Skills: What's Important Right Now

Posted on Wednesday, August 26th, 2020 at 3:40 AM    

The frenzy over “skills” (reskilling, upskilling, unskilling, skilling 2.0, etc) has recently ratcheted up from a philosophical discussion to a verifiable necessity. While many leaders thought they had time to ease into a strategy, COVID-19 and some of the other unrest the world has experienced in 2020 have left leaders scrambling to help their employees develop new skills, establish new mobility patterns, make decisions on how to rearrange departments, functions, and make tough decisions about which skills (and employees) are mission critical, and which ones are not.

We’ve been watching the skills discussion for a few years. We've had regular conversations with academia, consulting firms, and leaders of big and small companies. We’ve also listened carefully to what was being said and written on the topic, and until now, we weren’t sure that the conversation was mature enough to warrant research – they didn’t seem to matter enough. For example, prominent discussions have included:

  • Which skills will be the most prominent in 2025, 2030, or 2050. While this has been somewhat interesting (e.g., will soft skills become more important, who will lose their jobs because their jobs can be automated, etc.), it seems a bit inane to assume that all workers and all organizations will need the same skills. We believe that determining necessary skills is a do-it-yourself-job. It's contextual, and it's specific, and organizations can’t cheat off of their neighbors.
  • What we call them. Are skills the same as competencies? Are competencies the same as traits? As we have looked into this, there is obviously some overlap and there are obviously some differences. We think, however, that this conversation detracts from the bigger question of, “How do we determine what people have, need now, and need in the future, and help them develop it?”
  • Skills as discrete and finite. Most of the stuff we’ve read talks about skills as finite: what skills – individual tasks – we need employees to do. Thinking this way limits an organization in that it takes care of this point in time only, which is a hopeless process, as by the time you have determined a structure for those skills, the world has moved on. We’re more interested in how organizations are developing the right culture and systems to ensure ongoing skills development.

In the coming months, we want to add to the skills conversation in a meaningful way. Specifically, we’d like to research a few areas that leaders and practitioners will find most useful in making plans and decisions. So we’d like your opinion.

As always, we’d love your thoughts. Feel free to shoot us a note, contact us directly, or leave comments in the Feedback section to the right.

Skills, Reskilling, Upskilling – Q&A Recording

Posted on Tuesday, August 4th, 2020 at 12:00 PM    

This week’s call was all about skills, reskilling, upskilling… there are so many different terms we’ve heard about this concept. We touched on what we’ve seen in the research and in our conversations with vendors. We also discussed how COVID has affected skills learning and development.

We had a lot of questions come in and grouped them into five areas:

  • What is reskilling and why is it important?
  • What are the top skills organizations need?
  • What are the technologies and methods for reskilling?
  • How can companies track and measure skills development?
  • How skills affect diversity & inclusion?

There were so many great insights shared about this topic. Thank you to everyone who attended this live call. We had a lot of participation which we hope continues for the next call. Because this subject was received so well we plan on doing a followup Q&A in the coming months.

Video Contents & Questions Asked

You can jump to the following locations in the video using the timestamps on the video and in the chapters menu (next to the full screen icon).

  • 0:00 Introduction
  • 1:39 Overview: Lit Review & Current Trends
  • 6:46 Five Areas of Discussion
  • 7:33 Difference Between Reskilling & Upskilling
  • 9:27 How do Companies Define Skills?
  • 15:45 How are Companies Solving Skills Taxonomy?
  • 20:27 Does the Word Trait Imply Fixed Characteristics?
  • 24:32 The Top 3 Skills Companies are Trying to Develop?
  • 33:06 Compliance Learning vs. Performance Learning
  • 39:04 Methods & Technologies for Developing Skills
  • 42:40 How Successful are These Technologies?
  • 45:51 The Best Method for L&D During the Pandemic
  • 47:26 Skills as Currency Impact on Academia & Industry
  • 49:35 Baselining & Measuring Skills Development
  • 56:06 Wrap up

Q&A Call Transcript

Introduction (0:00)

We’ll go ahead and get slltarted. So for those of you that don’t know my name is Stacia Garr I’m a co founder of RedThread Research, and I’m here with Dani Johnson, my co founder. And today we’re going to be talking about all things skills, upskilling, reskilling, upskilling. Wait, no, not that last one. Maybe it is. Maybe it should be. We kind of say that a little bit tongue in cheek because we’ve actually ourselves been going through this conversation of what do we call, and where we are and where we’re trying to go with our workforces and to do it in a way that I think is respectful of our workforces and in our, in our people and where we all collectively as a society are trying to go.

So for the sake of today, we’ve proved we got a lot of questions, as Dani said, and we want to make it a dialogue. We have grouped these into five major buckets. So generally, and Dani will share, but you know, what is it and why now, top skills we hear organizations needing, tech and methodology for re-skilling, tracking and measuring, and then D&I, which you all know is near and dear to our hearts. So with that, I’m gonna go ahead and turn it over to Dani. Oh, there we go. To, to kind of share what we’ve heard so far and and to get us going.

Thanks Stacia. And can I also ask you, I no longer have access to chat or to attendees. So if I could ask you to sort of let people in as they, as they come in, that would be great. All right. So as Stacia mentioned we’ve been thinking about this for a long time and we gathered up all your questions.

Overview: Lit Review (1:39)

I wanted to throw this on the screen. This was, this is a word cloud that we put together based on the lit that was out there about four months ago. I think things have drastically changed in this space. The conversation has definitely elevated in the last four months due to COVID and some other things that are happening. But this was the word cloud from the, from the literature as of about four months ago. And I wanted to throw it up and get some opinions on what stands out to you. What’s interesting? What is sort of pedantic and not interesting? Let us know what you think about this. You can share and chat or unmute yourself and talk.

Alright, we haven’t got anything in chat yet. I don’t see any hands raised. And so maybe I’ll add something. Oh, I think Rob was going to Rob, did you have something?

