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Closing the future skills gap: The problem that just won’t go away

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It's been on the agenda for years but we still don't seem to be closing that future skills gap. So ask yourself, what are the skills and capabilities your organisation needs to be a success not just today but 'tomorrow', to remain competitive in your market?

28th Mar 2022
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Just over a year ago (what a year!) I wrote an article about L&D not aligning with real business needs. Much has changed, the crazy world has spun and here we are still talking about the same things. I wanted to build on that and share some thoughts that have been bouncing around for a while. 

I know I don’t save lives, I don’t make a huge fundamental difference to society and most times I don’t feel I even write well, but I am passionate about my profession and the world of organisational learning. So here it goes.

What are the skills and capabilities your organisation needs to be a success not just today but 'tomorrow', to remain competitive in your market. Easy! If only it was...

Let’s revisit the issue in hand. I’m sure you will have read and seen what feels like a million and one articles, videos, guides, whitepapers et al on your next 'hybrid learning strategy', 'Evolving your New Ways of Working' and 'Skills development is a must'. Or been smashed by 'The Great Resignation' movement, 'Skills shortage' coverage and warnings that the robots are coming (heads up, they are here!) So, let’s try and be a bit more provocative and open up the debate to help move us all forward.

What do we really mean by 'future skills'?

To me this is crystal clear. Future skills are the skills and capabilities your organisation needs to be a success not just today but 'tomorrow', to remain competitive in your market. Easy! If only it was.

I’m not talking about keeping the lights on or the wheels running, but truly building your company of tomorrow. Back in 2019 Forbes reported that leadership development was a $366Bn industry with almost half of this spent in the US alone. Just let that sink in a moment. $366Bn spent on keeping the lights on. Do you want to be part of that?

Was that focused on the skills and capabilities to make the relevant companies a success? Or maybe, just some stuff we need to be better at? Future skills are things we need more of, lots more of, and that will require some ruthless reprioritisation in my view. Where will your next data, software and cyber 'geeks' (I mean that in a cool way) come from? Somehow, you will also need to factor in how to grow your own.

Things to think about

Okay, so you’ve clarified your future skills. What else? I’ve shared this view before: you need to get sharp on the commercials. The pounds, euros, dollars and yen. Look at the opportunity from a differing angle before it takes full shape into a 'learning' thing that will fix that issue! What does your contractor (short-term hires) base look like, is it adding value to your business outcomes (assuming you know what they are), does it align with your business road map and where might you need different resource in 9, 12 or 18 month's time? 

Does it create an opportunity to upskill/reskill existing staff? How does your early career approach feed into this? It’s a huge, complicated field we play on but make sure you have as much insight and data to ensure you are playing the right game. One thing is certain, you will not be able to just recruit your way to future success. Unless you are our friends at Alphabet, Meta, Amazon, Apple etc… so get in the queue! Oh, and heads up, the queue now covers the planet… 

Better get sharp on building those right future skills and understanding your real business impact of what you propose to help

Is it really an issue?

Yes. Thank you very much for asking. Feel free to read/re-read my post I mentioned at the start again, as this will not fix itself. If anything, the issue is growing. The world has shifted online in a way never seen or experienced before. Supply chains are having to be rebuilt and solutions created that didn’t exist. This is now happening in the mix of huge global uncertainty and growing shortage of key skills. Who doesn’t need more data folk, software folk, cloud folk, cybersecurity folk? Korn Ferry shares this stark research, albeit with a US focus: 

…the global talent shortage already amounts to 40M skilled workers worldwide. By 2030, the global talent shortage is predicted to reach 85.2M workers. Companies worldwide risk losing $8.4T in revenue because of the lack of skilled talent. The main reason for this is 90% of all operations in an average organization are supported by software, so there is a lack of tech experts ready to deliver quality services” Korn Ferry – Future of Work insights

Wow! You want to make a difference to what your company is doing, better get sharp on building those right future skills and understanding your real business impact of what you propose to help.

Simple next steps

I’ve never professed to have all the answers, nor am I saying this is a simple blanket approach to every company. Just some provocation for more debate. That said, I feel there are a few things you may want to try to get moving forward in the right direction.

  • Get crystal clear on your business priorities, not yours. If your business needs to make more widgets, understand how the widgets are made, what is the tech roadmap that supports that, what is the timeline, who is running at it, get informed and get involved.
  • Be brave and move away from the safety of keeping the lights on. You will need to change the way you do things, and you will have the chance to showcase doing things differently.  Now is not the time to just keep the lights on.
  • You could say, I’ve purposely been somewhat vague on future skills as each organisation is very different on its journey, but one thing is consistent to me, the future is aligned to skills not just jobs. Ensure you understand and validate what key skills your organisation needs, what do you already have and what is the delta … everything should flow from that.
  •  In our HR world we are often buried in people data. Look to glean as much insight as you can on the issue of mindset/culture vs capability. What do I mean? If you start to bump into a narrative around 'that’s not what we do here' or 'that’s not my job', follow the noise and be curious. You may be uncovering that the opportunity you are trying to flush out isn’t for the people you currently have.

Are you closing your future skills gaps and contributing to real business outcomes? If not, now is the time to change

As I’ve said before, it really is a great time to be in our profession, but we can no longer ignore the macro challenges we face in the coming months and years ahead. Now is the time to be brave and take on a new stance as to how you can add real value to your company. 

Look at your activity. Are you closing your future skills gaps and contributing to real business outcomes? If not, now is the time to change. Or I could be wrong, and we are all doing brilliant work for the benefit of all! Either way, I’m up for a debate…

 

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