15 August 2022

To Use Skills, Organizations Need a Starting Point

Lauren Caddell
Research Analyst
Dani Johnson
Co-Founder & Principal Analyst

TL;DR

  • As part of a new study on skills, we reviewed over 30 articles, books, podcasts, and webinars
  • We identified 5 key themes and 5 intriguing articles you should explore
  • Businesses, governments, and educational institutions are all thinking about skills
  • Skills are a language that can reinvent the talent ecosystem
  • There’s limited guidance on preparing for a change to skills

What to expect

Skills are being looked at to transform the workforce. Using skills can help organizations redefine how they identify, build, and transfer talent. While the focus on skills was largely accelerated by the pandemic, it’s continued to gain legs as organizations realize how skills have the potential to turn talent practices on their head.

But many organizations are still only at the front end of this endeavor. That’s why we launched our most recent research study on skills. We wanted to know how organizations can build a foundation or people infrastructure to prepare for a change to skills.

To get a grasp on the current conversation around skills, we looked at more than 30 academic and business articles, reports, and books for this lit review. This short article will provide :

  • 5 major themes from the lit
  • 5 critical articles you should explore
  • Complete list of reviewed articles

Major themes

From this lit review, 5 major themes came up that reflect an expanded view about skills, including who’s focused on them, why organizations are using them, and where guidance might be falling short. The 5 themes are as follows:

  1. Businesses, governments, and educational institutions are all thinking about skills
  2. Skills are a language that can reinvent the talent ecosystem
  3. To create a more agile workforce, many leaders are turning to skills
  4. Organizations are using skills to address their highest priority
  5. There’s limited guidance on preparing for a change to skills

Businesses, governments, and educational institutions are all thinking about skills

From the articles we reviewed, skills are taking center stage in business, economic, social, educational, and political conversations.Government entitiesuniversities, and organizations are investing in future skills councils and bringing together skills forums to overcome global issues. Several articles mentioned that organizations can look for opportunities to expand their skills partnerships with these other types of entities to tap into the broader community focused on skills.

Skills are a language that can reinvent the talent ecosystem

While many organizations describe skills as a currency, those thinking about skills differently see them as a common language. Many organizations that view skills as a common language are focusing on ‘how’ skills can create new conversations and enable decisions through every aspect of work. The lit also described how skills, when used as a shared language, can establish widespread agreement, and transform talent management across the organization.

To create a more agile organization, many leaders are turning to skills

In the lit, many talked about using skills as a strategy to create a more agile workforce. For example, we read about organizations into positions that meet a business need. The lit also described how organizations are using skills to support more traditional processes such as . Both examples point to skills as an organizational strategy to future-proof the workforce.

Organizations are using skills to address their highest priority

Much of the lit focused on organizations using skills for specific business priorities like recruitment, learning, or retention. While many organizations have yet to create a comprehensive skills strategy, several are dipping their toes to solve pain points – . In short, these organizations are using skills where they can make the most significant and immediate impact.

There’s limited guidance on preparing for a change to skills

Given that many organizations are either just dipping their toes into their it was surprising to find limited lit outlining how organizations can prepare for using skills. Yes, there are a few articles out there on creating a skills-based organization and talent strategy, but overall, it wasn’t much and it’s not super complete. Technology, culture, data, oh my. Many organizations may still be on the beach because they may not know where to begin.

5 articles you should explore 

From the lit, we reviewed, 5 articles stood out to us. We picked these articles because they help represent the 5 themes above and contain valuable and intriguing information about skills. We learned from their perspectives and thought you might find them of similar value.

An Emerging Landscape of Skills for All

 Lynda Gratton

"Companies can play a crucial role in looking beyond their boundaries and current employees to the wider community to confront this desperate need on a global scale."

This article describes how organizations can move away from an insular approach to skills and partner with external businesses, government entities, higher education institutions, etc., to impact how skills are used across a broader landscape. Gratton explains the impetus toward more dynamic skill partnerships can work to support the long-term success of the skills agenda.

Skills: The New Workforce Operating System

Sue Cantrell, Jonathan Pearce, Michael Griffiths

"In our view, therefore, skills are not a currency for the future of work—they are a new language that creates new conversations and decisions through every dimension of talent and work." 

 It’s common to hear skills referred to as currency, but in this article by Deloitte, they insist on another perspective that frames skills as a new language that can require and enable organizations to rethink how they do everything. This piece of lit is one of few out there questioning how skills can go beyond the ‘currency’ analogy and use as a form of communication that transforms the entire ecosystem of work.

Skills-Based Hiring is on the Rise

Joseph Fuller, Christina Langer, and Matt Sigelman

“By taking a skills-based approach to the hiring process, diplomas and titles can sit alongside assessments, certifications, endorsements, and other alternative methods for determining the capability and fit of a candidate.”

Fuller, Langer, and Sigelman introduce 2 resets happening in the hire process. One is structural, the other cyclical. The authors describes both resets as opportunities to continue to use skills to de-emphasize degrees and find skilled workers.

Gaining a Skills Edge Through Agile Talent Practices

Brian Fisher et al.

