Bridging the
skills gap

Get the skills you need through a culture of internal mobility and learning

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Bridging the
skills gap

Get the skills you need through a
culture of internal mobility and learning

Share this page

01

01

The new currency — skills

The new currency — skills

2.5 min read

Today, technology is disrupting nearly every industry at a pace never seen before. Half of today’s Fortune 500 is expected to turn over in the next ten years.1

Today, technology is disrupting nearly every industry at a pace never seen before. Half of today’s Fortune 500 is expected to turn over in the next ten years.1

This disruption has big consequences for jobs and skills.

The reality is that as many as 375 million people around the world may need to change roles and update their skills by 2030 in response to evolutions in technology and changes in business.2 We used to talk about word processing and spreadsheet skills, now it’s cybersecurity, big data analytics, and coding. Tomorrow’s workforce needs to be equipped to navigate technologies like AI, blockchain, automation, and new innovations on the horizon.

Skills, and how fast employees and companies can learn, are quickly becoming the competitive advantage — and the biggest risk. This is why 80 percent of executives say they are worried about the availability of key skills when it comes to competing in the future.3 And this is why talent development centered on skills and experiences needs to be a priority for us all.

Our most important priority in HR is finding talent for the future, not just for now. We’re focused on the formidable challenge of attracting, developing, and retaining employees with skills we haven’t yet determined.

— Gina Dellabarca, General Manager of Human Resources for Westpac New Zealand4

Our most important priority in HR is finding talent for the future, not just for now. We’re focused on the formidable challenge of attracting, developing, and retaining employees with skills we haven’t yet determined.

— Gina Dellabarca, General Manager of Human Resources for Westpac New Zealand4

Skills are the new currency and there is simply no precedent for this volume of reskilling. In a tight labor market, in which every company is competing for the same talent, the employee is now in the driver’s seat, not the employer.

The good news? No one has the potential to understand the people and skills needed across the business as much as HR. This is the ideal moment for HR professionals to take charge to create a culture of talent development. To reduce skills shortages by increasing internal hiring and education. To build the workforce of the future from within.

Let’s look at three critical steps to achieving skills success through talent development:

  • Understand the skills you have (and potential skill gaps): With business and technology transforming at the speed of light, an understanding of the skills you have and the skills you need has to be a priority now to keep up with the pace of change.
  • Build a culture of internal mobility to reduce skills shortage: Career mobility is not only critical to sustaining a great employee experience, but 80 percent of HR professionals believe that a better internal talent mobility strategy would reduce recruitment costs and help them find candidates (and make those candidates productive) faster.5 The key is moving from the idea of internal talent mobility into action.
  • Develop employee skills through personalized, consumer-grade experiences: Your company’s success depends entirely on having the right people with the right skills doing the right thing at the right time. This is the new HR imperative. But skills development takes ongoing upkeep and maintenance, and it’s important to empower your workers to take action and ownership over their own careers.

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Understand the skills you have (and potential skill gaps)

Understand the skills you have (and potential skill gaps)

3.5 min read

Almost half (44 percent) of executives consider their workforce plans to be driven by finance and do not take talent dynamics into consideration.6

Almost half (44 percent) of executives consider their workforce plans to be driven by finance and do not take talent dynamics into consideration.6

Do you know what skills you have in your organization? Did you know that Sam in finance actually designs websites for his kids’ sports teams in his spare time? It may sound obvious, but knowing what skills your employees currently have, and at what levels of proficiency, is the essential first step in skill planning for the future.

Start with a skills framework. Think of it like a blueprint for a house. Without one, contractors wouldn’t know where to put the windows, which kind of windows are needed, where the bedrooms go, and how all the various rooms fit together. It’s the same for your workforce. A skills framework provides an understanding of the skills you have, how they fit together, and where you have gaps. It can be fairly extensive, depending on the size and nature of your business. Think of the difference as a blueprint for a three bedroom house versus a shopping center.

