maps representing skills mapping
Management & Mindset

What is Skills Mapping and Why Does Your Organization Need It?

A company can only accomplish as much as its employees can accomplish, and to achieve any objective, you need to have the right talent on your team.

Unfortunately, it appears most companies out there aren't well equipped to meet all their goals. A 2021 McKinsey report indicated that 87% of companies worldwide were aware that they either had a skills gap or believed they would have one in the next few years.

A recent study on professional skills found that when faced with a skills gap, 72% of employers either hire outside talent or upskill their existing workforce. And while both of these approaches are effective, they're also significant investments of time and money.

So whichever tactic you use to expand your talent pool, you want to be sure that you're acquiring the right skills to help you achieve your objectives.

And that's why skills mapping needs to be part of your company strategy.


Have the robots really taken over?

What is skills mapping and why does it matter?

Skills mapping is the process of creating a visual representation of skills or skill requirements in your organization, normally with the aim of either developing your workforce or completing a specific project.

Typically, skills mapping involves creating a chart or spreadsheet that documents the technical and soft skills that your employees have or the skills that are needed for a specific role or project.

This then allows you to compare the talent you have available to you with the talent requirements of your objectives. From here, you can assign work (or expand your workforce) in an informed manner. 

The key benefits of skills mapping

Even if you're not struggling to fill a glaring skills gap in your company, there are numerous benefits to incorporating skills mapping into your L&D strategy.

1. Improved resourcefulness

Creating a detailed overview of your employee's skills, strengths, and professional interests results in better, more informed decision making at the management level.

Let's say you want to expand into a new market but aren't ready to hire a dedicated team this early in operations.

Mapping out the talent already available to you might reveal that some existing employees already have the background or knowledge to lead the project initially. By identifying employees who already have the knowledge to handle the tasks involved, you keep your costs under control and reduce the burden on the employee by giving them work that they already know how to do well.

2. Improved employee well-being

Though it's often associated with talent allocation, skills mapping can also be used to improve the employee experience at your organization.

By using this approach to document employee strengths and workplace preferences, you can create environments in which your workers are more engaged and productive.

For example, you might find out through your skills matrix that some of your employees feel more focused and motivated working early in the day while other employees prefer to work late at night. As a result, your organization transitions to a flexible working schedule, using workforce planning software to keep track of your employee's hours and productivity, while also improving satisfaction and reducing your churn rate.

3. Effective talent management

Skills mapping can be an effective tool for managing employee skills and ensuring that your team members' strengths are applied where they're most useful.

By identifying the skills and competencies of your employees through a skills matrix, you can match them with specific projects or roles that align with their expertise. This enables you to optimize resource allocation and make informed decisions during the project review process. By reviewing the skills and competencies of your team members, you can identify the best individuals to involve in project reviews, leveraging their knowledge and expertise to provide valuable insights and drive project success.

For example, if you discover that certain members of your product team have highly developed UI/UX skills, you might start asking them to sit in on design meetings so that they can develop their design skills while also benefiting your designers with their own expertise.

When used to measure soft skills such as organization, proactiveness, and strategic thinking, skills mapping can help you identify the best employees to consider for future leadership roles.

4. Targeted training and upskilling

Just as it highlights your team's strengths, skills mapping is highly effective at revealing areas for improvement.

Organizations can use skills mapping to identify specific skill gaps and design targeted programs to address them, thereby helping employees acquire the skills they need to excel in their roles and contribute to overall organizational growth.

For example, you could send out a skills survey to capture the current skill set of your team — and while gathering the responses, forecast the skill requirements for your upcoming objectives.

By using skills mapping to compare the two data sets, you'd be able to build an estimate of the resources and time frame you need to upskill your workforce to the required standard.   

Skills mapping with different types of skills matrices

Regardless of your metrics and purposes, using a skills matrix is essential to skills mapping. A skills matrix is a table, chart, or other graphical representation of the skills your team have or the level of competency they possess in specific skill areas.

There are two types of skills matrix, both of which can bring their own benefits to skills development programs:   

1. Capability matrices

A capability matrix shows you what your employees are able to do (are capable of) or what skills are needed for a specific project.

At the team level, capability matrices provide a useful summary of the skills you already have at your disposal, which you can then compare against your project needs, and make development or upskilling needs accordingly.

Here's what a capability matrix might look like when used to survey the skills of a video production team. Skills are listed in column A while the number of employees with proficiency in each skill is listed in column B. Targets for the number of skilled employees in 2024 appear in column C:

Using a capability matrix can help your team gain a better understanding of their combined abilities and any weaknesses that need to be addressed. This can also be beneficial to managers or HR teams in putting together talent development plans, setting growth targets for the next quarter, and understanding where to allocate resources for upskilling.

2. Competency matrix

A competency matrix helps you understand the strengths and weaknesses of your team by providing a visual summary of your employees' abilities to do certain task-or role-related skills.

So if a capability matrix tells you what skills your employees should have, a competency matrix outlines how good (or competent) your employees are in those skill areas. 

Competency matrices are typically organized in a table format, with employee names and relevant skills arranged in rows and columns.

Here's an example of a competency matrix for a software development team. The manager has used a lettered grading system to weigh employee competency, with As representing the highest levels of competency.

Competency matrices only give an initial overview of your team's strengths and weaknesses, so they're not ideal for going into detail on why you think an employee is underperforming or excelling in a particular area.

How to implement skills mapping effectively in your organization

Here are some useful tips to remember when considering how to apply skills mapping strategies in your organization:

Start from objectives

Your employees won't have every skill, and your company can't serve every market, so there isn't much point in creating a general skills map.

For skills mapping to produce actionable results, it needs to start with a specific goal. Perhaps you have a new project or want to understand why a previous project failed. Set clear, SMART goals before you begin the process so you can visualize where you're headed and be specific about the skills you're looking for.

Set clear proficiency levels

Establishing a logical grading system is essential if you're building a competency matrix. 

Your findings will only be helpful to you if they provide an evenly-weighted picture of your workforce's talent and abilities — and they'll only be helpful to your team members if your grading system is intuitive and easy to read.

Use a numbered or lettered system to ladder competency, and set clear boundaries ahead of time. You might find it helpful to write out the criteria in an index first, so you're consistent about how you classify data.

Creating an impartial classification system will significantly increase the value of your map's insights and help you make more informed decisions about how you manage your talent pool.  

Don't look for incompetency

It's important to remember that skills matrices shouldn't be a tool for eliminating underperforming employees.

A low-scoring employee may be highly qualified for the role they're in but not the best team member to assign to the specific project that you're working toward. Use such insights as an opportunity to reskill or reorient the employee within your organization, so they end up with the work they're best suited to handle.

Skills mapping is the first step to beating the skills shortage

Skills are like the motor oil of any good team: forget to top them up regularly and you'll find yourself stalling on the highway. But with L&D and recruitment being significant investments, it's also wise to develop an informed plan of how you're going to upskill your workforce before you commit time and money to the cause.

Skills mapping is by no means a comprehensive approach to understanding your team's capabilities, competencies, and skills gaps. But applied as part of a much more dynamic and wide-reaching strategy, it's an excellent tactic for visualizing what you have on hand and how to manage it most effectively.

It’s all about prudence: having a rough idea of when you last changed your motor oil won't guarantee that your engine runs smoothly forever, but your vehicle will be far less likely to break down on you when you need it most.

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