“Today, companies seek to reinvent and create more flexibility in their business models (to increase their adaptability to bounce forward, not just to withstand shocks such as those brought by 2020).”

So many organizations are looking to create a more flexible and adaptable workforce; this article argues why and how enhanced business agility by using skills can be a win-win for organizations and individuals.

Navigating to a Skills-Based Approach to Talent Development

Marion Devine

“Moving to a skills-based approach depends on the interplay of three drivers: how fast skills are changing; the need for organizational agility; and the extent that work is organized into projects and tasks.”

 While there are some operational challenges to know before moving to a skills-based organization, like partnering with the business and building a skills taxonomy, there are also many benefits and ways to get started using skills, which are listed in this article.

Wrap Up

The lit landscape on skills, while dense with information on who’s using them and how they’re being used to impact agility and business needs, lacks some basic guidance on where organizations can start. Implementing skills can be a complex and windy road. And getting started can be the hardest part of it all. Based on our review of the literature, there needs to be more guidance on how to create a stable infrastructure that can support a change to skills.

Complete List of Reviewed Articles

  1. ’ This is a crisis point’: Job training deficit leaves critical jobs unfilled,” E. Mueller, Politico, 2022.
  2. A skills-based approach to hiring and developing talent,” Friedman, Forbes, 2022.
  3. An emerging landscape of skills for all,” L. Gratton, MIT Sloan Management Review, 2021.
  4. Best and next practices in competency, skills and job architecture management,” S. Karwautz et al., Mercer, 2020.
  5. Building a company skills strategy: Harder (and more important) than it looks,” J. Bersin, Josh Bersin, 2022.
  6. Creating a global skills framework,” World Economic Forum, 2022.
  7. Future of work trends 2022: A new era of humanity,” Korn Ferry, 2021
  8. Future Skills Council,” Government of Canada, 2021.
  9. Future Skills League Table 2022,” Kingston University London, 2022.
  10. Gaining a skills edge through agile talent practices,” B. Fisher et al., Mercer, 2021.
  11. Getting started with a skills-based talent strategy,” D. Green, my HR Future, 2021.
  12. Hidden talent: Where skills data falls short,” A. Dulin Salisbury, Forbes, 2022.
  13. How organizations can address the talent shortage,” J. Nixon-Saintil, Insider, 2022.
  14. How skills are driving today’s talent revolution,” P. Albinus, Human Resource Executive, 2022.
  15. Human capital at work: the value of experience,” A. Madgavkar et al., McKinsey, 2022.
  16. Looking inward and beyond the industry’s fixation with ‘skills mapping.’” M. Daniel, CLO, 2022.
  17. Navigating to a skills-based approach to talent development,” The Conference Board, 2021.
  18. Rise of the relatable organization – Global Talent Trends 2022 Study,” Mercer, 2022.
  19. Shape your future workforce with skills-based talent acquisition,” D. Love, Gartner, 2021.
  20. Shifting skills, moving targets, and remaking the workforce,” M. Sigelman et al., BCG, 2022.
  21. Skills: The new workforce operating system,” S. Cantrell, J. Pearce, and M. Griffiths, Deloitte, 2021.
  22. Skills-based frameworks fuel skills-based organizations,” M. Griffiths and I. Gantcheva, Deloitte, 2022.
  23. Skills-based hiring is on the rise,” J. Fuller, C. Langer, and M. Sigelman, Harvard Business Review, 2022.
  24. Skills-based hiring: why traditional hiring methods don’t work anymore,” M. Zavyiboroda, HR Forecast, 2022.
  25. Stop hiring for experience, start hiring for skills,” F. Di Meglio, Recruitment.com, 2021.
  26. Taking a skills-based approach to workforce planning,” D. Green, my HR Future, 2021.
  27. The secret to hiring is skills-based,” J. Shappley, Fast Company, 2022.
  28. The skills-based organization,” M. Griffiths, Deloitte, 2021.
  29. To hire and retain employees, start by revamping your systems,” M. Somers, MIT Sloan Management, 2022.
  30. White House announces over $40 Billion in American Rescue Plan Investments in our workforce,” The White House Briefing Room, 2022.
  31. Why employers in 2022 are choosing skills over roles,” P. Ord, Daily Herald, 2022.
  32. World Employment and Social Outlook: Trends 2022,” International Labour Organization, 2021
  33. You need a skills-based approach to hiring and developing talent,” R.Roslansky, Harvard Business Review, 2022.
Lauren Caddell
Research Analyst at

Lauren is a research analyst at RedThread Research. She has experience in various HR roles where she’s contributed to onboarding, performance management, and employee engagement initiatives. She's passionate about using the intersection of data and storytelling to help make organizations better. She holds an MS in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from Baker College and a BS in International Business from Northeastern University.

Dani Johnson

Dani is Co-founder and Principal Analyst for RedThread Research. She has spent the majority of her career writing about, conducting research in, and consulting on human capital practices and technology. Her ideas can be found in publications such as Wall Street Journal, CLO Magazine, HR Magazine, and Employment Relations. Dani holds an MBA and an MS and BS in Mechanical Engineering from BYU.

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