Your skills framework should not only be about technical skills. We know they’re important, but the technical skills of value today may not be what you need most in the future. In fact, when we can’t always predict what we’ll need tomorrow, it’s just as important to look at soft skills, like whether someone is creative, a continuous learner, or comfortable with change. Those kinds of attributes are often what make people really successful in a job.

Rest assured you don’t need to start from scratch on your skills framework. ArcBest, a multibillion-dollar freight and logistics company with over 13,000 workers, knows that it’s equally important to understand the specific behaviors that make top performers, in addition to their technical and functional skills. Its HR team recognized that writing job profiles from scratch was not an efficient use of their time, so instead they started with a library of industry-specific competencies and skills from IBM and customized each job profile to reflect the factors that made its leading employees so special.7

In a small organization, it might be quite easy to gather the skills data on your people. But in large organizations like ArcBest, with new hires and leavers adding to the complexity, it can feel like a daunting, and potentially never-ending, task. And that’s exactly the kind of challenge that technology loves. AI solutions can look at the kind of work each employee is doing and suggest a number of adjacent skills and attributes that are linked to their job. All the employee then has to do is to agree or amend the AI suggestions. It takes hours out of what was once a laborious, spreadsheet-driven process. And, crucially, it can help you find out what Sam in finance is truly capable of!

AI-based skills inference can help organizations to find the ‘hidden gems’ in an organization, the people with skills you didn’t even know existed. At an aggregate level, it is possible to design a heatmap of the skills a business has versus skills that are needed, and intervention plans can be put in place that allows businesses to quickly close skill gaps.

The Business Case for AI in HR, IBM Smarter Workforce Institute, December 20188

AI-based skills inference can help organizations to find the ‘hidden gems’ in an organization, the people with skills you didn’t even know existed. At an aggregate level, it is possible to design a heatmap of the skills a business has versus skills that are needed, and intervention plans can be put in place that allows businesses to quickly close skill gaps.

The Business Case for AI in HR, IBM Smarter Workforce Institute, December 20188

Your challenge Your transformed approach
How do I define skills for the hundreds of different job roles we have? It can be daunting to start from an empty spreadsheet, so use pre-populated competency frameworks to give you something to work from. You might also want to consider refining your long list of job roles – many can be consolidated to help with framework creation.
How do we keep skills frameworks up to date without being a drag for employees? AI skills inference technology can help to provide something for employees to react to. It’s much easier for your workers to take a quick look and then edit a list of skills for their role and their level of competence than to have to start from scratch.
How do I find out what skills all our employees have without hundreds of individual conversations? An online solution that not only surfaces skills and attributes that are associated with a job description and employee data, but also gives employees the flexibility to add skills (that may never have been used in their current role), can avoid the need for hundreds of manager conversations. It also enables a consistency of approach that can be a challenge to maintain across different parts of the organization.

Read the report: Competencies in the AI Era

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Build a culture of internal mobility to reduce skills shortage

Build a culture of internal mobility to reduce skills shortage

4 min read

Enabling employees to change jobs within your organization can increase their likelihood to stay by up to 33 percent.9

Enabling employees to change jobs within your organization can increase their likelihood to stay by up to 33 percent.9

Once you know the skills you have and have defined your framework for the skills you need, it’s time to bridge the gap. The knee-jerk response might be to start placing job ads, but let’s pause for a moment. Have you really made the most of the talent you already have?

Ensuring that your existing talent is able to fully utilize all of their current skills and develop their careers is a huge driver of employee engagement and business performance. It also matters for employee retention. In fact, three out of four high-potential workers say they would be attracted to a new job in a different organization if it offered better career development opportunities or enabled them to fully utilize their skills.10

Even when organizations recognize that clear career progression paths and successful job transitions are integral to business success, the reality is that most workers are left to their own devices to find new opportunities. While high performing employees may be singled out for development opportunities, career coaching has historically been an extremely high-touch, human-driven process with a lack of tangible results.11

HR of tomorrow takes advantage of digital and social technologies, and AI. This is a radical shift. The employee was getting lost in the HR process. They had to search around for answers to their questions. Now, we can make it a great experience and personalized and transparent for employees.

