Management & Mindset

Skills-Based Learning: Our 5-Step Blueprint to Make the Shift and Unlock Your Talent

Right now, there’s a seachange happening in the way we think about talent. Winning organizations are no longer thinking in terms of fixed roles and responsibilities; instead, they’re shifting to dynamic skills-based operating models to boost agility and resilience to change.

This shift has huge implications for everyone, from the C-suite all the way through to front-line workers. But it has the potential to totally reinvent the way L&D teams create learning experiences, particularly how we support talented employees to grow and thrive, and how we ensure our learning programs are developing the skills we need to stay on top.

If L&D leaders can drive this change, we can unlock the real advantages of skills-based organizations, empowering talented people to think beyond just the scope of a single role, and building the right capabilities to compete. In this article, we explore how this shift is transforming work, and outline our five-step blueprint for L&D to support skills, not just jobs.

Let’s start with a closer look at the trends behind this shift.

Goodbye jobs, hello skills–why should we make this shift now?

As we’ve explored on our blog, many of today’s leaders are thinking about talent in entirely the wrong way. Instead of developing skills internally in response to market changes, they’re thinking simply about how to hire externally to fill fixed sets of duties and responsibilities. In short, they’re thinking about jobs, not skills. 

In competitive markets, this misconception can be costly. Organizations need timely access to exactly the right skills and talents, and they need to be able to pivot when the market changes. But we can’t solve this problem just by opening roles and hiring for them. Traditional hiring either moves much too slowly, or the right skilled candidate is simply too hard to find. 

Fortunately, more organizations have been thinking about this problem in a new way. During the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses everywhere were pushed to adapt to uncertainties by thinking fluidly about the skills they already had within their organizations, and looking for novel ways to apply these skills to get things done. For example, Scandinavian Airlines retrained its cabin staff to offer nurse assistance services to hospitals stretched thin. 

More recently, organizations have been pushed to make this shift from jobs to skills because of tightening market conditions and a downturn in hiring. For example, Zapier has expanded its internal mobility program to find new ways for talented people to apply their diverse range of skills outside of fixed roles, boosting organizational resilience and employee engagement.

So, how can L&D teams lay the groundwork to make this shift? It all starts with knowing the skills you have within your ranks right now.

Reskilling employees ebook cover | 360Learning

Skills are nothing without the right culture.

Get started with a foundational skills assessment

Before you make the shift to a skills-based learning strategy, you need to develop a detailed inventory of the skills present within your workforce right now. In many organizations, this kind of assessment would typically be carried out by your talent or HR team; however, for some companies, foundational skills assessments are the responsibility of the L&D team.

This foundational skills assessment involves developing a distinctive skills ontology, tagging each job within your organization with the relevant skills, and introducing a process for people to assess and define the skills involved with their particular job. 

While skills assessments are absolutely critical, they haven’t always been easy to implement. Many companies have been trying to find the perfect process over the past 30 years or so but have struggled due to the complexity and cost of mapping skills, often rendering the skills ontology obsolete before it’s even shipped. 

But now, the process can be made a lot simpler with the right AI tool, enabling you to map skills much faster than before and at a more efficient cost, while also keeping skills continuously updated. This assessment step helps you to create a central depository of skills data (either within your LMS or your HRIS) connected with your wider talent, recruitment, and performance processes. 

Depending on your level of organizational maturity, this assessment process can involve a mixture of self-assessment, manager assessment, or peer assessment. You can also use a test-based assessment, or an assessment based on business achievement. Where necessary, you can use external testing to identify and validate the skills present within your workforce.

Now, with this foundational assessment in place, you can start to make the shift to a skills-based learning strategy. Here’s what that looks like in practice.

Our 5-step blueprint to a skills-based learning strategy

To build a learning strategy that goes beyond supporting people to deliver against the requirements of their specific jobs and instead helps people find new ways to apply their skills to solve common problems, you need to start by looking at your existing skills and learning content.

Step 1: Map the skills in your organization

Whether your end goal is upskilling or reskilling, you need to know the skills level that exists today in order to identify the gaps: think of this step as your baseline. Define the skills for every job role and have employees assess the accuracy and relevance of the skills you have identified.

Next, tag your existing library of learning content (courses, modules, paths) to highlight the specific skills you want to develop via each learning experience. For example, if you have a course on communicating via the pyramid principle, you might tag this as ‘effective written communication’. 

Step 2: Identify the skills gaps at the employee level

Next, you need to highlight the skills gaps associated with each employee. This might involve a gap in their current role, their future role, or a new role in another department.

