It’s hard enough filling talent gaps for critical roles. Add the accelerating pace of technological and economic change to your workforce, and it becomes increasingly difficult to know what skills will be critical tomorrow.
A future-proof talent strategy needs to account for all skills — including emerging skills — essential to products, service development, and business models that are just now becoming relevant.
How Do We Plan for Emerging Skills?
Emerging skills are the skills of the future, the ones deemed most crucial to the success of your organization. They’re often technical and can arrive suddenly, so it’s hard for companies to completely understand or plan for them.
The trick to developing these skills is leaving the past in the past. The old way of filling skills gaps is rear-facing — being reactive when an emerging skill surfaces, and then scrambling for a quick fix. Creative companies are doing the opposite by proactively planning for emerging skills with a forward-looking approach, effectively closing skills gaps before they become problematic.
What we’re talking about are skills like data management, Power BI, cloud computing, and natural language processing. These skills are important today but weren’t on many radars even five years ago. As the table below suggests, demand for these skill sets has accelerated over the past year, so there are likely few veteran employees with these skills.
The risk of falling behind on emerging skills is especially serious for companies in mature industries like telecommunications, banking, manufacturing, and consumer packaged goods where disruption is especially acute when new skills surface.
That means learning and talent leaders have a new priority: making sure their organizations are fostering the appropriate emerging skills to prepare for where their markets are headed. This requires identifying and acquiring emerging skills, a two-part problem traditional talent development strategies so often fail to address.
Why We’re Struggling to Identify Emerging Skills
Emerging skills typically have one or more of the following characteristics that make them difficult to identify and place into talent pipelines:
1. They are ill-defined
One of the pain points with these skills is they’re imprecise. Facts and information about them aren’t widely available from conventional sources like classes and formal programs, which can take months, sometimes years, to put together. The information exists mainly in working documents, GitHub repositories, online forums, or in the heads of the people using the skills for the first time.
2. They are rare in new graduates
Yes, the usual starting point in the technical skills pipeline is higher education. But when it comes to emerging skills, university programs are hard to scale and slow to change. These programs have as much if not more difficulty than companies when it comes to identifying and developing emerging skills. Plus, the demand to acquire talent is often higher than universities can supply.
This leaves opportunities for non-traditional approaches to developing emerging skills. In coding, this has led to a boom in unaccredited “boot camps,” where high school and college graduates are willing to pay anywhere from $5,000 to $25,000 for courses that last between three and six months. Often a full-time commitment, these courses are becoming an alternative starting point for many entry-level jobs.
3. They aren’t centralized
A Burning Glass report found more than a quarter-million jobs in a 12-month period blending “a set of skills that typically are not taught as a package.” A data scientist, for example, has to be an analytical mathematician and a computer programmer. These hybrid jobs are becoming more prevalent. The challenge is that it takes time to build these new, cross-functional skills.
4. They evolve faster than can be taught
In the past, a career meant getting a job at a company, working your way through the ranks, and retiring after 30-some-odd years.
Work looks a little different today. Careers are longer by 30 to 40 years, tenures are shorter, and skills stay relevant for less time. Based on LinkedIn’s Workplace Learning Report, the average skill has a shelf life of five years. This especially applies to emerging skills due to their ambiguity and evolving nature.
To get ahead of these skills and develop a forward-facing strategy, there are a number of places to start. The process usually begins with some preliminary research to gather information on the crucial emerging skills at your organization. Here are a few questions and ideas to get you started:
- Ask line managers what skills they look for when hiring.
- Talk to your best performers in certain roles — what skills are important to them?
- Return to your organizational goals to identify current and future projects. What skills will be necessary to accomplish these projects?
- Are you looking for the same skills across your organization or targeting certain subgroups and growing specific skills on those teams?
- What core skills do multiple different teams share? In targeting and growing those skills, workers can work more fluidly between teams.
The examples above require a certain amount of manual labor, but doing this research often reveals crucial insights and patterns. You can automate this task and identify emerging skills in real-time by looking into upskilling solutions to track and develop your people’s skills.
To learn more about how to cultivate emerging skills at your organization, download our latest Innovator’s Guide to Emerging Skills below!