I’ll just say that that doesn’t seem any different than any other day. To me, nothing startling about that. If you had shown that to me in a non COVID world, that makes sense.

What do you think has changed Rob, just because this is four months old. How do you think it’s changed with COVID? Not to put you on the spot, but I just did.

I’ll comment on that. Okay. I kind of get the impression that it’s so different across many organizations that I’m struggling to draw a conclusion as to what the patterns are yet, because it’s so varied.

I think that’s a really good observation. Chris, I’m assuming that’s Chris Pirie said maybe unemployed would be a term now. So we’re also talking about, you know, the gig economy, probably more than we ever have before. A lot of the literature talked about how in five years, the majority of employees will be gig workers or contract workers. I think that may be a little optimistic but maybe, maybe, maybe in five years, we’ll all be doing gig work. Stacia and I are doing it now. So, so we’re already drank the Koolaid on that one. Others?

I think the other funny thing I’m saying is our artificial is about as small as you can get, which maybe thought it would have been a little bigger, but then again, maybe that’s a sign of the times that the whole AI, you know, AI artificial, you know, trend isn’t isn’t as big this year. I mean, we all remember HR tech from last year where literally, I think 85 to 90% of people were doing something in AI. Not that it’s not as much anymore, but I don’t think it’s as big as a buzzword anymore.

I think you’re right. And that was one of the things, as I was sort of reviewing the literature for this call, one of the things that was really interesting to me is two years ago, when we started thinking about this, a lot of it was about technology and how technology was going to displace people and how people needed to know how to code and all of that stuff. And the conversation now has completely changed. It’s not all about critical thinking and some of the more sort of human skills that people have versus the ones that easily automate.

The most, yeah, the most conversations I have right now on skill gaps are data analysis gaps. They, they, people cannot distill look at data blankly and distill trends or, or, or even, maybe not even something less than that, they don’t even know where to go. They don’t even know where to start. They’re like, what should I look for trends? Like, you know what? They have a hard time aligning what you can get out of looking at it, whether it’s aligning to the strategy or aligning to operations or what that’s, that’s literally the same conversation I’ve had probably for four or five weeks now.

Yeah. One thing or two things. One is I’m going to ask just on housekeeping, if folks share, if you can just say your name and what your organization is just, I mean, I know Dan, I know,

I forgot it. I see a lot of familiar faces, so I just kinda started talking. My name is Dan George. I run a small boutique consulting firm called Piper Key. Obviously we do people analytics, workforce planning, HR transformation, network analysis stuff. So I see I’ve been in around this space for 15 years or so,

Right. Yeah. And then the thing I was going to build on here, here, which I think kind of underscores what you’re saying the on around AI artificial intelligence is, is automation, which is driving, you know, a fair amount of this change and focus. But it’s interesting that that kind of didn’t show up here in the word cloud. It’s also interesting how little that’s been talked about in the last four months. It’s a much, it’s a much broader discussion than it has been in the past. It used to be about the robots coming for our jobs, and now it’s much broader.

Five Areas of Discussion (6:46)

So I wanna, I wanna sort of move off this conversation a little bit and talk about Stacia mentioned these five areas of questions that were submitted for this. What is, what is re-skilling and why is it so important now. Top skills organizations need a lot of you asked about those technology and methods for re-skilling. This was another big one organizations don’t know how to start tracking and measuring skills development. I’m going to pull Stacia in a little bit here because she does a lot of the people analytics work that we do. And then how skills affect diversity and inclusion? We’ve been thinking a lot about this and talking to vendors about some of their data with respect to this as well. So Stacia is going to act as sort of the feeder of questions. Also, we’re going to prioritize questions that come up and chat. So if you have questions, drop them in and we’ll prioritize those over the ones that we have written.

What’s the Difference Between Reskilling & Upskilling (7:33)

Right. So then let’s go ahead and dive in here on what is it and why now? So the first question that we got in, I think it kind of speaks to the very short intro I did, which is what’s the difference between reskilling and upskilling? Is there even a difference?

This has been an ongoing discussion for years. We’ve heard reskiling upskilling unskilling, skilling, skilling 2.0. There are so many words. We get a lot of questions about, is a competency different than a skill and all those types of things. In a lot of organizations they are used interchangeably. So reskilling and upskilling are sort of uses the same thing, depending on which organization you’re in.

LinkedIn and their last workforce learning report actually divided them and asked two questions to their audience. They asked, you know, what are your plans for up-skilling your workers? Which is upskilling them in the jobs that they currently have and making sure that they have the skills that will be needed for those jobs in the future. And then reskilling is learning a new skill for a different job function. So in that case, most of those organizations are focusing on sort of more mobility. How can the skills in one part of the organization be used, utilized in other parts of the organization?

So I think that’s probably a pretty good answer. The difference between reskilling and upskilling is are you staying in the same job and are they expecting you to stay in the same job or are they actually looking to broaden their talent pool across the organization by helping people cross skill, which is another one we’ve heard cross skilling. Yeah.

So, so Marco in the, in the chat said reskilling, maybe as horizontal learning and upskilling as vertical development. Yeah. Yeah. I like that. That’s clear, simple, easy to understand anybody else have had something they want to add.

How Do Companies Define Skills? (9:27)

No. Okay. All right. Let’s, let’s move on to this question we received around how our companies define skills as opposed to competencies or capabilities. Cause we often sometimes hear those used interchangeably as well.

Yeah. In a lot of organizations that are trying to figure this out. So for years and years we’ve talked about competency models and capability models when competency models became passe. And now we’re talking about skills because capabilities are also becoming passe. There are all sorts of they’re, they’re different views on the same thing. We want to make sure that we have a skilled workforce or a workforce that can accomplish the business goals that we set forth. These are all words that have been used over time.

