Both skills-based and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have been on the rise as a focus of workplaces over the last several years, and for all the right reasons. Creating workplaces that foster a sense of belonging for all people from all walks of life improves all the important metrics. It fosters more creative problem solving, it welcomes diversity of thought and opinion, and it is quite simply, the right thing to do.
A skills-based approach naturally supports DEI in workplaces. A skills-based approach reduces barriers to entry based on race, gender, education, socio-economic status, culture and proximity to professional networks. It also equips people with skills to succeed over the long term.
Let’s dive into the intersection between a skills-based approach to managing people operations and DEI. Let’s look at some practical ways to implement skills-based practices through the employee journey that promote greater DEI and ultimately create stronger business and organizations where people actually want to work.
Skills-based is most easily defined in contrast to a job-based approach, which is the traditional and longstanding approach.
Job-based is a predefined set of functional responsibilities assigned to a particular worker. How this manifests is essentially in every crevice of the organization’s structure and the employee’s experience there, including:
Skills-based is a model that places skills, not a job, at the centre of how work is assigned. The full definition from Deloitte is a system where “People can be freed from being defined by their jobs and instead be seen as whole individuals with skills and capabilities that can be fluidly deployed to work matching their interests, as well as to evolving business priorities.”
When the focus is on the presence of a skill, and not where or how that skill was acquired, it supports a system that naturally lends itself to addressing those barriers to diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging.
When we focus on the presence of a skill, we remove artificial barriers, like
More deeply embedded under the surface of these are forces that create obstacles based on socioeconomic class, cultural upbringing and values.
A skills-based approach, at its core, considers skills from everywhere
Knowing that a skills-based approach supports DEI by removing, or at least lowering, some of the barriers that keep people from employment opportunities or from developing skills that allow them to secure better employment opportunities in the future, this ought to be motivation to look at the employee journey and identify opportunities to implement some skills-based practices.
Overhauling the entire People Operations strategy may not be realistic. And that is OK. But there might be some low hanging fruit or points in the journey where it is possible to make some changes that create meaningful results.
Let’s look at each stage of the employee journey and see where and how a skills-based approach can be applied to it.
The hiring process may be the step in the employee journey where there is the lowest hanging fruit to immediately adopt skills-based approaches to promote DEI.
In a skills-based approach, the steps in talent attraction may look like this:
The common proficiency scale for skills is a five point scale. At tilr, we believe in making that proficiency scale clear statements of fact, not rooted in judgment and with clarity about the difference between the different scales.
This is an example of what that framework could look like:
When it comes to assessing and prioritizing candidates, by having a disciplined and laser focus on the candidates’ skills and how tightly those skills match to those that are required for the role can lend to a more DEI process.
People join organizations with ideas of how they can grow their careers and skills. However, this isn’t typically highlighted during the recruitment phase because candidates are promoting themselves for the position. Once the employee is being onboarded into the organization, this is the time to identify those aspiration skills.
Additionally, new employees likely have hidden skills, skills that the organization was not made aware of during the recruitment cycle. These are skills that may not be related to the role or industry. They may be skills that were developed from previous roles or careers, or even areas of life outside the professional realm like hobbies or life goals.
Uncovering those hidden and aspirational skills, and finding ways to align them with business goals can be key to supporting an employee's long term growth and development earlier in their tenure.
High-performing organizations know how to move talent around well. Delegation of work is based on skills rather than job focus, allowing employees to move to leverage their skills. This can take the form of building an internal skills marketplace that reflects every employee. Thereby delegating work based on skills, not jobs and job titles. Moving from a fixed to fluid structure to engagement and mobility will build an internal skills marketplace that reflects every employee.
This is best supported by a skills inventory that is searchable, including the aspire skills. For this reason, housing the skills inventory in a modern system that can be socialized across the organization and kept up to date makes it more usable and therefore more valuable over time.
Skills transparency can be a powerful tool for unlocking development, mobility and retention. By making it clear and known what skills are expected for which roles, employees are empowered to discover and navigate their career path within the organization. Employees have the information to identify their skills gap and, if coupled with the right resources, can discover relevant mentors and self-drive appropriate training and learning.
This approach lends itself to personalized and targeted training programs. Abandon the one-size-fits-all approach and acknowledge that different training methods work for different people. And that different skills have more and less ideal training solutions. By the lubricant underpinning this movement is an embedded culture of continuous learning, whereby skills are constantly being addressed and learning is the solution for the gaps.
Skills transparency also supports a performance management program that is rooted in metrics and is stripped of some subjectivity. By evaluating employees to the skills required for their role, it can make areas of improvement apparent. It can also open a more constructive feedback discussion while offering clear career paths and trajectories within the organization.
The two moments that matter most during the offboarding experience are:
But moving from a knowledge transfer model and to a knowledge gained focus, it can improve these moments. Integrate a knowledge gained offboarding assessment to capture tacit knowledge acquired during their employment tenure. This assessment allows the employee to reflect on the skills they have gained and the organization to identify skills that it is losing. This can also be an important feedback cycle to inform the first step in the employee journey - talent attraction. Knowing which skills are being lost can inform what skills the talent acquisition team searches for in the next candidate.
Former employees with positive experiences can become the greatest brand ambassadors and sources for storytelling. Build the organization’s brand by telling stories about the impact your organization had on former employees’ careers and their growth and skills gained. The benefit of a skill-based focus is that existing employees are more likely to be happy alumni if they feel supported and have opportunities to grow within your organization.
The integration of skills-based practices and DEI in workplaces is not a fleeting trend - it represents a powerful and necessary shift in how we approach people operations and build thriving organizations. By prioritizing skills, it not only opens doors for employees from all backgrounds but it equips people with skills to succeed over the long term.