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Product Insider: Building a Common Language for Skills

Change will never move as slowly as it does today. Our world is continuously undergoing changes, many of which we see most prominently in our workforce and organizations. How they operate, structure themselves, and how work is managed continues to evolve with technological and social developments. In response to this, skills are continuously evolving and changing as well — today we see required skills that didn’t even exist a decade ago. As such, these skills are difficult to manage for companies, but perhaps more importantly, employees don’t know which skills to build and focus on.

The Challenge: You’re Only As Strong As Your Biggest Skill Gaps

We know employees want guidance. In fact, in our most recent study, 61% of workers said they wanted help aligning learning efforts to their skills gaps. And for years, companies have tried to offer guidance and structure through competency models, systems that were thought to clearly define the knowledge, skills, and behaviors required for every individual role.

But while two-thirds of organizations utilize workforce competencies, only 33% of those organizations believe they are effective. With a workforce that changes this rapidly, a top-down approach will never be able to keep up.

Organizations need a structure that can help their people build skills at the rate of change we’re seeing across the workforce. By 2022, it is predicted that 133 million new roles will emerge within the workforce, largely focusing on the interaction between humans, machines, and algorithms.

From technological advancements to unique job titles, the new world of work is progressive and fluid. In a recent Gartner survey, 70% of respondents said they didn’t feel they had mastered the skills their current jobs demanded, and 80% said they lacked the skills they needed for both their current and future roles. On a larger scale, companies are struggling to keep up with new required skills such as technology design and system analysis.

60% of workers said they want help aligning learning efforts to their skills gaps.

Now we see a plethora of different tools trying to find an alternative for a competency model. HCM systems are trying to “infer” the skills required for an organization’s workforce from job applications or performance reviews, for example. There are new tools hitting the market constantly, claiming AI will do the job, and still we see clients spending significant resources on outsourcing this work to consultants and still the same struggle. The skills economy demands a creative tracking solution — one that isn’t from the top down.

Cisco is a good example of what this alternative skills structure looks like in a large yet dynamic company. They recognized that their competency model couldn’t keep up with their growth, resulting in disparate job titles throughout the organization, despite role similarities. So they created a simpler solution. First, Cisco categorized about 3,000 unique job titles by the skills they required. Then, they mapped those skills onto a more manageable group of 221 similar “role profiles” for all 75,000 of their people. The result is a simpler, more agile system that can grow with the modernization of work and their company. It also allows for a clearer for internal career mobility.

How Cisco solved their skills gaps.

While Cisco had the resources, data, and business directive to simplify this complex and time-consuming mapping problem, many companies are facing the same problem without the resources to solve it. Luckily, these are the problems that Degreed was born to solve.

We know that skills are the foundational piece to a new system. We can link learning opportunities to skills, which can then link to roles. But let’s start with the basics: What is a skill, anyway? Well, most businesses and industries have their own lexicon, as do providers of skill library solutions, such as Korn Ferry, HRSG, and IBM Watson Talent Frameworks.

Before businesses can effectively address their skills gap, they need to identify it — which is difficult to determine if not everyone is speaking the same language around skills. The first step to addressing a skills gap is identifying which skills are functionally the same and compiling those together by a common name.

We’ve found that our individual users like adding skills in creative or unique terms, but these additions don’t tend to gain steam within the organization. Only 12% of all skills that are tagged in Degreed came from our taxonomy or a client administrator, which means 88% came directly from users in their preferred language. But it turns out that the standardized skill tags (the 12%) generate 80% of the “actions” we see — e.g. people following or actively seeking to develop them through individual learning plans and goals. Streamlining these crowdsourced skills into a common language creates a standardized structure. This then translates them into an actionable skills library around which administrators can use in crafting development plans. 

The Solution: It All Starts With Your People

So how can we help our clients simplify and standardize their existing skills? We’ve spent the better part of the last year working with some of our most innovative clients to create a fresh new approach. This approach still relies on standardization but draws on a different source for this guidance: your people.

Instead of following a top-down competency model, we want to allow the workforce to help shape the company skills taxonomy. This process can help surface evolving skills and allow businesses to study and understand their strengths and weaknesses. Then they can endorse certain skills and incorporate them into training tools to stay one step ahead of the curve.

Competency models are outdated. Skills taxonomy can help you identify and shape your skills for tomorrow.

Administrators can use this data, consolidate it, and build it back into their skills structure to ensure standardization. This generates a live, dynamic taxonomy that can build more responsive learning programs, guiding employees to help them identify and close their skills gaps.

That’s why we’re releasing an exciting new feature to help you get there. With Degreed’s latest release, there is now an intuitive and editable skill list in the Skills tab. While only in Beta initially, it will be released to our full audience in the next few months. This means that we now offer the guidance our users want with the flexibility to use the lexicon of your unique businesses.

For instance, say your company has a specific skill of “Engineering Excellence” that is commonly used and well-defined by the business. Now you can add “Engineering Excellence” to the system, track it, and endorse it. Administrators can either edit them right in their Skills Tab or download their existing skills list to easily edit or load new ones straight into the system, as seen below. 

Managing Skills in Degreed

The best part is that skills can also be associated with roles, Pathways, and Plans in the system, so users can actively build skills within the same platform they’re tracking their development. It can also help illuminate paths for internal career mobility based on shared skills.

The Benefit: Everyone’s Better Together

By decentralizing the initial control of skills and crowd-sourcing this data, we unlock the benefits of more relevant learning programs for the users and create more talent mobility paths across the organization. Together with your people, you can build a structure of standardized skills, a template that can enable employees to identify for themselves the skills they need to build for their futures

Don’t take our word for it, log into your accounts upon the release and explore the new functionality in your Skills tab. And we’re not stopping here, so stay tuned for more Skills I/O enhancements coming soon!

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