I think the difference with skills is that it’s much more granular. So in the past competencies and capabilities were sort of assigned to job roles or job levels. Whereas skills seems to be much more granular and trying to help the organization understand what capabilities or skills they have that are available across the organization and which ones they need to develop in order to get where they need to go as far as their business goals go.

I would love to hear other people’s opinions on this. I’ve never liked the term competencies or capabilities. They tend to be built around static models that didn’t don’t ever change. When we switch over to sort of a skills mindset that opens the door to much more fluid thinking in the organization, it’s not, I have the competencies to be a manager, but it’s what kind of, what kind of skills do I have and where can that take me in the organization and work in the organization, put me to make sure that they’re accomplishing medicals as well.

And even the word skill implies more growth. You can get more skilled at something, I guess you could get more competent at something, but it kind of. Competent is like bottom of the barrel. I need to make sure you’re competent. You know what I mean? It’s like, it’s such a horrifying word me. If, if we have to choose one, I like, I like skills a lot better. Yeah. What do y’all think?

Not a fan of competencies. I just feel like it’s, it’s one of those words that is, you know, either you’re competent or not. And I just think there’s such a, there’s a varying level to all that. So I try to stay away from using competencies. And just in general I, again, for me, skills is, is, is the where I try to use the most.

Hey, it’s Brad. You know, what’s interesting is for 20 years I’ve been in human capital and I always get turned around when we started talking about competencies and I, and I worked in the assessment space. And so it’s refreshing to know that other people could turn around and just not me. But recently I heard competencies is like a forward looking statement. Capabilities is a backward looking statement and skills, like you said, are more granual, right? Is that what I heard that
I haven’t, I’ve heard that capabilities have to do with your organization. A competency has to have to do with the individual.

It’s the same thing. We’re all kind of data expert kind of people here. If it’s not just defined clearly within the culture of the organization, the group or whatnot, then it doesn’t really matter what different people think about it. Because now we’re all talking about different perspectives. It’s, it’s the same thing. I just went through a couple of months ago with this one client we had, we’re looking at doing this thing. We had to define exactly what we were talking about because this group was calling this one region “The Great Lakes,” but yet they weren’t including Michigan in that region. It’s surrounded by them too. Michigan is the only state where it’s literally surrounded by more than one Great Lake. It’s actually surrounded by three, like as like, I’m not the only one in this room that’s grown up in the Midwest. The same principles, right? It’s like, if you, if you can’t define exactly what that means, then no, not everyone can have the same conversation.

I think it’s really interesting too, that this is a big discussion. Vocabulary is a huge discussion in HR and learning. We use our own vocabulary. We use our own way of talking about things that is often not relevant to the rest of the organization. And so Kate, Kate Earl had a really good point. She said more frequently. I’m hearing people use the term “ways of working” as a catch all for skills competencies, and capabilities. Ways of working is much more universal and understood by everybody rather than how we’re going to, you know, noodle over competencies versus capabilities.

Isn’t it, isn’t this, isn’t this kind of the golden question though. I mean, you talk about like skills, taxonomy competencies, you know, they’re so differently defined everywhere and it kind of becomes an ambiguous conversation because like even here in this room, we have experts and even we can’t agree on, on what exactly it means and it’s ambiguous stuff. Like what does, what does that tell us?

This is this is Chris I, and I’m new to the group. So I’m in Seattle and I don’t know what else I can tell you about myself. The interesting thing for me is where I’ve always run into problems with all of these terms, competency, skills, capabilities whatever you want to call them is they don’t mean anything until they’re given context is it’s of like the word measurement, right? It’s like, you know, an inch versus a pint versus liter. They, they, they’re sort of, it’s the word is a catchall word. And it doesn’t really mean anything until you start to define the level of granularity that you want to operate at. So you could say, you know, people skills, management skills, or you could say C-sharp skills, you know, the level of granularity goes from being, you know, something that you could teach in a nanosecond to something that might take a lifetime to develop. And so I don’t know that we can sort of create a a robust definition because it’s going to change based on the context that it’s used in and the job that it’s used for.

How are Companies Solving Skills Taxonomy? (15:45)

I think, I think you’re right, Chris. And I think this goes into the larger discussion. I know there’s a question coming up. I’m not sure when, but maybe we’ll address it right now. The, the taxonomy issue, so capabilities and competencies tends tend to have a longer shelf life, but just because they have a longer shelf life, it doesn’t mean that they stay valid longer. And so the skills, because we’re, because we’re sort of reducing them in size and scope, and it’s a little bit more tangible, lots of technologies out there, and lots of organizations are beginning to think in terms of skills, taxonomies. I think the question was how are companies solving skills taxonomy?

And we’ve seen it as we’ve talked to organizations over the last three years, that’s changed a little at the very beginning, they were talking about these massive textonomies, where we’re basically taking the idea that we have for competencies and broadening it to include every single skill that you might need for a particular job and, and how those fit in with other things. Some organizations are still doing that. But what we’re seeing more lately as an ontology and a lot of the technologies that we’re seeing are using ontologies versus taxonomies. So MC, Eightfold, Burning Last, these, these organizations are building ontologies around, you know, these relationships between skills and concepts, not necessarily trying to identify and categorize every single skill and then map it to the roles that they, they think it belongs to.

When you open it up like this, it sort of redefines what you can do with it, but it also redefines the way you work. You’re no longer talking about roles, you’re talking about groups of skills and how those groups of skills can be valuable for solving pieces of work, rather than I always say, you know, you’re, you’re building your organization so that the people can wrap around the work instead of the work wrapping around the people. In a traditional organization, you run work through the people and sort of new, newer sort of thinking organizations you’ve wrapped the people around the work that needs to get done. Any thoughts on that?

Hmm. Well, I’ve heard it before, so I’ll jump in first. While others digests, you know, I think the thing that that is potentially helpful about this is that it allows us to think about what is the work that we need to get done and what is the work that people need to do with their own skills and abilities and what is the work that maybe we can have, you know, a machine do or have a different set of people do, then we may have broken it up in a job in the past.

