Skills Part 1 – The need for new abilities and personalisation

Building the foundation for a learning organization – Part 2

The halving rate for many competencies is now down in a few years. This means that we need to understand more quickly what new skills to develop and recommend relevant development for our employees.

Work with competences has historically been something that has taken a lot of resources and returned relatively little. Today, however, things look different.

With “Skill Tech”, large parts of the work are automated while making the result more relevant. All in all, the increased need and the reduced manual effort make working with competences a critical activity.

In the article, I describe WHY it is important to start working with competences. How it is the prerequisite for “up- and reskilling”, a more targeted learning, but also something that is needed in all HR processes, from recruitment to succession.

With “Skills Tech”, we use AI to build skills profiles for increasingly changing jobs. We then use the technology to create individual-based recommendations for courses, informal content, mentors, jobs and gigs.

A balanced profile consists of both functional competencies and personal competencies (softskill). In the article I describe how competences, skills, knowledge, basic qualities and fabilities are interrelated and contribute to achievements at work.

Skills belong to the foundation of a learning organization.

Skills are part of the foundation needed to build a learning organization. In a series of articles, I describe the basics that need to be in place to move towards a more individual and continuous learning at work.

In my latest article “Building the foundation for a learning organization – part 1“, I described best-practice for the organization of learning, how it is increasingly owned by the business. Organizing responsibility for learning is an important building block to enable the construction of a learning organization. The main building blocks are:

  • Organization – Distribution of responsibilities between the business and L&D, the establishment of new roles within L&D.
  • Skills– Ability to tailor solutions to different roles and competences.
  • Digital learning – Ability to use digital formats for learning on a larger scale, for example eLearning, video, virtual classrooms
  • Motivation – Leaders who embrace the value of learning and motivate employees to learn.
  • Learning Transfer – Ability to create solutions that contribute to increased performance.
  • Processes and tools – Development process, tools and support for developing solutions.
  • Learning platform – A learning platform that allows for modern and targeted learning.

In two articles, I will go into the need to work with competencies. In this article, the focus will be on WHY and WHAT. In the next article, I then describe HOW we work with competences, to create a common framework, work with competence libraries and so-called Skill-Clouds, how we organize responsibility with competences and finally how competence profiles are developed.

We have an increasing need to work with competences

Why then does the need to work with competences increase? (WARNING! I will switch between terms in this article).

It may be obvious, but the reason is of course the rapid pace of change. According to the World Economic Forum, the halving rate of competencies is now down for 5 years and according to IBM/PwC 2.5 years for many technical competencies.

We therefore need to put a lot of effort into developing new skills. Every year there are many new skills to learn.

As an example, those of us who work in L&D in recent years have learned about LXP, curation, kontinuerligt lärande, performance support (Digital Adoption Platforms), Learnability, Design Thinking, microlearning, digital ecosystems for learning and much more. We are increasingly working with the business and driving change and culture. There are many new skills in a short period of time.

Much of the changed competence needs we can keep track of as employees ourselves. Other things are more difficult. I worked with a bank that automated 40% of the work in the offices. This meant completely new tasks and competences for bank officials. Something that was more difficult to predict in the existing work or ask colleagues about.

Working with competences is therefore important for both the employee and the organization. We all need to help each other to understand what the new skills are.

Many people have bad experiences working with competences

Many companies have started with competence surveys and then closed down the initiatives. It is not uncommon for comments such as:

  • “HR skills that have nothing to do with the business”.
  • “It’s too detailed and takes too long to work with.”
  • “Quickly becomes outdated and costs too much time to update”.
  • “There is no link between the skills gap we have found and useful training courses”.

I think you can add several reasons yourself.

Is that reason enough not to do skills management? It costs too much and tastes too little.

I would say that the balance has changed in recent years. On the one hand, the need to understand competence needs and support employees has increased sharply in recent years. On the one hand, the “cost” of doing skills management has decreased.

