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Boese: How HR tech is responding to the new emphasis on skills

Steve Boese, HR Tech Conference chair
Steve Boese
Steve Boese is HRE's Inside HR Tech columnist and chair of HRE’s HR Technology Conference®. He also writes a blog and hosts the HR Happy Hour Show, a radio program and podcast.

Most organizations are facing similar challenges in the second half of 2021. Of course, emerging from the pandemic, navigating employee safety and wellbeing, and managing new ways of working are likely still primary concerns. But there is also a second set of HR challenges that, if not at the top of HR’s list of priorities, is quite likely very near it. These are some of the talent challenges that were, pre-pandemic, at the front of the HR agenda: improving diversity, equity and inclusion; finding new talent to fill open roles; and helping existing employees develop their skills and see potential opportunities for continued growth in the organization.

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Both HR leaders and leading HR technology providers are reexamining these challenges, as the conversation around talent–finding and engaging more diverse talent and developing talent to meet current and future organizational requirements–is transforming to one about skills, the fundamental aspects of an employee profile and job/task role. Simply put, an individual candidate or employee possesses a set of skills that are readily identifiable from their work history, education and other experiences. And most job/role descriptions have a set of requirements listed that any suitable candidate for the role needs to have (so the employer thinks) to be considered for the role, and by extension, to have a chance to succeed in the role. Traditional matching for open roles was initially a review of a resume or CV against a job description, either manually by a recruiter, and, later, via a keyword-matching process inside an ATS: Look at the resume and see if what it literally contains matches closely enough with the text of a job requisition.

Read more insights from Steve Boese here.

But that keyword-matching process, while an improvement over the “gut feeling” of a recruiter or hiring manager, has always had limitations. It highly favors candidates who learn how to “game” the system and stuff their CVs and profiles full of the keywords they expect for them to match the job req. These candidates may then be rated more favorably by an ATS over similarly qualified candidates who simply do not understand the keyword game they are playing. And the process also impedes and lengthens employers’ ability to fill open roles. If a new job req states that a very specific technical skill is required and no candidate directly includes that specific skill in their CV or profile, then the search for the “right” candidate can go on and on.

Finally, the overall process has tended to favor candidates similar in background to prior successful candidates–essentially, the current group of employees–thus negatively impacting the employer’s desires to develop a more diverse workforce. What has been needed is a better way to match talent to roles, and after that, help employees continue to progress in their career goals.

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To meet this need, many HR technology companies have begun to focus on skills as the means for better job matching and enhanced employee development. The basic idea is to ingest a vast number of candidate and employee profiles and use advanced technologies like AI and ML to interpret these profiles primarily looking at job history, and then build a classification system, or ontology of named, specific skills from this data. Additionally, AI technology is being applied to not only define skills, but also as a prediction mechanism that can evaluate a profile and determine which undisclosed skills a person is likely to have based on their self-identified skills and job history. This helps solve the problem of candidates who do not know how to “game” the system. Finally, these skills technologies can also examine all the roles in the organization and create an overall skills library that allows HR leaders to assess skills their employees possess against skills the organization needs–facilitating more advanced workforce planning and updated recruiting strategies.

See also: Here’s what’s needed to close America’s skills gap

There are many benefits of an AI-driven, skills-based approach to talent management in terms of making positive progress in DE&I. AI can remove many human biases that often emerge when a recruiter evaluates a CV: things like a person’s name, where they live, the schools they attended, all of which can lead to unfair or unjustified impressions or conclusions. In a skills-centric matching system, only the actual skills matter–not how or where they were acquired. It also helps employers cast a wider net in their search for talent, as these skills technologies help expose skills in candidate populations that previously would have gone undiscovered. And in terms of career development and planning, the newest of these HR tech tools can provide employees dynamic career path options, considering their skills profile, their goals and the skills they need to make progress along their journey.

If you are interested in seeing how this skills-centered approach to talent management is manifesting in HR technology, register for the HR Technology Conference, taking place Sept. 28-Oct. 1 in Las Vegas, where there will be an entire track devoted to learning and reskilling. Placing skills at the center of the talent management conversation is just one of many emerging themes in HR tech, and it’s one where I expect continued development in 2021 and beyond.

Click here to register for HR Tech.