You know, I think that when you look at some of the research on, on, you know, the machines coming to get our jobs, and I put that in air quotes, I kind of laugh at it because I think that’s, you know, fear-mongering, but, but, you know, machines should be helping us do parts of our jobs. And so it allows us to say, okay, this is, you know, th the research says that not every job is going to get outsourced. It’s going to be, you know, 30% of or automated, excuse me, 30% of one job, 20% of another 60% of another. And being able to think about the work that needs to get done allows you to say, okay, which jobs should have the 30%. And then what are we going to fill it with? What are the unique things that a person needs to be able to do? And then that right there is the now I’m going to forget how we defined it, upskilling opportunity re-skilling opportunities. But that, that’s kind of the shift, I think. And so thinking about the work differently is the first step before we can get to our ability to really know what we need people to do and what we need them to improve their current skills around.

I’m gonna read something from Ben, Benjamin Searle. He says, “I believe that there is a misconception in the model of skills and competencies. I prefer traits to be included in a capsule that is the employee. I believe it is better to model skills as a landscape in which employees are traversing as capsules of traits and skills. Aren’t connected to neighbor, further skills, creating networks of skills. While critical thinking does not create a direction, really direct relation to other individuals.” And you can read that in the chat because I had, you know, I just screwed it up.

But I mean, I think it’s an interesting idea. First of all, the interview introduction of traits, which I’ve also heard as characteristics and are these, you know, these are, these are things like criteria, city and his curiosity, his skills, because it’s something that can be taught or is it something that can not be taught and it’s inherent to the individual. And so that sort of wraps into the larger discussion of what the heck are we even talking about here?

I’m going to mute Brad, because we don’t want him to hear about his fox.

Does the Word Trait Imply Fixed Characteristics? (20:27)

Just thinking about traits as a fixed thing. Which obviously as a learning person, I don’t like very much. Does the word trait imply fixed characteristics?

I don’t know. And, and, and what are those fixed characteristics if they are? Is curiosity fixed, is the ability to learn fixed is it, can you, I think there was a whole huge philosophical discussion that we probably don’t want to dive into in this call. But Brad or Chris, I would love to talk to you about it later, because I think it’s.

I’m thinking about tasks that have been automated right now, like complex tasks, like driving a vehicle. I wonder how engineers approach the different skills, tasks, jobs that need to be done in that context and whether there’s any useful taxonomic framework that could come out of that.

That’s a really interesting, that’s an interesting thought. It also reminds me of a quote Don Taylor out of the UK. We have that conversation every month and he says, if you can, “if you can describe what you do for a living, it can be automated.” So basically if you can make an outline of all of the things that you do, then those are the jobs that need to be worried about automation because they’re dumb work.

Yeah. That’s the same, it’s the same quote we used to use when we were implementing SAP. Like with enough time and money, you know, we can, we can do anything now. I mean, I think there’s some quantum, you know, I don’t know how many engineers that are here, but my undergrad degree was engineering. Yeah, there’s a little bit too much quantum computing, you know, for some of these things, again, I, we’ve all been impressed with the driving aspects. It’s not perfect yet, but it’s a lot better than it’s been, but then, you know, analysis and, you know, analysis of data, you know, in, in strategy and vision, these things, you know, the human brain can weigh a lot of different, a lot of different variables so much more than, than computers still can. So when we look at context of certain things, I mean, obviously we’ve all been talking about biases to that. I think quantumly, there’s still a lot you can do here, but, you know, in the sense of what can we automate that is repetitive enough that doesn’t have the downside risk of screwing up.

That’s how I kind of look at some of these things, you know, especially is one of the things I’m looking to do right now is we’re gonna start another workforce planning program here. And we’ve got about a couple thousand people that we’re going to look to do skill inferencing with and how do you, how do you do that? Like how, how can you take this large group of people and, you know, in first skills, based on their job in history and whatnot and not screw up, right? You can never, one can say, yeah, they, these people are all in accounting, so they all know accounting skills, but do they really? I mean, some of them might, you know, they all got degrees, but you know, what’s the daring level? Would you consider them competent? You know, so that, that kind of stuff like, you know, I, I tend to look at, and I kind of went off on a small tangent there, but as I looked to automate some of this stuff, I’m always looking at what are the things are transactionally repeatable with?

Yep. I think it’s that point, sorry. The point there is not necessarily that they never mess it up, but they mess it up less than the human. Right. I think that’s the difference I was looking at, you had a workforce planning software yesterday and and we were talking about how, you know, sometimes really all you need to do is just to get the information in there a lot faster than you could with a person and get, you know, your margin of error account lower than what you’d take with the person. It doesn’t have to be perfect.

What are the Top 3 Skills Companies are Trying to Develop? (24:32)

I’m going to move us on just for the sake of time, getting to some of the other questions that we got. And this is in the second bucket of questions around pop skills organizations need. So one of our favorite questions, what are the top three skills companies are trying to develop and why?

So the world economic forum has made a lot of noise with this very question that I think it’s, this is my opinion, but I think it’s kind of a ridiculous question. I’m going to give, I’m going to give you the answers that, that LinkedIn versa and world economic forum give. And then I want to have a sort of a broader discussion about it. So LinkedIn says leadership and management, creative problem solving and communication are the skills that are being focused on the most.

Right now, Mercer says the employees in their survey said innovation, complex problem solving, and interpersonal skills were the most important.

And The World Economic forum said digital literacy, the four C’s, and those are critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity, and then they brought up an interesting point that people are being multi-skilled. So they’re not just focusing on one important skill, but multiple important skills. They use the example of an electrician that is also a mechanic. So those that’s what sort of the literature says right now. I tend to think that the top three skills companies need is a completely dependent on their context and their industry and their strategy and all of that good stuff.

