Each month, Mercer brings together in-house experts, employee advocates and external thought leaders for an online discussion of the most pressing issues. The program is called #MercerChats and takes place entirely on Twitter, where individuals around the world engage with Mercer’s intellectual capital and other leading thought leadership to share insights and discuss the best solutions to help organizations thrive. Below is a summary of our April 2021 tweet chat, highlighting some of the key themes discussed and insights shared..

From heavy industry to professional services, employers around the world are in a mad scramble for talent. As the first signs of a post-COVID future emerge, businesses are already working to identify new challenges and opportunities, and many have found that talent and workforce strategy are top of the agenda. This should come as no surprise – talent was already a leading business priority before pandemic struck – but many employers are no more prepared to bridge the talent gap than they were a year ago.

 

But rather than joining in the all-out race for talent, some HR professionals are looking to work smarter, not harder. In this case, that means embracing a new talent strategy model based entirely around skills and rethinking how organizations can acquire and retain them. By taking a strategic view of future skills needs and market supply/demand, top employers are moving toward a more practical approach to talent and reward practices that will enable increased flexibility and resiliency, all in the service of future-proofing their business.

 

To get greater insight into this new and emerging frontier in human resources, we asked some of the industry’s most prominent thought leaders to share their perspective. Below are some of the highlights from our conversation.

Skills are the Future

You can be forgiven if you’ve lost track of all the things your organization “needs to be” for the future of work. From innovative to flexible to agile, there’s been no shortage of buzz words over the years that have sent HR professionals scrambling to update their talent strategies. The good news is that the push for a “skills-based” workforce is the culmination and solution to all these trends; it’s both the journey and the destination.

 

Lewis Garrad encapsulated this sentiment well during our chat, pointing out that market innovations are constantly changing how we work. In a reality where you don’t know how your team may be asked to support your clients six months from now, it stands to reason that you can’t define the role or function of the individuals on that team. This is the problem that a skills-based model can solve for, as Carrie Maslen shared, by separating outmoded conventions like title and experience from the equation. Instead, employers can create what Ravin Jesuthasan described as a multi-connective workforce, allowing them to achieve the synergies that Wilko Wolters listed (faster hiring, greater diversity and retention, and better efficiency) and carry their people into what Isil Cayirli Ketenci termed “bright-future roles”.

Innovation is changing jobs tasks quickly. Talent models that link people to jobs do not keep up with the pace of change for some orgs. Skills based talent models can help place value of the skills needed to solve problems and execute on customer needs.

Lewis Garrad

 

Skills based talent relies on skills needed for the role vs. title, loyalty, years of experience.

Carrie Maslen

 

Skill-based models create clear “many to many” connections between skills and work versus the opaque “1 to 1” relationship with jobs

Ravin Jesuthasan

 

Employers and employees alike benefit from refocusing hiring on skills:

  • Faster time to hire
  • Better competency assessment
  • Higher retention
  • Greater diversity—people of color, women, people with disabilities

Wilko Wolters

 

Organizations will need a clear view of the skills of their people, the existing competencies that overlap with new jobs and the critical experiences that will get people from risky” positions to “bright-future” roles. Tapping into internal talent market is agile.

Isil Cayirli Ketenci

Skills for the Future

You don’t have to predict the future to plan for it, but it sure would help. Employers around the world are trying to do just that by identifying the skills and competencies they’ll need most to thrive in the turbulent business landscape of the future. But as tempting as it may be to start a wish list of skills like coding, predictive data analytics, and other hard tech skills that often dominate the discourse, HR professionals may want to step back and ask themselves, “what do I really need?”

 

We asked our chat participants that same question, and the responses may surprise you. Technical skills may not be the ultimate prize in the competition for skills, as Soumyasanto Sen noted. Rather, softer human skills are likely to be the most in-demand, especially as organizations adapt for agility and look for individuals who can build the skills to adapt with them, as both Angela Maiers and Marcia F Robinson described.

 

But perhaps most importantly, HR and talent manager need to remember that a checklist is only the first step. As Kathleen Kruse shared, even though over half of employer know the skills they want, only 14% know how they’ll go about getting them. 

It not about technical skills, it's about soft skills which are in demand for the future in the age of Automation and AI. And we shouldn’t forget, there are also skills at risk. 

Soumyasanto Sen

 

Agility is the new workplace currency for employees at every level. A focus on skills and skill-building is necessary for enabling that agility. Employees have to become oriented that in the future of work.

Marcia F Robinson

 

When organizations have a skills mindset rather than a jobs mindset, their employees are much more capable of handling a variety of tasks and can more easily take on different roles within the organization.

Angela Maiers

 

53% of employers say they know which skills they’ll need to emphasize in a post-pandemic world – yet only 14% have skills-based strategies in place.

Kathleen Kruse

Skills in the Future

Organizations looking to build their depth of skills for the future of work have two avenues to pursue: recruit them from elsewhere or build from within. Given the magnitude of the challenge (not to mention the constant shift in what’s in-demand), top employers would be wise to recognize that they’ll need to develop some skills in-house.

 

So how do you build a good training program, or more importantly, how do you build an organization around training? To begin, start at the top. Lori Almeida touched on the importance of leadership buy-in to keep employees productive and engaged, and Tamara McCleary noted how important mindfulness is to avoid random or untargeted training that amounts to time wasted. This is why HR must do the hard work of identifying what Brian Kropp called skill adjacencies and build a path from their current workforce to the destination.

 

Ultimately though, as with most things, training comes down to culture. Antonio Vieira Santos highlighted this out during our chat, noting that organizations that facilitate peer-to-peer learning and create room for growth will find themselves adapting quickly to new challenges in the future of work. In the end, building skills isn’t about certificates earned or training hours logged – it’s about creating an environment where your people can identify and rise to new challenges. 

Leaders must prioritize virtual learning both to make employees productive and engaged in the short-term and to position for the future shift in workforce skills.

Lori Almeida

 

Companies need to prioritize training, but not random training, targeted training to assist their employees to develop skills that will be RELEVANT to the future. Training to train is wasted time, Training with PURPOSE is critical.

Tamara McCleary

 

Identify skill adjacencies.  Rather than just thinking about the destination skill you need to get to, you have to also build the path to get there through skills that are closest to what you need at the end.

Brian Kropp

 

Create a culture that facilitates social and peer-to-peer learning. I know that HR loves certifications, but they are often disconnected from "tech reality” and social learning can provide orgs that innovative cutting-edge advantage.

Antonio Vieira Santos

Danielle Guzman
Danielle Guzman

Global Head of Social Media