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What BBVA Learned From Skills-Based Transformation (Spark Live 2024)

A massive 84% of business leaders think talent approaches should focus on skills rather than traditional job roles. Lots of companies talk about making the move to a skills-based approach, but very few are doing it – because they don’t know how. 

A skills-based approach enhances diversity and equity (by removing educational requirements, for example); helps in addressing talent scarcity (by focusing on adjacent skills rather than specific backgrounds), and supports workforce planning (by identifying skills gaps, in line with business needs). But how do you bring it to life? 

In this Spark Live session, Kyle Lagunas from Aptitude Research and Fernando Bellon, Head of Talent Acquisition at BBVA, discussed the complexities and benefits of implementing skills-based talent strategies. What did we learn?

1. There are myriad use cases for the skills-based approach. 📚

At BBVA, the whole skills-based transformation journey began two years ago with project resourcing in IT. Their goal? Staffing “the right people for the right projects”. The technology side of the business mapped the skills of 20,000 people involved in projects at the bank – and assigned staff to projects based on the skills needed for those tasks. 

This then expanded to other parts of the business, who also wanted to get better at staffing projects. And then skills were used as the currency for other activities, including hiring, employee development, and reskilling.

Talent Acquisition was a particularly important area for using a skills-based approach, according to Fernando.  

“When I took over the Talent Acquisition side, one of the things that we really wanted to do is base our search of talent in skills. Because I was definitely, definitely sure that that was the future… skills would be the future currency of talent.” – Fernando Bellon 

2. Global companies really need to go skills-first. 🌎

“We are approaching the market, the talent market, from a global perspective. For the first time.” – Fernando Bellon

As a global bank with a diverse workforce of 120,000 employees, spread across multiple countries, BBVA faces unique challenges when it comes to managing talent. 

Luckily, according to Fernando, skills-based strategies help them hugely in unifying talent management practices globally – and he only expects that to continue. 

As well as normalized skills data, they have created a unified database for talent across all markets, with the aim to ensure they get the right person in every role – and to use their global resources more efficiently.

“We need to have this mapping of talent based on skills. So we can compare people from different countries. Internally and externally.” – Fernando Bellon 

3. It is actually fine if you have several skills taxonomies. 🤷

Well, for a minute at least.

When every team at BBVA decided to follow the IT example in adopting a skills-based approach, they wanted to build their own skills taxonomies – after all, their jobs are unique and special! 

This very complex and time-consuming exercise taught the business about the necessity of using technology to get really aligned around skills data. As Fernando says: “It's good that everybody tries to create their own taxonomy; it is going to be huge at the beginning. We’re going to find… taxonomies with 20,000 different skills for the whole bank, which is impossible to manage… But it’s the first step that probably everybody has to take in order to to take into account that, yeah, you were right. This is too much.” 


4. You do need a way to assess if skills are real. 🧐

BBVA is through the initial challenge of creating a taxonomy of skills, and on to a next one: ensuring the authenticity of self-declared skills. Individuals currently list the skills they believe they possess, without formal verification, which means their proficiency is not well understood.

The bank is beginning to enrich this information in a few ways: to infer skills based on employees’ participation in projects, and to certify these skills, especially technical (hard) skills, through assessments.

BBVA already has a robust process for evaluating soft skills, with 120,000 employees’ soft skills measured over the past five years. They plan to make skill assessment a regular part of its operations, due to the fast-evolving nature of required skills.

5. You can’t do skills-based transformation without AI. 🔑 

Given the complexity of creating a skills taxonomy from scratch, and the challenge of validating skills, it’s crucial to lean on sophisticated technology to ensure the skills-based approach can work.  

AI can help in inferring skills from other information about a person or role; in cataloging skills data; and in analyzing the data.

Moreover, it can be applied to predict skills gaps (or, where you have an abundance of a particular skill), which aids in strategic decision-making.

“AI is gonna help us very, very much to merge the hundreds of taxonomies that we are going to find in the market… Artificial intelligence is going to be critical in order to make sure that we are going to be able to understand the different set of skills that a person has.” – Fernando Bellon  

For BBVA, AI-native tools like Beamery also help in matching skills with job requirements, improving the efficiency of talent acquisition.

Fernando notes how they are now able to show managers suitable candidates instantly, as soon as the vacancy is designed, thanks to AI-powered skills matching.

TalentGPT will make it easier for recruiters to draft job descriptions, and to nurture potential candidates, saving lots of time.  

6. The skills-based approach helps HR to become strategic. 🤓

BBVA is using skills to make their talent strategies more in line with business goals, and take a more consultative and proactive approach with hiring managers. Recruiters can now act as “talent advisors”, providing insights and recommendations based on skills data.  

They also aim to get a lot better at engaging passive candidates, thanks to the comprehensive skills database they are building with Beamery, and to reduce the time it takes to find suitable profiles. 

“We want to pass from a passive attitude towards talent…. We want to look for the people into the market, because the best talent is the one who’s passive, actually.” – Fernando Bellon 

🌟 Watch this entire session on demand, and check out the rest of the Spark Live content.