It’s like saying what are the top three athletes?

Right. Yeah. Depending on what you’re talking about, I can tell you that cyclists are not runners, for example. Yeah. So, so any thoughts on that? What are the top three skills? I mean, what, what are your thoughts on this? Are your organizations trying to figure out what the top three skills are and how are you doing that? Because I do think it’s a really sort of personal or interesting question for the individual company. They should be trying to figure out what skills they need to execute their business strategy, but I’m really tired of these top 10 lists of top 10 skills. I think they’re click bait more than anything with you on that.

I would agree with you on that. I think it’s more click bait than anything else. To be honest, you just need so much more context to be able to deliver value or impact.

All right. Well, I think, I think to back that up, Dan, I think one of the issues is I think about skills right now. It’s kitschy, right? People say it. And like when you’re talking in the beginning, it’s, it becomes ambiguous and it becomes click baity. And I think that that’s, that’s really what I’ve been thinking about as I, as I think about skills is what is real here? What is tangible and what is actionable?

I mentor some MBAs throughout as they kind of look for jobs and every single one of them has talked to me about, do I need to learn R and Python and all that? I was like, no, please, please don’t. If you, you, if you’re not learning it because you want to, because you find it fascinating, then you probably should try to leave it to people who really love it. And that’s, but that’s one thing they keep hearing about it. It keeps coming up in resumes, you know, where the, you know, 22nd bullet point is, you know, “preferred skillset, would love to have experience…” And then they named seven languages. It’s like, if you’ve never learned one language, then you all, you know, then you have no idea how hard it is to kind of combine these skillsets. And it’s just, it’s a impossible thing, you know?

I think that people who are posting those job descriptions, and it’s one context that skills get used in all the time, they’re using those things as a code, they’re running into the same problems that we’re having in defining these words in a meaningful, useful way. And they’re using, you know, something like facility with the programming language as a kind of code for somebody, the kind of person who would be interested in that and who would have facility with it and who, you know would have invested the time to sort of do it. So I think I definitely get your point.

I read something recently about somebody who’d been asked to have five years experience in a coding language that he himself had invented just two years ago. I love that line. I saw that one last week that was sort of made me chuckle. I think people would just, they’re trying to solve the problem that we’re all trying to solve and that as, how can I, what is a code word I can use to identify people that I think will be, you know, have a likelihood of being successful with the kind of work I need them to do.

So again, it goes back to communication and how we communicate, what the skills are that we actually need, and the value to Christie’s point in the chat, to the value that, that actually come with them. Yeah.

That makes your taxonomy point, right? It’s somehow it’s gotta be, you know, limited to something that, that makes the most sense. We run into problems where we’re talking about kind of cross, cross skilling, you know, electricians and mechanical engineers. Michael Arena’s book and the GM stuff where they talked about how ergonomics and steering and the dashboard, you know, there’s three separate groups that never talked to each other. And then they facilitated something, you know, a meeting and innovation went on, I think the new Ford Explorer or something like that. And they were able to actually make a screen where the, the person’s arm could actually rest on something and touch the buttons. And they’d never had these conversations before. \.

Again, it’s like, how do you, again, everyone’s in their bucket, but now they’re still facilitating the type of innovation that needs to happen, but only through kind of these channels. And it’s not something where everyone has to have all these different skills, because I think the other biggest thing about people, analytics leaders that I keep planning, you know, in some of these organizations, is that they list everything from strategic C-suite, you know, presenter all the way down to can code and, you know, you know, everything and, and, and, and knows, Oh, and it has an advanced degree in statistics. And it’s just like, well, one person can do all that. Like, they’d never get anything done. But they don’t. That’s where we don’t understand that. And having a taxonomy essentially by job or by level is where you start to get the value out of, okay, you got a bucket, this stuff, and kind of silo a little bit of it, but know, that’s the art side of this kind of comes in. And that’s what I’ve been kind of explaining what most of my clients right now is they kind of look at that because that’s with IT where it is right now, they keep going back to this massive three-page job description.

Yeah. Yeah. Because she worked at Ford for a number of years. I was an engineer at Ford for a while. So I know what those cyber meetings feel like.

This is Brian Richardson via Richardson Consulting Group. Although Dani, the ones you mentioned are kind of timeless, very durable skills, innovation, creative thinking, problem solving. I mean, these are things that do not go in and out of fashion. And then the ones that some other and Chris were talking about, some of those tactical skills, I mean, the half-life on those is probably five years. I mean, if you’re really good at R today in five years are going to be, need to be really good at something else that’s, that’s replaced it. And so I think when we think about skills, thinking about those, like where do we focus everyone in an organization, which is on that durable tier, and then there’s a specialized to your that’s on those things that we need today that are much more dynamic in terms of, in terms of demand and supply.

I think that’s a, I think that’s an interesting point Brian. Kind of, kind of with those Krishna mentioned was the ability to learn part of the list because in order to move forward, we need to have the willingness and ability to continuously learn. This is an ongoing conversation, especially with L and D people who love learning agility ability to learn learning agility, curiosity, which is my preferred term. All of those things are they fall in the same bucket, but they didn’t show up on any of the lists.

Differentiating Compliance Learning and Performance Support Learning (33:06)

Okay. Let’s move on. Yeah. Some new questions. So let’s go to third bucket technology and methods. Do we see organizations differentiating between compliance learning, and performance support learning and moving them into systems best are better suited for those needs in the good companies?

Yes. So we’re still talking to a lot of organizations that sort of leap or put all learning into the same bucket. You know, safety is as important as critical thinking for example, and don’t get me wrong. I use the wrong example. Safety is a very, very important, but they sort of treat them the same. However, in recent years we’ve seen some really interesting things where they’re splitting compliance, training out completely. In one organization, we talked to, we even saw them divide the technology that was used and the organization that they reported up through. So in this one organization, which I just love this story, they took all the complaints training and they sent it up through OGC the legal area of the organization, because they were the ones that needed to make sure that it happened. They put it on a different system, they communicated about it differently, all that good stuff. And then the other stuff, they made much more exploratory and fun and interesting to people who are trying to build their careers. So they’re just completely separated. I’m hoping that’s a trend. I tell every company I can about that because I think it’s, I think it’s important to separate those things we need to do for compliance, for compliance, from the growth that is going to help us sort of move on in our careers.

