Navigating Challenges and Benefits of a Skills-Based Talent Strategy

This is the second in a ten-part series on the implications of a Skills-based talent strategy.

Today’s blog focuses on the implications and challenges of implementing a skills-based talent strategy on Learning and Development processes and functions. Shifting to a skills-driven learning strategy will be a more extensive journey for some organizations than others. Regardless, moving to an enterprise skills-driven learning strategy has far-reaching impacts across all aspects of learning and development.

Implications

  • Skill Gap Analysis: A skills-based organization conducts regular skill gap assessments to identify areas where employees may lack proficiency. A skills-based organization stays agile in adapting its training programs to respond to changing market demands, emerging technologies, or evolving industry trends. Training initiatives are designed to address these gaps and rapidly equip employees with the skills they need.
  • Agility in Reducing Skill Gaps: A skills-based organization aims to minimize skill gaps within the workforce by prioritizing skills in staffing decisions. Individual and organizational skill inventories are made more visible. Resource managers can quickly identify skill gaps within the organization, prompting them to address them through training, hiring, or upskilling initiatives. This proactive approach ensures that employees have the necessary skills to perform their roles effectively while reducing the need for constant external hiring.
  • Individualized and Relevant Learning Paths: Training programs become more targeted and aligned with the specific skills needed within the organization. Instead of job or career milestone training, employees receive instruction on skills directly applicable to their current or future role needs. Training is tailored to individual needs and career aspirations, allowing employees to create personalized learning paths that align with their strengths and interests. Employees are encouraged to take ownership of their career development to develop and drive their own learning plans.
  • Cross-training and Upskilling: With a focus on skills, learners can choose more cross-training and upskilling opportunities. Employees are given opportunities to learn and master skills outside their immediate job responsibilities, aligning with their interests or aspirations for future roles. This can foster a more versatile and flexible workforce than a training strategy standard for all based on job title.
  • Blended Learning Approaches: Skills-based organizations often adopt blended learning approaches that combine various training methods, such as in-person workshops, online courses, webinars, on-demand learning nuggets, and on-the-job training. This mix allows for a more comprehensive and engaging learning experience.
  • Increase in Informal Learning: As the organization’s conception of learning shifts from a knowledge acquisition activity to a skill acquisition opportunity, many organizations will increase their appreciation of informal learning experiences, such as developmental staffing, mentorship, and peer-to-peer knowledge sharing. As these experiences are more heavily integrated into the training and development process, formal learning content development efforts lessen, speeding the organization’s ability to drive new learnings into the organization.
  • Measuring Training Effectiveness: Skill-driven training more directly aligns learning outcomes to on-the-job performance. Training outcomes are not only measured by knowledge checks and attendance but also by applying newly acquired skills in real-world scenarios. As training begins to look more like work, the organization can more easily assess the impact of training on performance and business results.
  • Performance-Based Training: Training initiatives are more easily linked to performance evaluations. Employees may receive training opportunities as rewards for their achievements or as a means to address improvement areas.
  • Promotion of a Continuous Learning Culture: Skill-based training helps drive learning to become more integral to the organization’s culture. Employees are encouraged to engage in continuous learning practices, learning more ‘in the flow of work” as opposed to events that take them away from the job. Learning shifts from being driven top-down to being self-directed. The learning team spends less time developing and publishing content and more time curating learning experiences, providing resources to support individual skill development journeys, and embedding learning opportunities within the organization’s processes.
  • Skill Development Centers: Skills-based organizations may establish skill development centers or centers of excellence to promote continuous learning and foster expertise in critical areas. This may require an upskilling of the learning team as new development methods and technologies are introduced.

Challenges

Beyond the standard challenges that every organizational transformation faces, implementing an enterprise-wide skills-based talent strategy can offer some unique challenges:

  • Enterprise Learning Strategy & Governance: Implementing and maintaining a skills-based talent strategy requires significant re-investment in training and development. There are multiple audiences, learning approaches, technologies, and approaches to be balanced. Budget constraints or limited resources may hinder the organization’s ability to upskill employees continuously. Enterprise learning governance may need to be established to define and strategically coordinate learning activities across organizational boundaries. New learning groups or technologies may be required.
  • Skills Validation: Learning development activities rely on a clear definition of skills. Each organization must define its own skills language and skills taxonomy. Agile and adaptable work definitions are necessary for a successful transition. Obtaining robust data to articulate existing skills, target proficiency levels, and skills-based development methodologies can be challenging. Some parts of a business, especially regulated functions, may face more challenges than others.
  • Balancing Focus on Hard vs. Soft Skills: Skills-based organizations may prioritize technical or hard skills, potentially overlooking the significance of soft skills like communication, leadership, and emotional intelligence, which are essential for leadership, effective teamwork, and collaboration.
  • Developing Skills vs. Experiences: Formal and informal learning experiences differ in structure, objectives, delivery, guidance, and environments. Both formal and informal learning experiences play essential roles in an individual’s overall development. Formal learning provides a structured and systematic approach to education, while informal learning fosters lifelong learning and encourages curiosity-driven exploration. Combining both types of learning experiences can lead to a more well-rounded and adaptable individual. Few organizations have a robust enterprise infrastructure to deploy and coordinate both kinds of learning equally and strategically.
  • Implementing the Right Learning Technology. A large market for learning products must be evaluated and carefully selected to work together as a cohesive platform for your employee’s learning experiences. Many technologies overlap, creating redundancies, interfacing, and reporting issues. Skills data spans both many talent functions and operational functions. Technologies are constantly evolving, making constant intelligence and flexible technology architecture necessary. Most organizations do not prioritize learning technology investments often, making investigation and maintenance activities slower.
  • Evaluating Skill Development Centers: Defining an enterprise-wide skills strategy may require re-thinking the federation of learning responsibilities across organizational boundaries. If necessary, setting up a new skill development center or center of excellence is a significant decision, often requiring careful navigation through senior leadership. If approved, all aspects of an organizational design project must be addressed, including structure, process, and (re)skilling the learning team.
  • Coordination of Development Roadmaps: The organization must decide whether to prioritize skill definition or develop a workforce strategy coordinating skills efforts. Despite aspirations for a skills-based work model, few organizations are experimenting with the infrastructure needed to implement the approach broadly.

Stay tuned for our next blog on the Implications of a Skills-based Talent Strategy – on Credentialing and Proficiency Assessment.

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