— Diane Gherson, IBM CHRO and 2018 HR Executive of the Year12

HR of tomorrow takes advantage of digital and social technologies, and AI. This is a radical shift. The employee was getting lost in the HR process. They had to search around for answers to their questions. Now, we can make it a great experience and personalized and transparent for employees.

— Diane Gherson, IBM CHRO and 2018 HR Executive of the Year12

According to a recent survey by the IBM Smarter Workforce Institute and UNLEASH13 one of the common barriers to greater internal mobility is employees’ lack of career information, either due to low visibility of potential opportunities, or no encouragement to pursue them. And while 79 percent of HR professionals believe internal mobility is important to their talent management strategy, only 30 percent are satisfied with their ability to meet goals in this area.14 This is where technology can help.

One of the oldest and largest financial institutions in the United States, Citizens Bank, wanted to help its people understand the skill requirements of their current role and look at how their aspirations and desires align with the company’s needs in order to see potential paths they could pursue. Citizens is implementing an AI-based virtual career coach to help its 18,000 employees set career goals, determine what kind of skills training they need, and move into new roles within the company. Says John Ferguson, SVP, Head of Talent Management at Citizens Bank, “As a company, we made a decision that we’d made a lot of investments to meet client needs, and to equip people to be able to do that, but we also needed to look internally in the organization and make investments in our people. As we looked at what was out there, we started investigating AI, and that eventually brought us to IBM and the Watson Career Coach product.” Ferguson continues, “Quite frankly, what we’re trying to do, taking AI and using it as a career coach and talk about career development, those are complicated conversations. There’s not a single answer, typically, to questions such as, ‘What should I do next in my career?’ But that’s what we’re trying to tackle.” 15

An AI solution can deliver a direct channel to opportunities for employees who want growth or change. Not only that, but some workers may be reluctant to start a conversation about a new role with their current manager for fear of being seen as disloyal. A virtual coach could be a better interface for employees who want to evaluate their options before officially speaking with their manager. The coach can even suggest new opportunities that employees may not have considered: what if your skills make you a great fit for a career in sales, but you always thought of yourself as an HR person?

Your challenge Your transformed approach
How do I match open job opportunities to the skills of our current workforce? First, great that you’re thinking first about internal mobility to fill your open job reqs. Your managers should be encouraged to flag new roles to their teams and publicly acknowledge internal mobility as great for the organization. If you want to automate the process to enable employees to drive their own internal mobility, then consider an AI solution that is not only able to “chat” with your people but also do the matching for them.
How do I find people for the most hard-to-fill roles without paying over the odds? Consider identifying people already in your business with the potential to fill those roles. The right assessments can be used to identify potential and then you can put in place training and development to get people up to speed. When Goodwill of North Georgia found that it could take three to six months to train a new case manager, but they were rapidly expanding their services into new industries, it made better financial sense to recruit and train internally to keep operational costs low and productivity high. Goodwill was then able to help its employees cultivate new skills and reach new paths of success.16

Learn how Citizens Bank improved internal mobility with AI.

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Motivate employees to continuously learn new skills through personalized, consumer-grade experiences

Motivate employees to continuously learn new skills through personalized, consumer-grade experiences

4 min read

Eighty percent of employees say they lack the skills they need both for their current role and their future career.17

Eighty percent of employees say they lack the skills they need both for their current role and their future career.17

Think of the different approaches to organizational learning you’ve encountered throughout your career. Historically, learning has been deployed in a one-size-fits-all approach.8 You’ve probably also witnessed scenarios where learning opportunities are left up to individual managers to fund from a discretionary budget (which is often one of the first things to go in a budget cut). Even when employees want to learn, they often struggle to make time to do so.

Now that our experiences as consumers are so easy and personalized – a few clicks to buy, a chat window that pops up just when you were wondering whether your potential purchase would do the job you needed – our expectations in the workplace are heightened. Where employee work experiences used to rely almost entirely on managers, today, new approaches can create a much more personalized experience without the need for hours and hours of manager time.

