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Stepping onto the skills-based path: Developing a dynamic workforce

By Kevin Pennington, Robert Tate, Brandon Yerre; PwC US Principals, Consulting Solutions | Published: Dec. 5, 2023 | Read time: 5 minutes

Deconstructing jobs and empowering employees to drive organizational agility and success 

In part one of this article series, you learned the first steps toward a skills-based talent management strategy. In part two, we delved into cultivating a culture that values skills first to meet complex technologies and business challenges. In part three, we discussed how AI and data analytics can be connected across your talent lifecycle to help systematically — and consistently — extend skills-first practices throughout your organization.  

In the fourth and final article of this series, we’ll take a look at how a shift in the way we work has come to be and what practices organizations can begin doing now to make way for a skills-first future. 

A skills-based talent strategy: Why here and why now 

There have been three transformative industrial revolutions that have shaped our modern society. With each of these advancements — the steam engine, the age of science and mass production and the rise of digital technology — the world around us has fundamentally changed. 

Now, we find ourselves in the middle of yet another work evolution, the Fourth Industrial Revolution. In this period, the ways we work and operate are fueled by a powerful combination of cloud computing, social connectivity, mobile technology, the Internet of Things (IoT) and artificial intelligence (AI). The more ways organizations leverage digital technologies and AI, the more they may need to recognize the specific professional skills that employees should have in order to work together with these innovations.  

Specialization isn't the only driving force behind a skills-based future. Digitization is blurring geographic boundaries and industry verticals, driving the need to stand out as an employer of choice. Employees are calling for more autonomy and flexibility. PwC’s Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey 2022 found that employees desire employers that expand their sense of responsibility for workforce well-being and draw strong, ethical lines in the sand on issues related to climate change and social justice. When successful, such efforts help firms attract and retain workers – 75% of employees said they wanted to work for an organization that would make a positive contribution to society. 

To meet these evolving and holistic expectations, many organizations are opening to the concept of a skills-based talent strategy. Instead of standardizing employees into predefined job roles, skills-based organizations focus on harnessing the unique strengths and capabilities of individuals. But what does a skills-based talent strategy look like exactly? If workers of the near future are no longer defined solely by specific job roles, what becomes of these roles, the leaders that manage them and the technology that supports the current matrix of work? 

Skills-based roles: Deconstruct, rebuild and redeploy for new workforce opportunities 

Skills and labor shortages are two pressing concerns facing business today. Over half (52%) of CEOs believe labor and skills shortages will significantly impact profitability in their industry over the next 10 years. But what if the answer to your organization’s skills shortage is hiding in plain sight? 

Employees can possess a remarkable range of skills that may not be immediately apparent on paper. Over a third of employees say they have skills that aren’t clear from their qualifications, job history or job titles; and 27% say that employers focus too much on job histories and not enough on skills. These findings suggest companies could do more to understand and unlock the skills they have in-house. 

Deconstructing roles involves breaking down the job into its individual tasks and identifying the specific skills and capabilities required for each one. It's about seeing workers as a diverse array of capabilities and skills. Instead of, "Is this person fully qualified for this job?" a skills-based organization may ask, "What tasks make up this job and how can we deconstruct — and reconstruct — the work to be done?"   

This approach allows for simultaneous benefits. Not only can you boost cross-functional coordination as employees contribute their skillsets to different areas of the organization, but you can also foster a culture of continuous learning and growth. Deconstructing skills in this way also helps build your organization’s skills taxonomy by providing the necessary granularity and specificity to categorize and organize skills effectively. 

Unlocking hidden talent pools 

By organizing work around outputs and skills, your organization can effectively redeploy and reskill employees, helping address talent shortages and retention strategies. 

 For instance, a health services provider could address its nursing shortage by listing all the tasks of its nurses. As a result, they can create a new patient attendant role where they redeploy staff while simultaneously freeing up their more senior nurses to focus on specialized patient health and services.  You can also improve job descriptions to drive more refined recruitment practices. An example here could be an information technology firm deconstructing its business analyst job responsibilities and translating them into specific skills (like requirements analysis, process documentation and user acceptance testing) that recruiters can extract and compare resumes against. And to drive holistic, cross-functional change, internal talent marketplaces can allow employees to explore different opportunities within the organization. This can lead to a more dynamic work environment where employees can participate in an internal gig economy where they can network and utilize and grow their skills.

Skills-based leaders: Pave the way with targeted upskilling 

Leadership has traditionally been about creating conditions for employees to contribute effectively. With a skills-based approach, instead of focusing on organizing "jobs," managers shift their perspective toward understanding how tasks and projects are accomplished. They should become skilled at orchestrating a diverse range of resources, including both human and digital elements, to effectively execute these tasks. And as employees gain more agency in selecting projects and project leaders, the traditional hierarchical relationship between managers and workers may gradually give way to a more synergistic and fluid dynamic.  This evolution in the way managers and leaders approach work is driving a need for specific capabilities that can help organizations cultivate a skills-based culture, including:  

  1. Technological fluency: Leaders throughout an organization should anticipate how technology and automation can affect work, balancing innovation with practicality. They may need to make decisions about automation's role in tasks and understand the unique contributions employees can make in areas like creativity, cultural nuance and innovation potential. 

