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Keep Calm and Follow the Data: Search results show what employees value in times of uncertainty

If you are like me, you have an inbox filled with articles like, “What to Do in Times of Crises,” “Business Continuity Plans,” and “Free Content Offerings.” Businesses everywhere are responding to this new reality we’ve all found ourselves in. Even here at Degreed, we’ve put out a few of our favorite tips for transitioning to a virtual learning program and a Kids’ Activity Book to keep parents sane. 

But beyond our initial response to the surge of remote work, we started wondering if our own search data from millions of users around the world could tell us what employees are really looking for now—and how we could appropriately support them and their companies. What did we learn? Looking at the data tells a different story than the headlines.

Some of it is what you would expect. There is a significant increase in searches related to working remotely and remote work tools, such as MS Teams, Zoom, and Webex. People are also engaging with the Pathways quickly created by their companies in response to the pandemic. (For more on what some of our most innovative clients have been doing, check out our new series, Navigating the New Normal.)

What goes up must come down.

However, when we looked at not just percentage increase but also at the overall search volume, we saw a distinct group of skills with a sharp search increase while others were significantly decreasing. *For more details on how we conducted this analysis, see the section at the bottom of this page.    

Ultimately, we saw an increase in searches for Microsoft Excel, Leadership, and Communication (up 4%, 5%, and 15% respectively) and even sharper decreases in searches for Python, Java (down 20% and 27%), and Machine Learning (down 37%).  

To put this in perspective, the number of searches for Excel-related skills is 10x greater in volume than searches for “Remote Working” or Coronavirus-related searches. Searches related to Communication skills are 5x greater than current events.

Finding Meaning in the Metrics

Based on the chart below, the data suggests that employees are looking for skills with longer shelf lives, that are highly transferable, and that can help individuals and their companies manage change. While they don’t fit perfectly into the categories of hard and soft skills, we are thinking of these identified skills as “flexible.”  

Why flexible? Well, that data is grouping together Data Analysis and Leadership, Excel and Change Management—perhaps seemingly unrelated skills. The common thread we see is that these are skills that can serve an employee well in almost any situation, across industries and geographies. Need to quickly launch a new product? Communication, Design Thinking, and Leadership fit nicely together. The same is true if your company is suddenly shifting the way work gets done—Time Management, Coaching, and Change Management will be essential for both leaders and front-line employees.

On the other hand, searches showing a decrease in overall search volume are highly technical and hard skills, such as Python, Java, and skills related to Machine Learning. We think that in calmer (more stable) times, users were looking to develop their careers or aspirational abilities to learn new, in-demand technical skills. The data doesn’t tell us—and we don’t think—that these skills are less important now than before. But it is clear that as business environments change, cutting-edge skills are not top of mind for most employees.

Change in Volume of Users’ Search Terms

This data looks at February and March search volume and compares the percent change with the time period two months prior (December and January) by active users and fully-deployed clients.

Flexible skills are in demand while hard, technical skills become less popular.

Time will tell how long the trend we are currently seeing in search data will last. However, it is clear that flexible skills are extremely important to companies and employees in times of change and uncertainty. As change is the only constant, this could be a good time to review what content and guidance your company is offering employees around these flexible skills. Download our most recent guide on navigating the future skills landscape to learn more.

If you are already a Degreed client, we have some curated Pathways around these topics that you can add to your organization and modify as needed:

  • Degreed – “Microsoft Excel 2019”
  • Degreed – “Transformational Leadership”
  • Degreed – “New Rules for Interpersonal Communication”
  • IDEO U – “Design Thinking” *

*To access the “Design Thinking” Pathway, please reach out to your Client Experience Partner. We will help you integrate with IDEO U to access their content.

For more information on how talent development technology can help you foster and gain insights into your people’s skills, download our Guide to Talent Development Technology!

*For this analysis, we took the average search volume of December and January and compared it to the average search volume in February and March. We defined search volume as the percentage of active users searching for a term from fully deployed clients.

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