HomeTalentLooking for ways to plug your talent gap? Here’s how to use a skills-based approach to do it

Looking for ways to plug your talent gap? Here's how to use a skills-based approach to do it

  • 8 Min Read

In this article Natal Dank explores how the workplace is changing to a more fluid network of roles and skills. For HR to win the war for talent, they’ll need to change up their approach – focusing on skills, capabilities and creativity.

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The great resignation, known also as the great reshuffle, isn’t a bad thing. Great opportunities come from such large-scale movement of talent in the job market. People are on the move for a myriad of reasons and businesses can benefit if they respond and adapt in the right ways.

But the great reshuffle isn’t all about the movement of people. Skills are quickly becoming the basis of talent strategies and the new currency of the workplace. The future of workforce planning and strategic recruitment is to hire for diverse skills. By doing so, they won’t just come out on top of the war for talent – but completely rise above it.


The workplace as a fluid network of roles and skills


Traditional hierarchical structures – remnants of a bygone industrial age – are proving problematic, too slow and inflexible in the face of the modern market and rapidly changing customer needs.

Today, organisations are redesigning their internal structures away from rigid hierarchy towards more fluid role-based networks. This enables business decisions to be made closer to the customer through collaborative team-based models and project-based work. The idea is to group people together based on the skills needed as opposed to job function only.

This new networked organisational model is underpinned by roles and skills. To introduce more flexibility, traditional jobs must be broken down into roles.

Roles represent the things that must be done and what people will contribute. They are about clear deliverables for the task at hand. Some roles might be done by one person, but others might be done by a few people. One person might also move across different roles or even assume multiple roles at the same time.

The next layer is composed of the skills needed to perform effectively in a role.

Skills are the expertise or talent needed to contribute to a role or complete a task, for example, coding, analytical thinking or problem-solving. When a person participates in a role, it can be viewed as a collection of skills.

This promise of organisational flexibility has led to skills being viewed as the new currency for workforce transformation. To be agile and nimble in the current climate, a business must quickly assess what skills they already have internally versus what skills they might need to rapidly acquire for the future.


Taking a skills-based, creative approach to plug your talent gap


Many organisations have tried responding to the great resignation/reshuffle in more traditional ways, resulting in the usual talk of job/role gaps and talent wars. Instead, organisations should be taking a more creative approach to acquire skills within their workforce.

Taking a skills-based approach helps enormously with finding and deploying people. Instead of looking at pre-set packages of skills needed to fill a job, you can seek out specific skills or skill clusters and group them together as needed.

We hear of companies complaining they can’t find the people they need. However, at the same time some people, for example older people or people who have specific skill sets, have difficulty finding a job because job descriptions demand that candidates have a complete set of skills – skills A, B, C and D together. Looking at skills individually helps find the right people and be more creative in sourcing people.

To be clear, it’s no use complaining about talent wars if you are not hiring for diversity whether that be gender, ethnicity, educational backgrounds, outside the typical age range or from outside your industry.

Similarly, such a strategy can facilitate more creative redeployment of people. For example, many organisations are finding certain tasks or job functions are being automated or digitised. In these situations, if we assess our people on a skill level, we might find different skills or adjacent skills that can be usefully deployed elsewhere in our organisation.

If we can look at what skill levels people have, then we are better able to utilise them, even if those skills don’t necessarily always come together.


From career development to skills development, enter the T-shaped professional


Career development within organisations is something else that needs to be re-evaluated.

Until now, people have been guided through defined pathways to develop their careers derived from the now defunct models of job groupings and function-based chains of command. In place of these we must embrace a more all-encompassing vision and cultivate T-shaped teams comprised of T-shaped people.

A T-shaped professional is someone who has various, reasonably well-developed capabilities, that’s that horizontal part of the T, but also a smaller selection of areas in which they are expert – the vertical part of the T. This is a new kind of professional, unconfined by traditional siloes, who includes business and commercial knowledge as the horizontal of the T, augmented by thorough specialisms in skills such as coding, design or data analytics as their vertical.

Partnering T-shaped professionals with similar people is mutually beneficial serving to strengthen the skills of all parties.

Key to supporting this approach further is placing the emphasis on mastery levels linked to roles and skills, rather than just the next step in the career ladder.

In the traditional organisational model, employees rose in salary and importance the more managerial levels a company had. However, we now know that an individual contributor can potentially have more impact on the business bottom line than all the managers put together.

Instead of focusing on climbing the ladder and linking development to career pathways, leaders need to redefine how people develop a career and master different skills. We must ask what different experiences are required to develop mastery and how people can access the different projects and roles needed to gain these experiences.


What’s the role of HR in all of this?


The key is to link any effort in mapping and understanding skills to the urgent business problems faced by an organisation. Simply conducting a skills mapping project in isolation won’t work. By aligning your efforts with the problems to solve in the business, you make any skills-based approach tangible and practical.

For example, a good starting point is to assess whether you’re missing certain capabilities to successfully execute your business strategy. If so, what are the skills you need for those capabilities and where can you find them?

If you do need to form a new team to design and deliver a new product, then use that as the working example of how you understand what skills you have in your organisation. Also, do people know their skills, potential and motivation to be part of this new team? Can you develop techniques to source skills and redesign business teams to help them respond to market needs?

Again, doing this just as a skills project is too big and vague.

Also, let’s not forget the team dimension. It’s not a situation of you do skill A, you do skill B, you do skill C etc and then put it together and hope it results in a great team. It’s more than just finding the skills, putting the people together and wishing them good luck. Instead, you must craft great combinations of T-shaped people. Here’s how to get started:


How to get started


  • Step 1 – Seek out the key business issues or a problem to solve. Do this by talking to business leaders and teams and understand the strategies and customer needs across your business.
  • Step 2 – Assess the roles and capabilities needed to achieve these business outcomes.
  • Step 3 – Map out the skills required in these roles. Using the T-shape approach is also helpful here.
  • Step 4 – Next, determine what skills you already have in the organisation and what are the gaps.
  • Step 5 – Concentrate your recruitment and your L&D efforts where those gaps are but think more in terms of strategic capabilities and the problems you’re solving for the business.


A skills-based approach to strategic workforce planning has the potential to transform our organisations into flexible, fluid networks. Indeed, it’s the holy grail of modern organisational design. However, given the intense focus within the job market on the great resignation and war for talent, the danger is we end up focusing our efforts solely on the immediate short-term need of filling vacant jobs. Instead, we need to help the organisation solve the most urgent business challenges for their market and customer, and in doing so build a sustainable and longer-term skills-based solution to attract and develop great T-shaped talent.


Natal Dank is the co-founder of PXO Culture where she heads up learning, coaching and community. Natal is seen as a pioneer in the Agile HR movement and is focused on defining modern HR to help organisations build great people experience and operations.


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