In particular in knowledge-driven industries such as IT consulting and software engineering, there are many benefits in maintaining a skills profile of your employees:
- It helps to staff project teams with the right people.
- It can foster collaboration and break down knowledge silos by enabling employees to discover each other based on their skills.
- It can help senior management to identify skill gaps and recruitment needs in your workforce before it is too late.
Given the opportunities that knowing the skills of their employees provides, it is not surprising that many organizations are considering to build up a skills inventory across their entire workforce. The basic process for this is straight forward: Ask your employees what they know and are good at, write that information into a skills matrix in a spreadsheet or database and make it accessible to everyone who needs it.
But as everyone who has already made an attempt at building up a skills matrix knows, it becomes quickly more complicated than anticipated. Often the problems arise from two main questions:
- What is a skill and what should be treated as a skill?
- Which skills should you actually track in your skill profiles?
What is a Skill?
Usually, the first question that arises and leads to debate is “What exactly is a skill?”.
The Oxford Languages and Google define a skill as:
The ability to do something well; expertise.
That matches the intuitive understanding of most people. Java programming is a skill. Playing tennis is a skill. Speaking Italian is a skill. But what about being familiar with the details of “Project Echolon” or what about being a certified “Professional Scrum Master”? According to the strict definition, these are not skills. They might be classified as knowledge and certification. So should it be treated as a skill in a skills profile?
When deciding what a skill is for the sake of building up skill profiles of your employees, we suggest to use a loose definition of what a skill is. Treat everything that someone knows about, knows how to do, is certified in or has experience at, as a skill. This includes certifications, educations, industry expertise, languages and so forth.
When in doubt, ask yourself the following question:
Could others benefit from learning that someone knows about something? - If yes, then make it part of your skill profiles.
With this in mind, it’s obvious that the number of skills that may be tracked is vast. In 2018, users listed more than 30’000 distinct skills in their LinkedIn profiles. When looking at job advertisements, the situation is no different. In an analysis of 50’000 random job ads, we have identified no less than 55’000 distinct terms listed as required skills for those jobs. From A like Assembler programming to Z like Zoom.
In an analysis of 50’000 random job ads, we have identified no less than 55’000 distinct terms listed as required skills for those jobs.
Looking at the used terms reveals that many different terms were used to refer to the same skill. It is probably safe to assume that “Java programming”, “Java development” and “Java” all meant the ability to program in the Java programming language.
So the next question naturally becomes "Which skills should you actually track and what terms should you use to do that?".
Which Skills Should You Track?
Which skills you should track depends heavily on what's relevant in your work environment and which use cases you have in mind for your skill profiles. While knowing that someone can drive a truck is very relevant in a logistics business, it’s probably not of importance for a software engineering company at all.
So when deciding which skills to track, you need to understand what’s relevant in your business and what your use cases require. You have basically two ways to do that:
- Top-down: You decide what’s relevant for your organization and should thus be tracked.
- Bottom-up: You involve your employees and crowd-source what skills matter and should be tracked (spoiler: we lean towards the latter).
When you want to decide what skills matter in your organization in a top-down manner, you might start off with a list of pre-defined skills such as the European Skills, Competences, and Occupations framework (ESCO). The ESCO classification lists 13’890 skills.
The ESCO classification lists 13’890 skills and competences.
This list can then be further adapted to your needs. However, this is a very tedious task that won’t fully cover your employees' needs and will likely challenge the acceptance of your solution and severely reduced user engagement.
Another approach is thus to involve your employees in identifying the skills that matter in your work environment. After all, they are the ones who understand in detail what’s important and helpful to know in their daily work. This can be achieved by allowing employees to add arbitrary skills to their skill profiles. In this bottom-up approach, you don’t define what skills are valid and what terms are used to refer to them. Instead, you let your employees decide and make use of the wisdom of the crowd. And to prevent complete chaos and avoid duplication of skills with slightly different terms like “Java programming” and “Java development”, you may set up a review process that reviews new skills and regularly curates the set of skills you are tracking.
The following picture depicts how building up a skills inventory in a bottom-up manner can be approached:
Recommendations and Best Practices
Based on our experience, we provide the following recommendations when considering to build up skill profiles for your workforce:
- If you work in a knowledge-based industry like IT or consulting, involve your employees in defining what skills to track. They know best what skills matter in their daily work and thus can provide valuable input.
- Enable your employees to assign skills to themselves and to their coworkers. This increases user engagement and the accuracy of skill profiles.
- Set up a group of topic experts that regularly review new skills and curate the list of tracked skills in your organization by removing, renaming and merging skills.
- Include reviews of an employee’s skills profile in your HR processes such as one-on-ones. This provides an objective assessment of your employees' skills, enables line managers to define development goals and increases the accuracy of your skill profiles.
- Don’t treat skill profiles as an exact science. A skill profile provides valuable indications about a person’s skills and knowledge. But it will never give you a perfect representation of a person’s skills and knowledge. (Luckily, most use cases won’t require a perfect representation, either!)
- Don’t let the cure be worse than the disease. Keep things as lean as possible. By tracking employees' skills, you want your organization and employees to become more productive, not less.
Last but not least: Keep your use cases in mind and do what’s important to optimally support those use cases.
Our Kwykli Skills Management solution incorporates our recommendations and best practices and might be the ideal solution for your use cases.
If you consider to build up skill profiles of your employees, but are not yet sure how to best proceed, don’t hesitate to get in touch with us. We will listen to your needs and will find out together if our Skills Management solution is a good fit for your use cases.