Human Resources

Anticipating Skills: Future-Proofing Your Workforce

August 3, 2023
4 minutes

The key to staying ahead of the competition lies in the ability of organizations to anticipate the skills required for the future. As industries evolve, new technologies emerge, and customer expectations shift, organizations face a pressing challenge: avoiding the dreaded "skills gap." This gap arises when the skills possessed by the workforce do not align with the demands of the evolving market. To ensure continued success and growth, forward-thinking organizations proactively analyze their future work, assess the necessary skills, and invest in training their employees. By embracing a future-focused approach, companies can equip their workforce with the tools needed to thrive in the face of uncertainty and carve a path towards lasting success. 

Knowing the skills future skills need is knowable. Let’s dive in, step by step, about how going about this analysis to anticipate future skills, then look at how to bridge the gap. This could be the key to building a resilient and agile workforce capable of conquering tomorrow's challenges.

A step by step guide to anticipating skills

One way that anticipating future skills and training for them can be addressed is by following these steps:

Step 1 - Look at organizations' future work.

This is possible because organizations keep track of the work they anticipate in their pipelines. For product-based companies, they have a roadmap for their product. For services-based companies, they have industries that they are targeting. Anticipated projects are housed and planned in project management systems, like Asana and Jira. Anticipated sales are documented and tracked in sales management systems like Salesforce and Hubspot.

The output of this step is a list of the projects that are coming and an anticipated timeline for them.

Step 2 - Assess the skills that are required to execute the work.

Once future work is known, at least a high level scoping of the skills requirements can be conducted. An analysis of the skills that will be required to address the project. For a service firm, this could mean learning how to service a customer in a different industry. For a product firm, this could mean learning how to code in a new language to build a feature.

The output of this step is a list of the skills that are required to execute the project and a ranking of importance of the skills.  

Step 3 - Compare the required skills for the project to the existing skills within the organization.
In order to do this, the organization should already have an up to date skills inventory of the employees skills. This organizational skills inventory should be housed in a modern software system that is easily searchable to find skill.

The output of this step is a list of the skills that already exist in the organization, which employees possess them and at what proficiency level.

Step 4 - Conduct a gap analysis of the skills that are required and those which already exist.

The delta between the skills that are needed and the skills that exist is the skills gap.  

The output of this step is a list of skills that are a gap.

Step 5 - Address the skills gaps with learning paths

Build learning curriculums that address these skills gaps. 

An example of this is a recruitment firm. As the recruiters focus on new industries to target for business development, the recruiters need to quickly learn about the industry in order to know their hiring needs, the skills they are looking for, the common language and terminology when prospecting new clients, and so on. This recruitment firm has developed learning paths for each industry that it targets so any recruiter can do a shallow, medium or deep dive into any new industry it works on.

While the above process is known, there are still fundamental challenges with organizations anticipating their future skills requirements. 

Why anticipating skills is hard

While this is an important exercise organizations should be doing regularly, it is not a perfect system. The challenge is that organizations don’t know what they don’t know. It is wonderful to anticipate skills based on known projects and targeted prospects. But there are unknown and untrackable forces in the market that impact the skills required from the workforce. For example, the pace in which Open AI entered the market was very swift. Policy changes like banning single use plastic. And environmental changes.

Why anticipating skills is important

Anticipating future skills and training the workforce accordingly is undeniably crucial for organizations striving to maintain a competitive edge. The process outlined in this blog post provides a clear roadmap for companies to proactively analyze their future work, assess the necessary skills, and bridge the gap through targeted training initiatives. By following these steps, businesses can build a resilient and agile workforce that remains adept at conquering tomorrow's challenges.

However, it is essential to acknowledge that despite the benefits of this approach, there are inherent challenges in accurately predicting all future skills requirements. Organizations may meticulously analyze upcoming projects and target industries, but unforeseen market forces, technological disruptions, and policy changes can swiftly alter the skills landscape.

Nonetheless, despite these uncertainties, the pursuit of anticipating future skills remains an indispensable exercise for organizations. While it may not be a perfect system, preparing for known projects and potential demands offers significant advantages, enabling companies to adapt more effectively to unforeseen changes and maintain a competitive advantage. By embracing a culture of continuous learning and adaptability, organizations can ensure that their workforce is better equipped to face any future challenges that come their way.

Embracing the approach of anticipating future skills and bridging the skills gap is an ongoing journey. It requires dedication, commitment, and a willingness to adapt to the ever-changing business landscape. By prioritizing employee development, fostering a learning culture, and leveraging innovative learning paths, organizations can create a workforce capable of navigating the complexities of tomorrow's world, and in doing so, secure their position at the forefront of success in the years to come.

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