The rate and pace of skill demand is accelerated to the point where the external market simply can’t provide everything we need. As a result, it’s really important for us as an organization, as a function, as a capability to think differently about the availability of our internal talent and how we can take advantage of that… In our engagement survey at IBM, we have found that the strongest correlation — higher than any other feature of our environment — to engagement is learning opportunity. Those who take advantage of learning opportunities are by far the most engaged.

— Deb Bubb, VP, Chief Leadership and Learning Officer, IBM18

The rate and pace of skill demand is accelerated to the point where the external market simply can’t provide everything we need. As a result, it’s really important for us as an organization, as a function, as a capability to think differently about the availability of our internal talent and how we can take advantage of that… In our engagement survey at IBM, we have found that the strongest correlation — higher than any other feature of our environment — to engagement is learning opportunity. Those who take advantage of learning opportunities are by far the most engaged.

— Deb Bubb, VP, Chief Leadership and Learning Officer, IBM18

While learning management systems have allowed more effective delivery of corporate-wide training, new technology like AI brings personalization to the forefront. AI solutions can match learning content to specific employee skills gaps at the optimal point in time and tailor content delivery to individual learning preferences (i.e. self-paced video versus classroom settings). This can accelerate skills growth because it’s delivered when and where employees need the information and guidance.

The ability of an organization to learn is more important than ever, because the half-life of skills is shorter than ever. Living in a world where we have our TV shows curated for us in a personalized app, and items we order online arrive within 24 hours, employees expect a similar experience at work. Career coaching technology can provide this type of consumer-grade experience by personalizing learning recommendations and instantly pointing to relevant job opportunities inside the company. Engage workers by giving them the ability to track the progress of their skills development against their career goals.

Using AI technology to deliver consumer-grade experiences to employees is a way to drive better learning results because it will understand and develop each person based on the skills and abilities unique to them. We just cannot do this without the help of technology.

IBM’s HR team wanted to provide high quality career guidance to all employees, regardless of level. So, the team developed a personal advisor that interacts with workers who are thinking about future opportunities. It gets to know the employee by asking and answering questions with natural language and integrating with historical information. It allows employees to upload their resumes or answer questions about skills, and then suggests roles that are suitable for the employee. It also offers personalized learning recommendations, which help employees continually develop their skills. AI is personalizing learning and development for each job role and leading the way in making learning a central aspect of the company's culture.19 The results? More than 45,000 learners are visiting IBM's learning platform every day and 98 percent of employees access it each quarter.20 Says Richard McColl, Vice President and Partner, Talent Technology Practice Leader, IBM Global Business Services, “We have taken but the first steps in a new frontier where AI has the potential to help workers continuously grow and enhance their performance… Individuals who are most successful competing for work opportunities will be those who embrace performance enhancing AI.”21

Your challenge Your transformed approach
How do I help employees access the learning they need, when they need it? This all comes down to intelligent tagging of your content to ensure that it can be found easily by employees looking for support. We’re talking about much more than keywords – using AI that understands natural language is able to match what your employee types into a search function with the video, articles, webinars, and other training materials that you have on hand.
How do I give all employees access to learning, not just high-potentials? Historically, organizations had to focus tight learning budgets on mandatory courses and high-potential employees. AI solutions are now opening up learning to all. An AI solution to learning is personalized so that new learning suggestions are made to employees based on what others in their role or with their learning history have benefitted from before. It’s like having a career coach for every single employee, not just your high potentials.

See how AI can be used to personalize career mobility and skill development.

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Take the next steps

Take the next steps

1.5 min read

Your new mantra: think big, start small, move fast.

Your new mantra: think big, start small, move fast.