It’s James from policy, aside from the learning effect in the UK. I think they complete two completely different things. Cause depending what industry you’re in compliance either means nothing or something, because most people it’s a tick box and it’s just moving legal liability to the employee rather than actually complying. You know, what we’ve seen in the UK with the response to COVID just shows to me that compliance learning doesn’t matter because still in the supermarkets, no one follows the arrows. No one goes there. So everyone knows that performance support is there. There’s someone in the supermarkets, having you, which way to walk down. It’s still people walk the wrong way down the arrows in the supermarket at the higher pandemic. So, you know, it’s all to me about it that is not learning.

Compliance then, in lots of places is not, then it’s a tick box to be able to move liability. And until we accept that and learning and say, it is just a tech box and learning is something different and learning is aligned to performance. And just came back to the last conversation where you’re talking about skills and trying to define everything down. I think sometimes people feel far more comfortable defining something ambiguous down to we’ve got a list of skills that three pages long when they probably got not clear as to what the real things that are going to make a difference in changing performance. But as long as they’ve got a list and a job description, the recruiter can recruit against it. You can push out some learning against it, but are you really looking at what transformation will be needed in the organization? And some of those longer skills don’t leadership. Is leadership before COVID and leadership now where you’re leading a remote team the same thing? But we probably still got the same bucket. So I think there’s lots of ambiguity in different things going on around that.

I think so too. I think you said something really interesting. I think they should be separate. And we actually had a conversation with a couple of organizations where they’re thinking about compliance in terms of a system. So they’re not just training people on what they should do, but they’re actually fixing the system. So it wouldn’t work. So using your, your, your store example, which I worked on the wrong aisles all the time, I admit it. I do not pay attention to the stickers on the floor. But if you had, if you were like Ikea basically wove people through every single part of the store in a way that’s very hard to sort of get out of that system. A lot of compliance is taken care of. So instead of relying on the people, we rely on the system in order to put it in place. Another thing that I’ve heard is make compliance as compliance training. People keep on trying to make it engaging who the hell cares? Make it as simple and as easy and as short as possible, get it done, get your compliance done, hold people accountable for being compliant at the end.

It’s a good, it’s a good candidate for adaptive learning in that. I know some organizations apply adaptive learning in that case. I don’t agree.

You want to explain what that is? Not, everybody’s a learning person on this call. Okay.

So you know, there are basically some systems that assess your, as you consuming content, they’re constantly assessing….

Okay. Chris, your, your microphone went rogue there for a second.


Chris I just muted it here cause it’s still going rough. So…

I think, I know he’s saying if you want me to finish the thought.

Yeah. You can.

So there’s, there’s companies out there and I’ve looked at a few of them that will kind of assess where you’re at. And you know, based upon how much knowledge you have, it alters the learning that it feeds back to you. So you’re not rehashing things you already know, but you’re getting to the things you don’t know yet, or you seem to not display, you know, competence in yet. So that’s where I thought it was going.

Yeah, I think that’s correct. Area 9 is the one that comes to my head first, Dan they’re doing some interesting things there. If you want an introduction, either Chris or I could introduce you to people there.

Methods and Technologies for Developing Skills (39:04)

All right, let’s keep, let’s keep going on on some of these questions. I’m going to combine two Dani which are what are popular methods for developing skills and what technologies are available? Cause I think we’re kind of going into that.

So probably on our methods we’ve seen, we’ve seen people sort of address this in a lot of different ways. Some things that have come up recently are apprenticeships. They’re sort of in a return to apprenticeships, pre employee training. So a lot of organizations are offering training to provide a bigger pool from which to draw. Rackspace comes to mind their high school completion. So some of the organizations that are offering high school completion to frontline workers, which helps them sort of develop the skills certifications. And with that, this idea of stacked credentials. So we’re not just sending somebody to a four year university to get a four year degree, but we’re sort of dividing that up into little pieces that can sort of represent skills. And then at the end of that little piece, they have a credential that says they can code in R or they can work HubSpot or whatever.

We’re also seeing a lot of peer taught courses, which I think is, is kind of remarkable. We’re seeing more people teaching people and we have the technology to do that much better. Now there’s a different take on failure and a lot of organizations. So they’re, they’re using a lot more experimentation to develop some of those skills and a direct feedback to help develop those skills.

And then the last one is sort of an open development rather than a structured development. So think about exploratory learning for the learning geeks out there versus more of a structured curriculum. All of those are sort of more popular methods lately for developing skills. And as far as technology goes, I think it turned, it divides into two bits. The first one is technology used to actually develop the skill. And then the technology used to track the skills. I think they’re equally as important. Track and identify the skills once we’ve heard about it a lot lately is Workday. They launched their skills cloud. We don’t know how we don’t know how that’s working yet, but they do have a skills cloud out there that takes sort of ambient data and helps you understand what skills are in the organization.

Degreed has been on the skills kick forever. They take information from several areas. They take it from Workday and, you know, Eightfold and Pluralsight and all these different areas and sort of bring it in to give you an idea personally, of what your skills are as well as know the, the supply side of all the skills that you have a fold. I know Brad’s here. We, we like, we like Eightfold, they’re using an ontology and they’re helping you identify the skills that you say you have, as well as the tangential skills that you probably have it, you don’t recognize as a skill. And they’re doing some really interesting work in helping people that have been out of work because of the COVID thing, as well as veterans sort of identify what those are. MC uses an ontology. They’ve got an interesting site. You should check them out.

