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Skills: Yes, the Juice Is Worth the Squeeze with EPAM’s Sandra Loughlin

by Dani Johnson and Stacia Garr | March 6th, 2024

Sandra Loughlin, PhD is the Chief Learning Officer and the Global Head of Talent Enablement and Transformation at EPAM, a software engineering and consulting firm. Unlike many of the organizations we’ve spoken about, EPAM has been on a skills journey since its inception over 30 years ago. Building a skills-based organization has been the backbone of everything they do. In this conversation, Sandra shares why the juice is indeed “Worth the squeeze.”

 

What is a skills-based organization?

According to Sandra, a skills-based organization is one where you know what skills are required for every role. You know that those skills are required because you've mapped them to your business objectives. Knowing what they look like allows you to measure them.

And once you validate skills, you can use that data across the talent lifecycle. You use it not only to hire the right people but it allows you to know when there are skill gaps that need to be addressed. You use it to manage people (meaning that to keep your job or grow in your career, you need to have the right skills and those skills need to be demonstrable). 

You can also use skills data to keep people engaged. If you have a person who’s been in a role for a while and wants to grow, you're able to use skills data to show them other related jobs that cover 80% of their skills in a new area or a new geography. That allows them to keep their career fresh and moving in a professional direction that appeals to them.

 

Providing context for skills

Sandra points out that you can measure almost everything well, including empathy. How? She has an autistic friend who reports that she can’t feel empathetic. But if you ask her coworkers if she’s empathetic, every person raises their hand. How?

Because she’s observed the behaviors of empathetic people and learned to emulate them. There are things we think are incredibly important for successful employment that may not be classified as a skill. 

It simply needs to be an observable thing that can be measured to a certain degree. They look at behaviors that are critical success, capture them, and use them to inform their understanding of any individual. 

 

The scope and impact on strategic planning

EPAM focused on skills from day one because the company was trying to solve its core business problem: Matching people to projects to increase efficiency and accuracy. So they built rudimentary skills frameworks. They started to experiment with ways to infer and measure skills. When AI technology emerged, they built intelligent models to infer skills.

How they measure skills depends on the role within the company. They need more precision in some areas that are core to the business and revenue generation. The level of granularity will be different between technical roles (engineers, data scientists, innovation teams) versus internal non-production teams. 

They invest millions of dollars every year on their skills program. It’s business-critical. Why? Because being a skills organization makes them an agile business. They are agile at recognizing the skills that are required to respond to technology and competitors in the market.

 

How EPAM assesses, defines, and uses skills data

They’re trying to accurately match people to work, create a forward-looking strategy to respond to industry trends and gain operational efficiencies. 

Sandra emphasizes that a skills-based organization doesn’t work if you don’t know the skills required for the work being done. So they define the things that need to be done and then look at the skills required to do them. You can look at project work, infer skills, and match people with those skills to the project. 

They have two ways of assessing skills: inferred and direct.

  • Inferred: If someone has a skill and they’ve measured it, they can guesstimate that this person has other skills. They look at someone’s resume, LinkedIn profile, project work they’ve completed, etc. 
  • Direct: They give someone tasks to complete. If they complete them correctly, they know they have that skill.

How do they apply this process to job promotions? How are they using AI to assess skills? How do they cultivate a culture of constant learning? Listen to our fascinating conversation for a more in-depth look.  

 

Connect with Sandra Loughlin, PhD

 

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