Upskill or Die: Experts Q&A on Skills & Competencies

Written by Dave Pierce

October 21, 2022

Upskill or Die: Experts Q&A on Skills & Competencies

It’s said that if you want to get ahead in your career, you should build your skills, not your resume. The same principle applies to how employers develop their workforce for the future. Past success isn’t as important as what you can do next.

As we head into 2023, one thing is clear: It is an ABSOLUTE MUST for every company to become a skills-based organization.

Skills aren’t just the new currency for individuals, they are the new disruption for your business.

If you’re a compensation or talent acquisition leader for your human resources team, you no doubt are having ongoing conversations about your ever-evolving job descriptions, competitive compensation, and how to attract and retain an exceptionally skilled workforce. And you’re inundated with managers in every department trying to plug urgent holes due to shifts in technology or market demands.

What’s more, your outside HR consultants are likely looking to you for up-to-date data so they can support you. And how about those software vendors and career sites that perform woefully short of your expectations?

How can you possibly keep up?

To fully understand the challenges and identify real solutions, we asked three experts – Jonathan Verdun, Rick Burke, and Lisa Crowell – to provide their insights in the following Q&A.

Where should companies start with assessing and upgrading the skills and competencies of employees? 

Jonathan: The way that businesses need leaders to look at this is from the perspective of creating the best possible workforce for their organization. To have the best possible workforce, managers must have the right people with the right skills in the right jobs at the right time.

From the “Great Resignation,” to low unemployment, to a multitude of job openings, to inflation, to the pace of digital transformation, how can companies navigate all these challenges?

Rick: The reason there are so many jobs that are open is that organizations are really struggling to find the right people with the right skills to fill those roles. And what's happening from a macro-perspective is, companies are doing everything they can do to upskill and reskill. Talented and engaged people are leaving their jobs at the highest rate in a long time because of the increased demand for their skills and the war for talent.  It's important for clients to be able to identify the skills that they need to move their company forward.  One way to do that is to do a skills inventory analysis to understand what skills are driving their most critical roles within their organization and identify those skills.

Lisa: Gartner conducted a study just last year that showed the total number of skills required for a single job has been increasing by 10% year-over-year since 2017. And the rate of increase of skills required was even more dramatic after the pandemic.

Jonathan: Jobs are changing, the business requirements are changing at an ongoing, increasing pace. Very often managers don't even have a full appreciation of what skills are needed to perform each job most effectively. We can help them get that figured out.

Is that why upskilling is so important?

Jonathan: Yes, there’s a direct relationship between upskilling and business competitiveness. The more skilled your workforce, the more successful you can compete in the marketplace.

Lisa: Upskilling helps to reduce turnover. If you invest in your employees, they're more likely to stay with you and to be motivated. In marketing, we always say it costs more to get a new customer than to keep an existing one. It's the same thing with employees. Investing in your current employees is a more efficient spend than the cost to recruit a new employee.

What can we do to promote internal advancement and development?

Rick: Creating pathways for career growth and showing a commitment to upward mobility is important for retention, as well as attracting top talent from the outside. Being able to identify what skills are mapped to what job and the proficiency level required to perform a given job gives employees an understanding of what is needed to step into a new role.  Employees want transparency around what their career paths could potentially look like.  They want to understand their options.  Whether it's in a traditional sense of being promoted up the ladder or cross-functional, where they move into other departments that are strategic to the business as well.

Lisa: Understanding as an employee which skills you have that are transferable provides them an option to pursue a new career within your company. We need to help employees see that they don't need to go elsewhere to change careers and grow.

Jonathan: There's also the pay equity perspective. Where, if you know that you have the proper skill set, then you should be paid appropriately for doing the job.

Lisa: The focus on skill set and competency should be greater than the title. In the past, it was always you’re a director, you’re paid more, etc. But now, it's more about the skills, not the superficial. It’s the substance that you bring to your role that matters.

Jonathan: From a career-growth perspective, it’s important to know that you have the right skill set. And relative to other people on your team, you should be able to evaluate yourself from that perspective.

How do you get buy-in to prioritize upskilling and internal employee development? And what’s next?

Rick: You need buy-in at the top of the organization, the CEO, or definitely the CHRO/SVP (chief human resources officer) and have skills taxonomy woven into the HR strategy and business strategy.  This is a strategic initiative from the top down.  Ultimately, everyone in the organization needs to buy into skills and competencies as a common language.  Skills and Competencies are foundational when it comes to measurement and objectivity.  If clients have that common language, they can use it across multiple HR functions like recruiting, learning and development, performance management, and workforce planning.

Lisa: The starting point is understanding where you are today. Doing a skills inventory analysis first. Then building your strategic plan next. Where are you going? Where are the skills gaps? Once you have that, you can figure out what skills you need to get to the next step with your hiring plan, and your training and development program.

How can help?

Rick: We have the foundational data all in one system-agnostic database. It’s all about getting the data right.  It’s about the taxonomy in terms of what each job is, what each job does, the skills, competencies, and proficiency levels that are mapped to the jobs. We can help create a common language that can be used in different ways: for fair and equitable pay, a skills inventory, planning new projects, or creating a new division within a company and identifying the people who have proficiency in the skills clients need.

Lisa: We've done the heavy lifting. We are the data partner that gives you peace of mind because we have the experts and compensation professionals who have built this data. We help our customers get 89% there, then they can customize the data to create their skills and competency model tailored to meet their unique organizational needs. Working with us, they can jump in and focus on executing and moving their company forward, as opposed to building and maintaining the data.

To learn more about how to approach skills and competencies for your organization, schedule a free consult with our Consulting Team.

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about the author
Dave Pierce has more than 25 years of writing, editing, and content management experience as an award-winning journalist and manager. He has a passion for diversity, equity and inclusion, pay equity and transparency, and employee engagement. He strives to tell stories about how people and technology are changing how we work, live, and thrive together. He is a proud Northeastern University graduate and New Hampshire native.

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