Future-proofing your talent pipeline: The case for future skills (Part I)

Based on the Future of Jobs Report published by the World Economic Forum in 2020, ever-increasing technological advancement will result in around 50% of all employees (worldwide) requiring reskilling in the next five years.

In this sense, both employees and employers will have to future proof their skillsets and onboard competencies to remain competitive. In this first of a two-part series of articles on the assessment of future skills, we will provide you with a thorough understanding of not only the challenges that technological acceleration poses to traditional talent functions but also some of the credible and robust solutions that IOPs and talent professionals can implement to mitigate risk for the companies they advise.

In this article, the first in a two-part series on assessing for future skills, we will summarize the key implications of the need for future skills and how organizations can understand and address the coming skills gap that emerging technology and the increased pace of business change are creating.

In addition, we examine a robust solution to the skills gap and the question of future skills by showing how Aon’s Future Skills Framework offers a robust and defensible roadmap for talent professionals and IOPs. This framework not only helps to make sense of future skills but also shows how to assess for future skills using best-of-breed assessment products such as the ADEPT-15.

First, let us arrive at a basic definition of future skills.

What are future skills?

In the future, there will obviously be a need for increasingly complex and new technical skills. But future skills go beyond just the so-called “hard skills” and also reference more subtle behavioral competencies that will be needed by organizations to remain relevant.

As an example, TTS product partner, Aon’s digital readiness is a conglomeration of competencies that include behaviors such as curiosity and a coaching mindset. While these are not traditional technical skills, cultivating such competencies within the future workforce can help organizations maintain competitive advantage and ensure that they future proof both high potential and leadership tracks within the business.

Another trend being observed within future skills research is the eventual blurring of so-called hard and soft skills. With technological acceleration, we would expect to see technologies like Artificial Intelligence to challenge our traditional, dichotomous understanding of soft and hard skills.

For instance, comfort with working with an AI partner may not only require hard, data science skills but also so-called soft skills like openness to novelty and curiosity.

It seems clear that future workforce requirements will almost necessarily include the competencies of agility and resilience in the face of constant change and dynamically-shifting business landscapes.

Future skills as strategic imperative

In understanding the required skills for the workplace of tomorrow, organizations can begin to plan how to transition or upskill their talent in response to a changing workforce.

In this way, future skills (and their measurement) become a clear strategic talent imperative. Organizations that don’t invest in this process are in danger of losing the talent wars of the future, as new jobs emerge along with hitherto unknown talent requirements to fill these roles.

Keeping in mind that half of today’s workforce will require reskilling by 2025, an organization’s business strategy will closely follow and inform their talent strategy when dealing with future skills. In this way, IOPs and talent professionals can add real strategic value to the strategic conversations happening in businesses right now.

The future skills gap challenge

Given the above description of a dynamically changing talent landscape, what are some of the key implications for talent professionals, IOPs, and HR managers?

Before discussing the details, it is worth first examining just what the risks are for organizations that do not prepare adequately for the coming skills gap.

As previously mentioned, the World Economic Forum has recently predicted that at least 50% of the workforce will have to be reskilled by 2025. That translates to more than 120 million workers in just the 12 largest economies globally!

Why is this likely to take place?

Because of the rapid pace of technological adoption by most companies as well as the impact that disruptive technologies like AI will have on the concept and execution of work. This in turn has fuelled an increased focus on talent mobility and availability among top companies (Source: Aon HR Pulse survey, 2021). In this article, we will argue that reskilling and acquiring the correct talent for future-proofing your organization can only take place if talent professionals acknowledge how future skills are likely to play a pivotal role in this imperative.

As we will demonstrate, assessing for future skills is the key to meeting the challenge of disruptive technologies, but such assessments are not a point-in-time activity. Instead, it must include the measurement of behavioural competencies and cognitive abilities that can transcend the fast-moving skills in the future talent marketplace.

Upskilling and reskilling for future skills

Companies are increasingly becoming aware that they will need to adapt to emerging technologies and a vastly altered talent landscape in the near future. While innovations such as AI will no doubt require some specific technical abilities in certain employees, the entire workforce is likely to be impacted in some way.

As a result, digitally agile organizations are moving from an approach that emphasizes the acquisition of talent to one of up- and reskilling employees. And while a large portion of most corporate budgets will continue to be spent on technology, the impact of such technological innovation can only be achieved through having the right people on board.

Given that new jobs are being created at a far more rapid pace than traditional tertiary institutions can cope with, employees will not necessarily have the luxury of having “ready-made” talent to recruit from graduate programs as was the case in the past. The answer is therefore to focus more on the training and development of existing talent.

Employees who are investing in reskilling or upskilling their employees to meet the challenges of future work are also likely to reap rewards in terms of talent retention and engagement, especially in the face of growing fears that technologies such as AI might have calamitous effects on employment.

Companies are also starting to acknowledge that the risk of making people redundant in certain careers ought to become part of their social responsibility conversations.

