Sage-Gavin: 4 ways to build talent for today—and tomorrow

By: | November 9, 2021
HR Leadership columnist Eva Sage-Gavin is a distinguished HR thought leader and former CHRO with more than three decades of broad experience in Fortune 500 global consumer, technology and retail corporations. She currently serves as the senior managing director for Accenture’s global talent & organization consulting practice and as a technology Board Director. She can be emailed at hreletters@lrp.com.

Organizations are in the midst of a talent crisis. Ongoing labor shortages and the Great Resignation are creating what’s being called a “vicious feedback loop” for employers, where the workers who describe their companies as understaffed are also the ones considering leaving their jobs. And while the unemployment rate dropped to 4.6% in October, there are still 3 million fewer Americans in the workforce compared to pre-pandemic levels.

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In short, discovering and unlocking talent has never been more important for leaders. And it starts with skills: truly the new currency of the realm for individuals, teams and organizations.

Who we are as workers has changed dramatically as a result of the pandemic. This means we have to think differently about how we manage careers, foster collaboration and support talent.

So, how can we address the widening skills gap and translate intent into immediate and inclusive action?

Invigorate internal talent

I recently had the privilege of speaking about this topic at a Workday CHRO Connect event with a fantastic panel of guests, including my good friend Dr. John Boudreau, professor emeritus of management and organization and senior research scientist with the Center for Effective Organizations at the Marshall School of Business, University of Southern California.

Dr. Boudreau expects to see an increase in internal talent marketplaces that will allow companies to “invigorate their own workforce, tapping skills beyond those used in current roles.”

Reskilling existing workers creates a competitive advantage. We all know that skilling people we already have is a lot faster—and less expensive—than acquiring new talent. Despite this, organizations often reach out to external candidates instead of leveraging their own teams for untapped talent.

It’s imperative for us to find new and creative ways to skill our own workers, and research increasingly shows that workers expect this. More than two-thirds (70%) agree that their organization helps them meet their potential by implementing a program of training, skilling and education.

As we prioritize cultivating skills, we should take care to do so in an equitable manner.

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

Invest in continuous learning

The current definition of “skill” is “the ability to do something that comes from training, experience or practice.” But it originated from the old Norse word skil, which is defined as “distinction.”

It’s so crucial for all of us to remember that skills are, indeed, learned. We all possess different inherent abilities and talents but mastering a skill—any skill—requires training and practice.

As Shinichi Suzuki, philosopher, educator, musician and creator of the Suzuki method said, “Knowledge is not skill. Knowledge plus 10,000 times is skill.”

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The “distinction” definition is also relevant: A culture of continuous learning is one way for employers to differentiate themselves in a competitive landscape. Acquiring new skills not only helps workers in new roles, but it also equips them to keep pace as the future of work evolves.

For instance, now that every company is a digital company, digital fluency is key to unlocking workforce agility. Most companies have made digital transformation a priority, accelerating investments in equipping workers with digital skills and putting cloud at the core. Workers with cloud-related skills will continue to rise.

Individualize the approach

Another thing we can do is look at each person as an individual when it comes to skilling. This calls for creating a personalization engine of sorts that can recognize skills people already possess and illuminate any gaps.

Blockchain can enable this by helping showcase a person’s skills in a portable, personalized record that can travel with them throughout their career journey.

Greg Pryor, executive director at Workday, and his co-authors, Rob Cross and David Sylvester, have an excellent piece in the Harvard Business Reviewon the importance of building an internal network to address skills gaps as one advances within a company. They recommend formal transition planning to help workers build connections and get the training they need.

An individualized approach goes beyond addressing the skills that increase employability. Increasingly, leaders are taking more responsibility for workers’ holistic wellbeing and are actively seeking to earn their trust. That means caring about people’s interests alongside the company’s needs.

Include more candidates

We can use all the available technology to change our approach to talent acquisition, screening candidates in versus screening out and widening the aperture. We can use tech and AI to find those people who aren’t obvious candidates but could still be perfect fits.

I recently spoke with Rachel Carlson, CEO of Guild Education, about the work she’s doing to help frontline workers get upskilling and education through their employers debt-free.

Her company is focused on partnering with Fortune 1000 employers to connect them and their employees to a learning marketplace of universities and learning providers to offer education and upskilling opportunities to prepare them for the future.

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She said in a recent interview that “Education somehow got tangled up with this idea of a degree and we need to talk about the deliverance of skills to workers.

“When we talk about these issues of economic mobility and diversity and equity and inclusion, we’re finally seeing the data that if we help a frontline worker see their skills, they can move up the economic ladder.”

Any time someone discovers their own hidden potential, everyone benefits.