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23 - 24 April 2025 | ExCeL London

17 - 18 April 2024 | ExCeL London

Skills-first organisations: start now and iterate

Monday 20 May 2024

Skills-first organisations: start now and iterate

Conor Gilligan
Skills-first organisations: start now and iterate

With 8-in-10 organisations facing immediate skills shortages, the skills-first organisation is becoming an attractive solution for leaders who want more responsive and agile workforces. According to Deloitte, early adopters of the skills-first approach have better financial performance, are 52% more likely to be innovative, and retain more high performers. To achieve this, however, leaders need to create skills-first strategies that ensure people have the right skills for their roles and business needs throughout their time at an employer. For many, this is a sticking point.


Stuck at the starting block

Leaders are finding themselves stuck in a kind of analysis paralysis, overwhelmed by the task at hand (transforming an entire organisation) or unsure of where to begin. However, like all major transformations, the trick is to just start. In the words of RedThread Research, “We heard a tonne of urgency in our discussions with senior leaders who have already begun implementing skills in their organisations. We heard the same advice over and over: START. Just start."

The truth is that your organisation already has access to most of the data that it needs in its HR, recruiting, and learning systems. You just need to consolidate it and make it useable. Then, overlay this with learning data to keep the skills data timely and relevant to current market conditions.


Skills data is the answer

The skills journey will take years, go through numerous stakeholder changes, and may not be completely linear. But the important thing right now is to take the first step. And that begins with skills data.

Bringing everything together in a single engagement layer, including your development opportunities, career growth, individual learning and skill plans, profiles, and more, ensures your data is consolidated, constantly updated (more on this later), and easy to analyse and understand. Many organisations have disparate HR, learning, and talent experiences, which will impact the scalability of your skills-based organisation. Once everything is in a shared place, you can begin leveraging your skills data to make better workforce decisions.


Learning is core to the skills-based organisation

Learning is a key player in the skills-first organisation. Learning data is a valuable, dynamic source of skills insights that is updated more often than performance management or recruiting data. Someone may look for a new job or have a performance review once a year, but they learn every week. As more people use their skills to create new career opportunities, learning becomes the major way someone grows their prospects. Therefore, even if you have an existing skills-based talent function, the next process you need to transform is your learning and development (L&D). Once you have skills-based learning in place, it unlocks all of the other skills-based processes like mobility and promotion.

Using skills data, you will be clearly able to identify the skills that your business needs and use this to inform your upskilling strategy. Combined with data on personal interests and career goals, you can develop truly personal learning plans that excite and engage learners while building business-aligned skills.


Align with business goals

Once your data is being created and collected in a single place, you can then look at your immediate business goals and needs, to understand where a skills-first approach will have the greatest impact. Ideally, you want a quick win pilot project that proves the benefits of a skills-first approach and that’s relatively easy to deploy, learn from, and scale. Knowing the current state of skills and learning in your organisation and overlaying this with your business strategy, will influence what skills-first practice you begin with. That could be skills-based hiring, skills-based internal mobility, skills-based upskilling and reskilling, and any other workforce process that’s relevant to your organisation.


Expand across HR and learning

Many organisations may have already started becoming skills-first through a hiring process or internal mobility. In some circles, this approach is faltering. That’s because it’s too siloed. The skills-first approach works best when it expands across the entire employee experience, which involves collaboration and buy-in from HR, learning, talent, performance management, recruiting, and senior management. Culturally, you need company-wide buy-in and mindset changes for skills-based hiring to succeed beyond an initial hire. Otherwise, someone hired through a skills-first approach will quickly become disillusioned when they end up remaining in their role for years without any meaningful progression. All because the performance, upskilling, remuneration, and promotion processes use traditional credentials like degrees as the deciding factor.


Taking your next skills-based step

The whole point of the skills-first journey is to make progress, it’s not about perfection. As long as you make progress, even if it’s just a little, you are farther ahead than if you hadn’t taken your first step.

You’re not alone in transforming your organisation to a skills-first model. Plenty of HR and learning leaders are also embarking on the mission. At The Shift, a skills-first collective, these leaders are sharing their experiences and tips every day. Join the community here.


Conor Gilligan Conor Gilligan

Director, Enterprise Sales at Degreed

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