A new blueprint to solving the skills gap
- 5 Min Read
It has become critical to forge a new path to avoid and fill the evergreen skills gap- this will require creating a new blueprint for workforce management.
What marks a successful career? For decades, the social narrative has guided individuals into a defined path: Go to a top-ranking educational institute, complete at least four years of schooling, and land a job based on those education credentials. A college degree, an internship, and some extracurricular activities was the ticket to an individual’s successful career path at a reputable organization.
Sure, there would be some on-the-job training and education courses throughout one’s lifetime, but nothing was ever systematically in place to prepare people for the pace of today’s disruptive technologies. It is no wonder headlines abound on the evergreen skills gap that individuals and organizations feel today.
The latest research
While some try to cling to this old, defined path, the reality today is that keeping pace with the evolving corporate world demands has proved difficult for individuals. Upwork’s latest research, which surveyed over 1,000 HR decision-makers, found that 52% of individuals said keeping up their own skills with the changing work demands is getting more difficult. Another 57% stated that they feel they are constantly in hiring mode, trying to find the right skills for their business strategy while dealing with a revolving door of talent.
Beyond being difficult for individuals, organizations are also struggling to keep pace because of this skills gap. Our research also found that 64% of individuals said they needed to access key skills outside their current team to keep their current projects on time and successfully completed. This was even more pronounced for those working in a Fortune 500 company with 3 out of 4 survey respondents saying they needed additional skills on their team to keep up with current-day demands.
Technical skills, technical advantage
The decreasing shelf life of technical skills also exacerbates this skills gap problem. Our survey found that 73% of respondents believed the shelf of technical skills today is less than five years. Indeed, it is remarkable how fast technologies like generative AI, which can now curate and create content, are changing the world of work.
Just a few years ago, I gave a TedX on the limitations of AI in creative roles due to the bounds of specific contexts. Even a few months ago AI tools were limited to a particular domain of knowledge and unable to effectively context-switch and create new content. But today, Chat-GPT4 can now understand various inputs, including visualizations, and create something entirely new.
The pace of advancement feels unprecedented and leaves many organizations and individuals ill-prepared to capture the advantages of new technology because they require a new technical skill. Take AI, for example, to take full advantage of generating AI outputs, a company would need someone with the skill that many are now calling prompt engineering. Because of the newness of the skill, there is a low supply of individuals with the specialty and a sudden boom in demand for them, leaving many organizations out of luck.
Against this new landscape, it’s clear that the traditional career pathways are no longer suitable for the new way of work, and organizations and individuals that refuse to adapt will be left behind.
Forging a new path
So how can you, as an HR leader, forge a new path to avoid and fill the evergreen skills gap? It will require creating a new blueprint for workforce management. Here are three ways to get started:
- Consider alternative workforce models to build greater skills and agility into your organization. Our research found that many HR leaders believe they will need to hire more specialists in the next 5-years in their organizations than they currently do. This can be a costly talent acquisition strategy if you are constantly hiring and re-training specialists to keep pace with emerging technologies. Rather, consider outside sourcing strategies – such as freelancers, contractors and even crowds of experts. Nearly 1 in 4 HR leaders (24%) in our survey said their on-demand talent workforce had a higher quality of skills than their traditional workforce. Another 18% said there was no difference in skills quality between traditional and alternative workers today.
- Redesign jobs to focus more on skills than tasks. The traditional way of thinking about how to get work done centers around a set of tasks that need completion. The problem is that work has evolved beyond repeatable tasks to one function and now comprises complex project work that usually requires a cross-functional team. What is needed is having the right skills within your organization to effectively navigate the complexity and create something bigger than any one individual or functional team could do.
- Learning is no longer optional. For so long, optimization and efficiency were foundational to business success. It was about finding the path of least resistance and creating repeatable processes and procedures to enable competitive advantage. Yet, today’s demands require forging new ways of working, experimenting with new technologies, and finding new ways to deliver value to your customers. The status quo will leave you behind in the future of work. Therefore, it is imperative that your workforce is constantly learning and evolving. And it goes beyond rolling out another e-learning series. It means building learning into workflows and job expectations. It requires experimentation as a core operating principle. Learning new ways to do work should be part of your company’s DNA and central to how people work.
The future of work is going to be difficult for organizations and individuals. It will mean more individual responsibility to keep up with a changing skills landscape. At the same time, it will require more from HR leaders and managers who will need to redesign the current paradigm around job roles and tasks and instead consider what skills and competencies are needed. Finally, it will force leaders to look outside their walls to find the talent and skills needed to take advantage of the continuous technological evolution. It won’t be easy, but nothing ever worth pursuing is.
Author Note: The author would like to thank Katie Gallagher for her research assistance for this article.