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The Power of Skills to Drive Talent Transformation

The post-pandemic economic conditions have made the job market extremely chaotic. According to Beamery data, there was a 462% yoy increase in the number of jobs posted in 2020. In the same period, the candidate pipeline grew by only 46%. In short, there aren’t enough skilled people to go around. The most competitive talent teams are getting ahead of that by figuring out how to use skills-based hiring to drive their talent transformation.

Talent teams have known this for a long time. The skills shortage isn’t new, but it is getting worse. That's due (at least in part) to the pandemic. Over the last 18 months, the labor market has seen volatility like never before. Aside from mass layoffs (the unemployment rate rose from 3.8% to 13% in just 3 months), long periods of lockdown have changed the way people think about their ways of working:

The number of full-time freelancers rose from 28% to 36%, citing flexibility and variety

26% of workers are planning to switch jobs post-COVID; of those, 80% are doing so because they’re concerned about career advancement.

What that means is that talent practitioners are no longer just competing against other businesses, but also the changed (and still changing) expectations of candidates themselves. To keep up, they need to transform the way they think about talent, and drastically.

The critical capability talent teams need is scalability. The old way of hiring – looking externally for specific job titles – is too slow and rigid to deliver that. Focusing on skills instead enables talent teams to activate talent that already exists within the organization, and to deploy it against business goals flexibly, dynamically and at speed.

 

Hiring for skills vs hiring for job titles

Talent teams have to consider a number of factors when sourcing candidates for open roles. Not only do they need to find people who can fill current gaps within budget constraints, they also need to project forward to ensure they’ll still be the right fit as business priorities evolve and grow.

For the most part, that’s guesswork. That’s because talent teams primarily think in terms of job titles – an especially inconsistent data set. The particular competencies that are attached to a job title can vary widely within businesses – let alone between them, or across industries. Take startups: a VP of marketing there is likely to have much less experience than one at an enterprise business, and a very different set of responsibilities.

Likewise, competency levels can fluctuate. Competencies are rarely binary: marketers might have a little bit of experience with Hubspot, or a lot. What one team, company or industry considers a ‘senior’ member of staff can look very different to how others define it. It’s a spectrum, and hiring on job title alone doesn’t take that nuance into account. If what’s really needed is a Hubspot pro, searching for a Senior Marketer and hoping they have the right level of experience is a dangerous way to go.

Searching for specific skills rather than job titles means talent teams can look at the market through a new lens – one that simultaneously widens their reach, and gives it more granularity.

 

How skill-based talent management improves talent mobility

But the benefits of hiring for skills goes beyond better forecasting, or more efficient processes for recruiters. It can also significantly impact employment outcomes for new and existing members of staff.

Perhaps the biggest advantage of switching to a skills focus is that it allows talent teams to look at their existing workforce in a new light. If talent practitioners know they need certain skills to fulfil a business goal or project (rather than a specific title), they can look inside the business to identify where those skills might already exist, or could quickly be developed.

That improves internal mobility for employees. When external talent pools are already so small and competitive, that’s critical. 57% of employees say it’s easier to find new jobs in different organizations than to progress internally, putting organizations at risk of churn they can ill afford. Clearly mapping the skillsets of existing staff members can open up new career paths for them, and make explicit the competency or level of competency they need to progress.

Similarly, skill mapping can help achieve better diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I). Research shows that women are much less likely to apply for senior roles (“stretch roles”) than men. Standardizing and assessing skills objectively means talent teams are able to find the most qualified candidates for the role, not just those who are most confident or best at self-promotion.

 

How AI can help talent teams switch to skills-based hiring

To hire effectively, talent teams need  to understand:

  • What skills they need to meet future business goals
  • What skills they currently do and don’t have in-house
  • Where skills are un or under-utilised
  • Which skills could be developed within the existing workforce and how
  • Which skills need to be prioritised in workforce planning.

AI can learn from large data sets of job titles and the skills listed under them to better understand how roles and competencies correlate. With that information, it can break down job specifications to find the most equitable and inclusive ways to hire, looking for the relevant skillsets in talent pools recruiters might not have thought to plumb.

AI also makes it easier for talent teams to map their internal conventions onto the wider market. Organizations can curate more data by inviting employees to self-select their skills, building up an ever-growing database from which AI can learn to translate what the organization means by ‘Senior Marketer’, and look for a match.

Critically, AI can track and respond to skills availability faster than humans. Understanding which skills are becoming more available in specific talent pools, and which are drying up, makes it easier to project how well talent teams will be able to meet hiring plans and achieve business goals.


As the talent market gets tougher, transforming hiring practices to prioritize skills rather than job titles will help organizations stay competitive. AI can help intelligently assess and find the skills needed to fulfill business objectives, improving talent mobility for both existing employees and new candidates.