/or recruitment) to implement when needed.
  • Follow each individual's progress to ensure talent retention and strong employee engagement.

Despite having limited resources, tackle these three pillars of talent and skills management simultaneously by implementing the appropriate solutions and strategies.

Challenge No. 1: Keep the company skills pool up-to-date

Consultants often maintain that if you can't measure it, you can't improve it. Therefore, an essential requirement for skills development is that company managers have a complete overview of all skills available, whether they are applied or not.

Mapping these skills requires three distinct organizational steps: collecting the information, storing it and analyzing/mining the acquired data.

The first question to examine is: who owns the skills-related information? The answer is several people: the employees, their managers, the HRM and the training department. The skills information for a single employee may be scattered across several information systems, whether in digital or other formats, such as employee's HR files, files maintained by the manager and variously structured files storing career interview records. Additionally, more than merely knowing the identified skills is required. Evaluating proficiency levels or obsolescence and documenting employees' training desires and wishes is crucial.

To map all this data in an actionable manner, use a dedicated digital solution and populate it with data comprehensively. Cornerstone offers such a solution with its skills graph: a unique tool that allows organizations to visualize, analyze, and plan the skills already available or ready to mobilize.

Challenge No. 2: Anticipate skills requirements

Understanding your current position and defining your future goals is crucial. Strategic workforce planning plays a vital role in this process, aiming to prevent the company from facing market obstacles due to a lack of strategic skills planning. Recruiting or rapidly training a specialized professional for a suddenly vacant position or profile is challenging but possible.

But the situations that genuinely pose risks for a company are scenarios where management wakes up one morning to realize that all the back-office employees have to get used to a new information system deployed by the parent company, for example, or production staff has to update everything in an impossibly tight deadline for the launch of a new product.

The HRM plays a role in having an organization-wide overview of the skills landscape. This oversight involves visualizing the available skills or those ready to mobilize within the company at a given time and foreseeing the skills needed in the months and years to come.

HRMs must be able to cross-reference their skills map with the technical, strategic and sales department data. Do we know, for example, how the market will evolve? What about new technologies? What is the company's strategy? How will this affect skills, and over what kind of timeframe? Here, the HRM also needs digital tools with high-added value to respond to the requirements of other departments and reach out to them to anticipate their needs.

Challenge No. 3: Following the progress of skills pathways

By anticipating the skills required by the company, the HRM plays the role of a business partner, helping to improve the collective performance of the business. They also liaise with employees and managers seeking to develop individual performance by following the progress of every single pathway depending on the individual's desires, expectations and abilities. This strategy involves the ability to compare individual plans with the development prospects presented by the company.

The HRM, as always, has to safeguard the organization's collective performance while ensuring that employees fulfill their individual development goals. In practice, reconciling these two mutually complementary objectives requires establishing a dedicated information management and analytics system. Here, a properly managed and configured digital system gives organizations powerful new tools with unprecedented performance.

The skills equation has many unknown variables: Who possesses what skills, and what is their level of proficiency? What new skills will be required, in what timeframe, and for what market objective? What are the expectations and abilities of each individual, and to what extent do they meet the organization's needs?

Issues of such complexity cannot be left solely to intuition or gut instinct. If properly harnessed, digitalization and artificial intelligence's data collection and analytics capabilities can genuinely support a sophisticated human resources policy and empower companies that deploy such technologies.

For insights on evaluating existing skills within your organization and addressing gaps, explore more here.

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