As artificial intelligence and other new technologies help to automate tasks, support decision making and personalization, and drive new ways of working, incredible opportunities emerge for the workforce at large. This is the moment to rethink the way your talent development team operates, where and how your employees spend their time, the type of new skills and learning your team focuses on, and HR’s potential for impact on the business. Don’t wait to get started. Here are three steps you can take immediately to get moving:

  1. Pilot, pilot, pilot. Don’t spend years and years trying to create the perfect talent development program to scale to the entire organization. Get things moving. Try, sometimes fail, but always learn. Bring your good ideas to life quickly so they can build momentum and be adjusted as they grow organically.

  2. Prime your culture. When you bring in a new technology, it’s important to make sure you’re aligning your culture to what you're trying to achieve with the technology. At the end of the day, it’s still going to be about your people – technology like AI is just one of the tools to help your people reach their potential.

  3. Find the right partner. IBM Watson Talent is a go-to-partner for reimagining your internal talent development process. Our expert team of industrial-organizational (I/O) psychologists informs the creation of all our products by guiding the collection and use of skills data, informing how to effectively use AI to augment human intelligence, and addressing HR challenges like unconscious bias, internal mobility, and skill development. Watson is not only the leading AI for business, but Watson Talent is custom-built for HR. It uses AI to illuminate internal career options, reduce regrettable attrition, increase employee engagement, and much more.

Download a PDF version of this guide.



Sources

  1. 2018 Corporate Longevity Forecast: Creative Destruction is Accelerating. Innosight, November 2017
  2. Jobs Lost, Jobs Gained: What the future of work will mean for jobs, skills, and wages. McKinsey Global Institute, November 2017
  3. The Talent Challenge: Rebalancing skills for the digital age. PwC 21st Annual Global CEO Survey, 2018
  4. Unplug from the past: The Chief Human Resources Officer perspective. IBM Institute for Business Value, June 2018
  5. Making Moves: Internal Career Mobility and the Role of AI. IBM Smarter Workforce Institute, May 2018
  6. Harvard Business Review Analytic Services, 2015
  7. ArcBest: Empowering the next generation of leaders to develop the skills for success, 2018.
    https://www.ibm.com/case-studies/arcbest-watson-talent-frameworks-leadership
  8. "How AI can be used across the employee experience," The Business Case for AI in HR. IBM Smarter Workforce Institute, December 2018
  9. Enabling Employees to Change Jobs Within Their Organization Can Increase Their Likelihood to Stay By 33 Percent, According to Gartner, 2018.
    http://www.gartner.com/en/newsroom/press-releases/2018-10-30-enabling-employees-to-change-jobs-within-their-organization-can-increase-their-likelihood-to-stay-by-33-percent-according-to-gartner
  10. Should I stay or should I go? IBM Smarter Workforce Institute, July 2017
  11. Dr. Nigel Guenole. "Three Immediate Steps to Prepare for AI in HR," 2018.
    http://www.ibm.com/smarter-workforce/three-immediate-steps-to-prepare-for-ai-in-hr
  12. The HR Agenda for the Digital Era, 2019.
    https://mediacenter.ibm.com/media/1_afgnt8aj
  13. Making Moves: Internal Career Mobility and the Role of AI. IBM Smarter Workforce Institute, May 2018
  14. Making Moves: Internal Career Mobility and the Role of AI. IBM Smarter Workforce Institute, May 2018
  15. John Ferguson/IBM interview, February 2019,
    https://mediacenter.ibm.com/media/1_pua58p3y
  16. Goodwill of North Georgia: Equips employees with the skills they need to help fulfill its mission of putting people to work, 2018.
    https://www.ibm.com/case-studies/goodwill-of-north-georgia
  17. Gartner 2018 Shifting Skills Survey
  18. How to Create A Learning Enterprise, 2019.
    https://mediacenter.ibm.com/media/t/1_atoqmawz
  19. The Business Case for AI in HR. IBM Smarter Workforce Institute, December 2018
  20. Riia O'Donnell, “From buzzkill to benefit: How IBM rebranded its HR department." HR Dive, April 1, 2019
  21. The Business Case for AI in HR. IBM Smarter Workforce Institute, December 2018