For more than a decade, experts anticipated a growing skills gap in the workplace. Several factors are simultaneously at play, but continued technological advances remain a primary catalyst. Millions of workers globally will need to be reskilled due to AI and intelligent automation. The talent shortage is another contributing factor, which is dually driven by an aging population and unskilled workers. The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the pace of retirement for Baby Boomers (consisting of roughly 73 individuals) who have been a dominate segment of the workforce for decades. The seismic shifts underway underpin the importance of developing internal talent marketplaces.
This article will examine this phenomenon through the lens of small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). There are approximately 33.2 million firms in the U.S and, of those, roughly 99.7 percent have fewer than 500 employees. Yet most recommended practices regarding talent marketplaces benefit larger companies, especially those with thousands of employees, who can reap a plethora of benefits from sophisticated AI-enabled platforms. However, smaller entities do not have available resources like larger companies, so it can be challenging to begin developing internal talent marketplaces.
Just as with the Industrial Revolution, we find ourselves at another major turning point involving work, roles and machinery. The Industrial Revolution led to improved efficiencies through machine production. Simply put, machines were able to produce far more output than humans. However, now, instead of humans maneuvering machinery, workers will be collaborating with it. In some situations, artificially intelligent machinery might have answers that a human worker does not. This entails a different perspective on workplace efficiency and the roles each plays.
But technology is only part of the internal talent marketplace equation. Another key area is influencing or encouraging employees. The cultural default is to complete required or designated credentials when we are younger, then rely on a few refreshers throughout our career to remain knowledgeable about a particular area. To move up the career ladder, an individual might need to receive additional credentials. Things are different now. We need to encourage continually learning within all levels of organizations.
Common hiring practices involve hiring for positions or roles. A vacancy occurs, the position description is reviewed, changes are made, then the position is posted and recruitment begins. The positions are typically necessity-based and fill short-term needs. Even with new positions, the descriptions focus on what is needed now as opposed to envisioning what will be needed three to five years down the road. Indeed, it can be difficult to foresee what positions might look like in the future, especially given the complexities of the current landscape.
Estimates suggest 85 percent of the positions that would be coming in the next decade have not been invented yet. This is different from the monthly jobs created reports issued by the federal and state governments, which is a net measurement for the number of positions that were lost in each period compared to those generated. Anticipating (with a level of accuracy) positions that will be needed in unprecedented times is tricky. Understanding the complexities helps explain why shifting to a skills-based workforce as opposed to hiring solely for positions is advantageous.
During the pandemic, we saw many roles shift and individual capacities were at the forefront. This type of mindset remains helpful today. Shifting from solely focusing on what is required for a position or role and incorporating someone’s career aspirations can open opportunities for an ability to work on additional projects or specific elements of projects outside of a primary role. This approach helps broaden an employee’s knowledge and provides opportunities for in-depth collaborations within other areas within an organization. Employees and talent professionals benefit from this as it helps individuals see first-hand what their skills are, areas for improvement and items they may have initially thought were interesting but wind up not being something worthy of pursuing any further. It helps develop t-shaped professionals, referencing individuals who have both breadth and depth of knowledge. Who knows, perhaps someone has a hidden talent or skill that is strengthened through an extra project that helps them reach towards unleashing their full potential. For talent professionals, this provides a better understanding of where skills gaps exist.
Based on this information, how can SME practitioners help prepare their organizations for the future? Here are some suggestions to consider.
- Skills identification. This focuses on short- and long-term skills the company needs to accomplish its organizational strategy. With limited resources though, conducting an overall skills taxonomy can be a daunting process. Therefore, consider focusing on an upcoming project or initiative. Concentrate on the skills necessary for successful completion. This approach allows you to pilot the process and review the data on a much smaller scale. Tackling this in smaller bits also helps you compare various areas within the company to determine any similarities, while also determining adjacent skills from one department or area to another.
- Talent inventory. This focuses on skills existing employees have that may be outside the requirements of their current role. A talent inventory can begin by surveying employees to identify additional skills, interests or aspirations. As future projects come up, you can identify employees with desired skills to work on certain aspects. For smaller companies, you can initially capture this information in software programs such as Microsoft Excel or Access.
- Career paths. Vertical career paths are common in organizations, but identifying horizontal paths and skills adjacencies is beneficial too. Some employees are certain of their career aspirations, but others might need assistance. Outlining various career options, as opposed to only one direction, helps employees see a future within the company and provides them with the knowledge about any additional requirements for that level or type of position.
- Learning journeys. Most companies offer tuition or professional development reimbursements, along with other formal and informal opportunities. Licenses to LinkedIn Learning, or similar platforms, can provide self-directed informal learning opportunities for employees. Aligning available resources to career paths and learning journeys can be a valuable resource for employees.
- Learning personas. You will likely encounter a wide array of emotions regarding learning initiatives, especially regarding upskilling. Most employees are change-adverse and remain complacent with the status quo. Enthusiasm levels will be widespread among employees. Building learning personas can help you tailor different types of learning, methods, approaches and formats to various employee audiences. For instance, employees who are initially resistant to upskilling might benefit from microlearning opportunities focused on topics such as How to Learn. A separate learning track or series would be different for someone who embraces change and enjoys tackling new challenges.
- Employee experiences. Look at the entire employee experience, placing similar values on professional growth and engagement. Often, engagement and learning run parallel tracks. If someone is not engaged at work, there will likely be an additional layer of resistance at play. The same is true for aspects of the organizational culture that need to be addressed, or elements affecting an employee’s wellness.
Developing an internal talent marketplace that highlights individual skills, talents and strengths can help position your company for all the uncertainties and complexities of the workforce for years to come. Also, it helps ward off losing good employees to other companies.