I talked to a company called Mighty yesterday. It’s tiny, less than 20 people, I think, but they sit on top of a work software. So they sit on top of like your JIRA, your Asanas, your project management software. And they’re able to sort of glean from what you’re doing, what skills you have and then help the organization understand how those skills are sort of contributing to the major goals. It’s a really interesting software. You should check it out. If you get a chance. Then Cultivate is another one where it sits on top of emails and helps you understand the skills you have in the skills that you’re developing as it sort of coaches you to be a better manager. So those are some of the technologies I can go into. Any of those, feel free to shoot me an email and I’ll wax on for days.

How Successful are These Technologies? (42:40)

If you were to aggregate kind of your general consensus of the success of some of these technologies to actually do what they’re saying and get it right. Let me try to preface this in two sections. One, I think as it is directed toward IT, and then kind of towards like the rest of the operation, like any sense on kind of how successful…

I think they’re getting there. I mean, a lot of them are using things like AI and natural language processing and sentiment analysis to get what they’re to do, what they’re doing. And a lot of them are sort of backing that up with lots of verification, but they’re getting there. I would say probably 65 to 70%. I think some of them are further ahead. I think Degreed has probably a head just because they’ve been thinking about this for 10 years and they have data from everything. Some of these other ones Mighty is new Workday just barely got into this game. So I, I’m not entirely sure, but I think 65 to 70%, they can do what they say they can do. And right now anything is better than nothing because one of the only the biggest challenge when it comes to skills that organizations have is they don’t have any idea what skills they have in the organization.

That, that statement right there.

I would add in terms of ones I think are getting reasonably doing pretty well. And see, you know, MC has been doing this for 20 some odd years. I’d also add an Eightfold, which has not been doing this for 20 some odd years, they’re only what, three years old. But I think that the tech that they bring, they’re got to Google founders the kind of perspective and approach they bring us is different than what we’ve seen in the rest of the industry. And so I think that that’s given them a leg up on some of the other approaches. Yeah.

Just to add to that point on Eightfold. The other thing that hasn’t been mentioned yet is they ingest external data. So they pull from like LinkedIn, other external sources in addition to the internal data sets. And there’s, there’s quite a lot of data there, like kind of, yeah, this is credits.

I think, I think one of the kind of game changing things here is just the amount of data that we now have and the size of the datasets, whether it’s about things, people are learning on MOOCs or whether it’s about, you know, the digital exhaust from productivity systems in an organization, you know, there is incredible wealth of stuff. And I see all these companies is running really interesting experiments not producing, you know, kind of rock, solid guidance and results yet, but moving in that direction.

I also think Chris, like, I think he brought up an interesting point. They’re ingesting a lot of data, but they’re also re-ingesting that data to make their tools better and more, more relevant, you know? So, so I ingest this data about what skills this person has and then I can, I can help them develop those skills by feeding them certain information or feeding them data about how they’re performing so that they can better those things. And that’s where I see the real sort of power of these kinds of tools. It’s not, it’s not just reports on what skills you have in the organization. It’s actually feeding that data back into themselves to make the individual, to give that individual the information they need in order to move forward.

Types of Learning and the Best Method During the Pandemic (45:51)

I realized that we’re five minutes over what we planned. We’re going to go to the hour. So, you know, stay on as long as you want. I want to make sure we get as many questions answered as possible. Lauren Randall said, do you think organizations are dumping various types of learning on employees during the pandemic? What do you think is the best media method for providing L and D during the pandemic?

Yes, I think they are. I think an interesting thing happened when the pandemic hit everybody regressed ten years. So moving toward these skills, you know, there’s different ways of skills, development and conversations and feedback and all that. And then the pandemic hit and everybody’s started worrying about an LMS and how they’re going to get their training online. I think those were valid concerns in some instances, but I think we have the opportunity right now to completely change the way that we do things. It’s not all about education. It’s about experiences. It’s about exposure to different people. It’s about learning from each other. And I think we need to leverage those as much as we possibly can.

There’s a common phrase in take out the trash Friday. So you throw everything at something when something bad is happening, you take it out. Cause there’s only so many column inches to print it and sort of the same thing here, like the world is in chaos. And so let’s take advantage of that chaos and change the things that aren’t working, get rid of the things that aren’t working and really streamline and make it valuable to the individual onto the organization.

Crisis is a terrible thing to waste.

Yes, it is. It kind of is. Yeah. Way to look on the bright side Chris.

How will Skills as Currency Impact Academia and Industry? (47:26)

Okay. One final question here in this tech and methodology section for reskilling: how will skills as currency impact academia and industry in the year to come?

I was kind of hoping we wouldn’t get to this question, but now that we’re here I think it’s gonna, I think it’s gonna happen a lot. We’re already seeing organizations partner a lot more with academia. We’re also seeing academia change the way they do things. So ASU and some of those others are at the forefront of, of sort of the online movement, but also the reskilling movement. So credential stacking is becoming a thing. They’re dividing semester long courses into chunks that people can do a little bit at a time and get credentials as they go. So it’s not an all or nothing thing. It’s a bit by bit thing, which I think is really important.
A degree doesn’t really tell you what somebody knows. It tells you how much they spend on their education. With this credential, stacking, this credentials, stacking, and portfolios. We’re seeing a lot more portfolios and things like that really give a sense for what that person can do and gives them an opportunity to sort of market themselves in a completely different way. We’re also seeing some things that scare us a little bit. ISAs, I don’t want to go too far into that, but it’s basically a way that organizations are using to upskill individuals. There’s a third party comes in and basically says, Hey, I’ll pay for your education. If the organization sort of gives them time to do it. And then at the end of that, the ISA or the agreement is that the individual give part of their salary back until something is paid off. In theory, in a perfect world where everyone is upstanding and ethical, I think this is a marvelous idea. That is not necessarily true. And we can see this being used for evil intent kind of like bundling them in selling like the mortgages. What happened with the mortgages took a lot of people out. It seemed like a good deal at the beginning and ended up taking people out. So I actually think re-skilling should be a joint effort and a joint expense between the individual and the organization. I don’t think it’s one or the other.