All of the above developments point to a radical shift in the way we are going to conceive of the talent pipeline in the near future. It seems clear that organizations will not be able to source sufficient talent for technology and data-infused jobs. The shift will be from the traditional notion of “talent wars” to one of a race for reskilling and upskilling.

A roadmap for closing the gap

If organizations are shifting to a more upskilling and reskilling talent model, it is important for talent professionals and IOPs to be able to sketch out a feasible and defensible roadmap on how the companies they serve can accomplish that.

TTS’s best-of-breed product partner, Aon, has proposed the following multi-step plan, known as the Future Skills Framework that is based on their research and experience across the globe and with hundreds of client organizations facing the challenges of future work:

  • Step 1. Understand your current talent landscape and possible future skills gaps in the present workforce.
  • Step 2. Benchmark your talent strengths and gaps against your peers
  • Step 3. Define future requirements in terms of technical and global future skills (more on these below)
  • Step 4. Align your reward structures with your roles’ future skills profile
  • Step 5. Design a measurable reskilling process and link to job architecture, learning and development, and assessment strategies.

Throughout this roadmap, it is vital to have accurate and scientifically defensible information regarding both the current skills gap as well as how any future talent (home-grown or otherwise) stacks up against the needs of the organization to address the skills gap.

In other words, robust assessments are called for that can measure not only the behaviors and abilities that have been traditionally valued but also those associated with future skills requirements.

Understanding the future skills talent landscape

Recent surveys conducted by Aon assessment services reveal that only 28% of organizations have a clear plan for addressing the future skills gap. However, the same surveys reveal that most organizations will need to position themselves differently in their approach to talent in the near future as a result of the future skills gap.

To address this discrepancy and get ahead of the challenge that these challenges represent, it is important for organizations to embark on a detailed analysis of their current and future job and skills needs. Fortunately, such companies need not start from a blank canvas. Instead, resources such as the Aon future skills framework, which encompasses competencies related to digital leadership and digital readiness are a good place to start.

The advantages of using formal frameworks are multiple. Chief amongst these is that competencies frameworks designed by best-of-breed assessment providers such as Aon’s are already optimized for scientific measurement. Thus, organizations that employ such frameworks can rest assured that robust psychometric assessments are already available and aligned to the objective of measuring future skills and competencies.

As mentioned above, Aon’s Future Skills Framework represents a massive step forward in not only providing talent professionals with an assessment-ready skills framework but also brings to bear the globally-recognized and award-winning ADEPT-15 and cut-e assessment suites for accurate and benchmarked assessment delivery.

Assessing for future skills

Based on surveys such as the Aon HR Pulse Survey and various think tanks, client insights and research, Aon has provided a sound structure for future skills that organizations can assess for in their talent pool.

This model comprises six core skills:

  • Leadership
  • Resilience
  • Digitalization
  • Insights
  • Excellence
  • Interconnection

Each of the six core skills can be further subdivided into three areas each, making for a total number of 18 areas.

As an example, the core skill of digitalization is subdivided into the following three areas:

  1. Digital business acumen: Grasping the complexities of a digital business model and working well within the current and future interconnected business landscape
  2. Tech development: Understanding and driving software, UX and network design
  3. Agile methods: Setting up and driving agile business and project structures

It is important to note that while some of the skills and areas may reference technical abilities (e.g. Understanding agile project management principles, UX design, etc), they largely transcend traditional technical skills (e.g. proficiency with applications) to focus on competencies that will most likely prepare the individual to function within a future skills environment.

Using assessments that are adaptive and business-focused such as the ADEPT-15 allows for the accurate measurement of this framework, tailored to the unique challenges and opportunities that the client identifies in their talent landscape.

Final thoughts

In this article, we introduced the vital concepts of future skills, the coming skills gap, and Aon’s revolutionary Future Skills Framework (and roadmap) that organizations can use to evaluate, diagnose, assess and thrive in the future world of work.

If the future of the talent wars lies in a radical new way of looking at upskilling and reskilling, organizations will turn to IOPs and talent professionals for the answers. We believe that Aon’s Future Skills Framework represents best-of-class answers to such questions, and we look forward to bringing this innovative framework, along with supporting assessments such as ADEPT-15 to the local market.

As companies increasingly digitize their business models and take advantage of emerging technologies such as AI and data science, new skills requirements will become a regular part of the talent landscape.

It is therefore essential for organizations to have robust plans that detail how they will adapt to the new talent requirement. In many instances, it will require talent audits to uncover the current and future ideal state. In addition, jobs will need to be re-analyzed to uncover how emerging technologies may alter them. And finally, initiatives that have as an end goal the development of future skills will need to be launched.

Throughout this process, an accurate and scientifically defensible understanding of current and future skills within the workforce will be essential.

In the upcoming installment of this two-part series of articles on future skills, we will discuss several international case studies that illustrate how the Future Skills Framework can help clients in the present to prepare for their futures.  We will also be reviewing the key findings of Aon’s Future Skills Gap global survey and its implications for your organization’s talent function. Look out for the article on our website and future TTS newsletters!

If you are interested in how TTS can help you understand and address the talent pipeline in your organization, speak to us at info@tts-talent.com.