Welcome to Skill-Tech

Josh Bersin often talks about “Skill Tech“, i.e. technology for managing skills, or competences.

So what does this technique mean? Let’s start with what it means for the user.

We are becoming more and more accustomed to receiving recommendations on content. Few organizations get by with proprietary content and ready-made job tracks as progress accelerates. We make use of the explosive development of online course libraries. Today, there are hundreds of thousands of high-quality courses on LinkedIn Learning, Coursera, Pluralsight, OpenSesame, etc.m.

We are also increasingly dependent on a large flow of articles, videos, reports and other content. That’s how we keep up to date. The problem is that there is too much information. How are we going to find the right information? Today, we spend 20% of our time finding knowledge in this flow. This is where technology comes in. A Learning eXperience Platform (LXP) uses AI to recommend exactly what I want.

In particular, they use skills to create the recommendations. In the picture below I get recommendations for the skills I want to develop.

It’s not just courses or information that are recommended. Seeing possibilities for development in an organization is today one of the most important factors for an employee. In modern systems, I now get suggestions for jobs, roles, gigs that I could be interested in based on my current skills and those I want to develop. I even get recommendation on mentors who can help me.

Skills have a central place in giving me personal recommendations. But what about the cost? The experience is that skills are far too cumbersome to maintain and too inflexible for the user.

Here, too, a lot has happened. Perhaps the biggest innovation is so-called “skill clouds”. One example is Cornerstone’s Skill-Graph, which contains 50,000 skills identified from a number of frameworks and analysis of millions of job postings. The platform thus has good knowledge when it suggests competences that may be relevant to me.

The image shows which skills could be relevant to the job “Senior technical support engineer” with higher scores for the skills that are most relevant.

There is more to be said about the support for working with skills. The important thing right now is that the need has increased sharply and that the technology now makes it easier for both users and administrators to work with skills.

The use of skills in an organization

For what purposes do we use competences in an organization? The aim is not just to map out what competences exist in an organization or what the gaps are.

Competences are used in all HR (talent) processes. From recruitment to succession.

  • Recruitment – We use success profiles to clarify the requirements for jobs and roles and to ask competence-based questions in interviews. Many companies such as Google, has now completely switched to recruiting on actual skills instead of for example Degrees.
  • Development (performance) – The development discussions revolve around competences required for the role in the near future, where the gaps are and how the competences can be developed.
  • Learning – As I described above, competencies are used to recommend development activities.
  • Compensation – Many organizations use training and skills as salary criteria.
  • Career and succession – Employees look for roles and possibilities in the organization and get help with the skills they need to develop. Conversely, the system recommends roles that could interest the employee or suggest employees who could fit a particular role.
  • Resource planning – For new projects or a reorganization, it is easy to search for employees who have certain competencies and could fit.

Working with competencies has a major impact on the development of learning activities. The first is the effect of education. My view is that today they often have the goal of communicate a certain content. The effect is hardly measured, if the participant remembered the content, or worse, only participated. Shifting focus to competencies means focusing on behaviors, which in turn are derived from a result. We are now developing training courses to ensure a behavior and not to communicate content.

As I described in my previous article, the product training for salespeople at Ericsson went from 18 days to 3 days. It was because the content was divided into the skills different roles needed. If a long product training of say 3 days is given up per role, we will see that, for example the service technician needs 10 hours, the seller 4 hours, the marketer 2 hours. We can be more surgical and goal-oriented in training. It saves a lot of time and money.

Finally, competencies are fuel for all modern platforms that offer individualized content. An LXP can’t recommend content well if it doesn’t know what competencies you need to develop. Modern LMS, LXP, Talent Marketplaces etc. are now driven by competencies to provide an individualized experience.

We need "T-shaped" competence profiles

The next question is what competencies we need. Today we talk about the need for both functional competencies, being an expert, and personal competencies (softskill) e.g. relationship building, communication, creativity, etc.