When you’re identifying gaps for upskilling, you’ll need to understand the expected performance level of the role and what skills that person needs to better perform today. In the case of upskilling for a future role, you’ll need to identify how the employee can upskill their current skill set to be promoted. 

If you’re looking to reskill employees, you’ll need to identify an employee population that you want to move from job A to job B (e.g. due to certain roles becoming redundant or if there are too many people in a particular job) and identify which skills need to be learned for the new role. 

Finally, if you’re identifying skill gaps for employability purposes (e.g. the relevant skills people need in today’s world), you’ll need to identify the skills gaps for people to be successful on the external job market.

To complete this assessment, you need the right learning system; one which understands the gap between a learner’s current and future role based on data provided by the learner (through self-assessment and stated career objectives) and by the skills and workforce planning data provided by your L&D and/or talent team alongside your AI-powered tool. 

With this information, and your foundational skills assessment, you can start making sure you have the right content available to deliver the learning experiences people need to help close these gaps.

Step 3: Use AI-powered recommendations to prescribe content

Now that you have your content up and running, you can use AI-powered learning recommendations to ensure employees are getting the content they need to close skills gaps and apply themselves in new and different projects. This can save you and your team a lot of time compared with traditional learning needs assessments and course allocations. 

To get this right, you need a learning experience platform (LXP) that offers AI-powered recommendations natively. Ideally, the best platforms will simplify this process by helping employees prioritize mandatory training first, followed by training to improve performance in their current role, then preparation for their progression to their next role or a new skill set for a different role (reskilling).

Related: Why 360Learning is Betting Big on AI for L&D

Step 4: Partner with subject-matter experts to develop missing content for your academies

If your content recommendations show any gaps in your library, you can identify subject-matter experts for collaboration based on their skills profiles. Then, you can work alongside these experts to develop Academies for addressing skills gaps.

For example, let’s say your analysis illustrated a gap in the support you offer to your graduate engineers when it comes to object-oriented design. You could then work alongside the more experienced members of your engineering team to develop content for your engineering academy on this topic, better supporting people to develop the skills they need in this critical area.

Related: 5 Top Tips to Win Over Your Subject-Matter Experts

Step 5: Measure your impact

Finally, now that you’ve made the move from a jobs-based learning strategy to a skills-based one, it’s time to measure your impact and tweak your strategy where needed. You can start to measure how well your learning experiences are closing skills gaps and increasing the flexibility and adaptability of your workforce.

Specifically, you should consider tracking these key metrics in your skills dashboard:

  • % of workforce who have completed must-learn activities (ideally this will be 100%)
  • % of workforce performing with the expected skill level for their present role (should also be 100%)
  • % of workforce ready to progress to a more senior level (should be as high as possible, and ideally should feature only those assessed as having the correct skills for their present role)
  • % of workforce who have reskilled and are ready to move to their new role
  • Average time for people to improve to the skills level required for their job (ideally as fast as possible)
  • % of skills not currently addressed by a learning asset (ideally 0%).

Alongside these metrics, you should also keep a close eye on the impact of this L&D strategy on employee retention. That’s because a skills-based L&D strategy can lead to higher levels of job satisfaction and engagement. You should also track the proportion of roles you are filling with internal hires, vs. those for which you’re hiring externally–this is a key indicator of how you’re moving the needle on skills over the long term.

The right set of tools can make the pivot from jobs to skills easier

So, that’s our helpful five-step blueprint for making the shift to a skills-based L&D strategy. But no matter how good your plan might be, you still need the right AI-driven learning platform. Otherwise, you can’t analyze or assess learning needs, and you can’t get the right learning content to the right person to help them develop the skills they need. 

The right set of tools can also make the learning process a lot more predictable and accurate for learners and L&D team members, as well as giving talent leaders, HR, and the rest of your C-suite the visibility they need to be confident they’re making the right move. 

To find out more about how a learning platform like 360Learning can help you make this pivot a lot easier, talk to one of our collaborative learning experts today.

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L&D isn’t just about shipping content–it’s about developing skills

Once upon a time, it was enough for L&D leaders to simply develop training in response to requests for specific roles and levels. But no more.

Now, we have the opportunity to move past this rigid approach and empower the development of fluid skills that can be applied in changing circumstances to help us stay competitive, develop every one of our talented team members, and empower us to do more together. 

All it takes is the right roadmap–and in this article, we’ve outlined five steps from skills analysis to measurement to get you started. You can thank us later.