  2. Project guidance: Managers may have to source talent within and beyond the organization, rapidly assembling teams based on required skills and capabilities. They may need to coordinate more projects in real-time, applying approaches like scrums and sprints to confirm effective efficient teamwork. 

  3. Empowerment and alignment: Hierarchical authority may be prioritized less. Skills-based leaders should have emotional intelligence, interpersonal skills and understand how to empower workers with accountability and consistency.  

  4. Continual focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI): DEI efforts should be ongoing and embedded in the interactions and relationships within evolved work operating models. Skills-based leaders continually assess whether work and its remuneration are distributed equitably. 

  5. The foundational pillar-purpose-led work: As employees crave more agency and autonomy, skills-based leaders may have to answer the question, "Why should anyone be led by me?" Leaders' reputations should be continually earned and confirmed through their project track records. This increased transparency will likely require leaders to effectively articulate purpose and cultivate positive environments for short- and long-term teams.  

A skills-based approach to talent mobility 

Organizations can use deliberate upskilling to help create a pipeline of future-ready leaders. To help create more impact, personalized learning pathways should mix individual, self-paced learning with immersive, interactive simulated sessions, creating opportunities for leaders to apply and practice their learned skills.   

Digital credentials can also play a critical role in skill-based learning. By documenting their learning through credentials, employees can also effectively communicate their accomplishments and qualifications to the organization. These credentials can provide your organization with a valuable dataset, helping to build and highlight a sustained pipeline of leaders.

A skills-based future: navigating with a human-led, tech-powered approach 

When it comes to making crucial decisions about promotions, compensation or work assignments based on skills, it becomes important to confirm the reliability of the skills data. The good news is that technology for a skills-based future is available — and scalable.  

For example, a human capital management (HCM) system can typically extract skills from your employees’ resumes or manual inputs. Leveraging this data, AI-enabled upskilling platforms can assess skills, identify gaps and create personalized learning paths. With employee surveys, you can gather feedback on your employees’ preferred ways of working and cross-functional interests. And to keep in lockstep with competition or get an understanding on where to begin, your organization could use benchmarking to compare learning and development spend, team ratios and more against industry peers.  

PwC’s pathway to a more skills-based future 

One of the ways PwC is using technology to prepare for a skills-based future is through our employee survey reporting tool, Listen Platform.

When we launched our New Equation strategy, PwC embarked on a listening journey to understand the needs and priorities of our employees. Through these listening sessions, we heard loud and clear that our people’s needs mirrored what organizations were hearing across the world: employees’ expectations and mindsets about where, when and how they work changed, as have their needs for enhanced benefits and development opportunities. 

As a result, PwC launched My+ to reimagine our people experience, leveraging technology to personalize careers while keeping our clients' needs at the forefront. My+ encompasses various key elements, including elevating leadership and coaching skills, evolving benefits to meet the current and future needs of our employees and establishing a tech-enabled talent marketplace. The talent marketplace connects our business needs with the goals, interests and skills of our employees, providing guidance throughout their careers — and it seamlessly integrates skills development tracking, personalized learning plans and exploration of open opportunities. 

This is just one vision that can be born from understanding your employees and skills. There are many ways your organization can begin and scale a skills-based journey. A holistic approach can enable your organization to tap into the potential of your workforce and cultivate a thriving work environment where individuals can flourish in now, and in future industrial revolutions. 

Leverage tech with an eye to the future 

Remember, even while technology can push boundaries and create more opportunities for a future of democratized skills and talent marketplaces, it’s a steady evolution. You don’t need to revolutionize overnight or rebuild from scratch, and you don't have to navigate it alone. By tapping into the  managed services and human-led, tech-powered solutions of PwC, you can gain valuable assistance along the way so you can navigate challenges and enable a smooth transition into a skills-based talent strategy with confidence. 

ProEdge - Help close skills gaps with personalized, AI-generated learning pathways and visibility into workers’ upskilling journeys. ProEdge provides highly targeted curated content and function-specific experiences  through an approach based on our proprietary skills framework and the latest learning methodologies. 

Listen Platform - Set your skills-based approach on a course for success. Listen Platform is a survey and  people analytics digital platform that helps you understand your employees’ opinions, attitudes and experiences. AI-driven analytics and business linkages, with configurable dashboards and reports, help you quickly uncover areas of opportunity within your workforce.    

Saratoga - Inform your skills-based strategy using data, amid a rapidly changing world of work. Saratoga is a benchmarking platform covering 40+ years of history and measurement from over 2,000 clients globally to help compare your organization to industry peers for deeper insights into your workforce.   

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