Historically, I have experienced a difference between the business that has often made long lists of technical or functional competences and HR that has only talked about softskill or leadership skills.

We need both, a profile that is “T-shaped”.

This means having expertise in one (preferably several) areas, but at the same time having a broad base. You can no longer just be a generalist or a specialist. Examples are engineering technicians at Scania, or bank officials who previously could only be specialists, but who now need to be able to sell, build relationships, communicate and perhaps use advanced computer technology.

Often we talk about so-called Power skills, which are general competences that make it possible to take on an unknown and fast-moving world (VUCA). The list shows the skills that the World Economic Forum in its research ranks as the most important skills of the future.

Note that “Active learning” comes in second place and that the composition of competencies makes me ready to explore and take on new challenges. You may notice how few technical/functional competencies are on the list. This is partly because these are very general competencies that are shared by most people, while technical competencies naturally become more specific to certain roles. These competences are also the prerequisite for wanting and having the ability to learn new technical/functional competences with significantly shorter lifespans.

Competence, ability, skill, knowledge, quality - what do we really mean?

There are many concepts of competence that I suggest in the title. There are also no clear definitions. Take, for example the word “skills” is now often used for all types of skills, whereas from the beginning it was the name for “skill”. Josh Bersin often talks about Capabilites, i.e. directly translated ability, but what he describes is actually competences.

I was going to sort out the concepts by using McLelland’s definition of competence. He was the first to coin the term in the 1950s. The definition is also an ISO definition and is used by The World Economic Forum. Nevertheless, the definitions often vary, so it is important that you create a consensus in your own organization.

I myself usually use McLelland’s illustration of competence as an iceberg when explaining the concepts.

Let’s start with what’s above the surface. What we can observe in an employee is BEHAVIOR. Depending on how they are carried out and in what context they lead to PERFORMANCE, e.g. profitable sales, which in turn lead to results. McLelland believes then that competence is what is beneath the surface and what shapes our behavior. He (and ISO) define a competency as:

“The demonstrated ability to apply knowledge and skills to achieve a result (at work).”

It is thus partly a summary of several other knowledge, skills and capabilities and partly closely linked to what we do in the work. Competencies are therefore usually expressed as “responsibility” in work, e.g. advice, exploration or budgeting. They are closely linked to roles and the current situation. Common concepts of competence in this sense are professional or functional competencies. We usually develop professional competencies through experience at work.

One level down in the picture we find knowledge and skills. They are general building blocks and what large “skills-cloud” or competence libraries contain. It can be technical knowledge such as programming and financial analysis or interpersonal skills such as communication and relationship building. “Skills” are general between many organizations. Therefore, they can be recommended by AI platforms. They are also well matched by the educational material available in the major course libraries such as Coursera, LinkedIn, Udemy and others.

The types of competences I have talked about so far, we can develop, e.g. through education or experience. At the bottom we find skills that are difficult to develop, or even innate qualities. Obvious examples are, of course, qualities such as accuracy, honesty, curiosity, etc. Here I would also like to add “power skills”, i.e. the basic competences that allow us to act in a VUCA world. such as critical thinking, flexibility, curiosity and problem solving. They are of course developmental, even though it is more difficult.

Next week's episode - how to get the work on skills to function

I have now described why we need to work with skills and sorted out the concept of competence. In the next article, I describe best-practice for how we work with competencies:

  • The need for a competence framework.
  • Use of competence libraries.
  • How a skill-cloud works.
  • Who develops skills and roles?
  • How do we develop competences and competence profiles?

Webinar January 27

Are you working, or are you about to start working with skills/ competences? Then you can discuss these issues with many others. On January 27, I will conduct a free webinar between 12.30 and 14 – “Future-proof and personalize with skills”

Read more or sign up directly below:

Jag heter Johan Skoglöf. På min blogg analyserar och beskriver jag nyheter och företeelser runt lärande organisationer.


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