How are Companies Baselining & Measuring Skills Development? (49:35)

Okay. I’m going to keep us moving just because we’ve got three more questions and seven minutes, six minutes. Alright. Tracking and measuring skill development. So how do we see companies baselining and measuring skills development? I know we’ve touched on this a little bit, but do you want to share what you’ve seen? And then I think we’ve got a number of people here on the call who are working in this area. So maybe we open it up, especially to them.

Yeah. The short answer is they’re not. Many organizations are just sort of at the very beginning of this. They don’t know what skills they have. They don’t understand the skills that they need in the future, which is why I think these top skills where the future things that are such big clickbait, because you need to be ready, but they don’t know exactly where to go. We are seeing organizations like Eighfold, like MC, like Degreed, like Workday sort of help, start to help quantify some of that stuff. But if we’re at the very, very beginning of it, I would say the last six months to a year, it is kind of the first time we’ve been talking about quantifying skills and figuring out what you have. Yeah.

How about others? What are you seeing? So it sounds like nothing.

Can, can you repeat the context of that question? I was thinking about what Dani was saying. Yeah. Just what are, what are you seeing in terms of organizations actually baselining and measuring skills and skills development?

This is Brian. What I can tell you is I’ve seen for many years bigger companies do self assessments. Some of them do 180s and 360s against either homegrown or bought skills taxonomies. A lot of those systems choke for a couple of reasons. One is the taxonomies get out of date very quickly and are difficult to maintain. The second thing is the quality of that data is spotty at best.

Yeah. I like that point, Brian. And it’s completely dependent on the individuals to input that information. A lot of times it’s just used for the organization. It doesn’t do the individual. And again, so there’s not a lot of motivation to go in and have that information. So we’ve seen a lot of organizations sort of choke that way. They haven’t made it a big enough sort of get for the individual it’s all for the organization. And there’s no motivation to do it.

I mean, I think at Microsoft, we had so many of these initiatives, all of which choked. That’s a great word because, because of complexity, you know. One example I can remember is we pulled together all the documents around a particular job. And then there was a very sophisticated job role taxonomy there. And there were literally 250 listed skills that we asked somebody in a particular role to be able to do. And it’s just, you know, it’s, it’s just debilitating and demoralizing to throw that at somebody. So I think that’s, I think that’s tough, but there’s many attempts to try it. And in a way, the most successful program, went the complete other way. Which said, instead of me giving you a lot of granularity around what I expect you to do you know, let’s look at mindsets and let’s look at sort of broad attitudinal things and spend our time trying to develop those rather than lots and lots of, you know. We’ll trust you to invest in the very technical, specific skills that you need for your job. And we will help you with the broader culture around supporting learning.

That’s interesting. I think Brian is the one made that point earlier. That’s what he’s saying, sort of the broader skills are the responsibility of the organization, but the sort of technical sort of tactical skills are the responsibility of the individual to develop.

Yes. And companies like Pluralsight that I think do a very good job of codifying and serving up learning around a very specific set of skills. You know, individuals love that because it’s very easy to engage with and it’s very helpful.

And it’s very easy to show that you, you have that sort of credential or credibility.

Yeah. This is Max Blumberg from the UK. We’ve had quite a bit of success using a technique called repertory grid, which we’ve used at Microsoft. For identifying, cause as you say, you can end up with a list of, you know, 300 or 400 ridiculous skills. But what it does do is it allows you to prioritize the top five or six. And if you go with burrito, you’ll offer an end up with those covering 80% of the performance in the job. And it’s quite an old technique. I don’t know how many people would still know it, but a lot of the large con human capital consultancies still use it to create competency frameworks.

Jackie Clark, I’m an independent consultant in Canada. In terms of learning strategy and instructional design, and just speaking anecdotally, formerly I was a manager of an instructional design team. And even within our own expertise, the confusion or lack of clarity on a person’s self assessment on their skills, let alone my manager assessment of their skills from my own team and others abroad. I think it’s a really difficult task to measure your skills even in your own area of expertise, let alone somebody else’s. So asking people to identify it and putting it into the system, whether it’s themselves or the manager is really subjective and may not be as easy as one would hope that it is. So even if you did get them to input it, it may not be accurate.

Yeah. I think, I think that’s a really interesting point to Jackie and a lot of these new technologies are trying to solve for that. Mighty is the one that comes to mind probably because I breached them yesterday, but they’re trying to quantify the work and saying, say, you know, these are the skills. Would you work with this person on this skill in the future? Which gives them a much better sense of, you know, that skill in the context of work versus that skill in a list of, of other skills. I think it’s a really good point.

Wrap Up (56:06)

We were at 10 o’clock where we have to stop. I think this is probably a topic that we need to revisit in a future Q & A. Probably not too, not too far in the future. We’ll be doing some research on this in the next quarter and putting things out. So look for those. And then again, like, please feel free to contact us if you have any questions about anything that we said, have a great story, want to write something for us, all of those things we would, we would be thrilled to sort of incorporate into this larger discussion. And thank you so much for your participation and for joining today. And if you have any feedback for us on this, this is only our second one. So we’d love to hear what you thought, what were, what, what might be improved. We would really appreciate it. Alright, thank you all. Thanks.

Skilling: Skills Collective Summary

Posted on Friday, August 9th, 2019 at 9:21 PM    

We just had a wonderful preliminary meeting with members who will be joining us in Washington D.C. for our collectives on Building Skills for the Near Future. In all, around 40 leaders joined and participated in an open exchange of ideas.

Below is the mind map of that discussion. Click in the box to explore! As always, we'd love your comments or thoughts!


RedThread Research is an active HRCI provider