Exploring the future of skills strategy at TLIA

Jacqui Whyatt Jacqui Whyatt Vice President & Group Sales Lead, EMEA

Despite the challenges facing workforce leaders today, the energy, optimism, and innovation in the room at last month’s Talent Leadership in Action (TLIA) event was incredible. It was wonderful to welcome back the hugely knowledgeable Maarten Hansson as our keynote speaker and to chair a panel discussion which was packed with insights from workforce experts. One of the biggest and most important talking points I took home from London was around skills – how do you see them more clearly, harness them more effectively, and create a culture where they can flourish?

The event was incredibly well-attended – with standing room only at The Shard – and it was great to hear so many leaders discussing common skills challenges and sharing innovative ideas and solutions. But it can be tough to pinpoint answers in an uncertain economic and work landscape. As our host Richard Bradley put it, “We’ve all been tasked to find and hire people to solve problems and we don’t even know what the problems are yet. That’s really tough.”

In the face of external pressures, our experts and leaders agreed that developing and honing a strong skills pipeline, utilising both contingent and permanent workers, can give organisations the edge when it comes to navigating business challenges and embracing new opportunities. In this blog, I’ll share some of the biggest and most impactful skills insights from the first TLIA of 2023.

What are the key skills you need and how do you measure them?

This sounds like a simple question but the discussions coming out of our TLIA roundtable sessions showed that it’s anything but! Skills are highly subjective and dependent on your operating reality. How do you effectively define and measure essential skills and competencies when skills look very different from one company to another? My colleague Reinout Brons recently wrote an excellent blog on skills matrices that’s a really useful read, but as our keynote speaker Maarten explained, leaders have to go beyond skills taxonomies to actively pair skills with outcomes. He advised, “Think about the outcomes, what is delivered, because that could break down a service or role even further and give you more opportunities to organise it in the best way.” Ultimately, each organisation has to define and build out a skills roadmap that supports its unique environment and goals.

Creating a culture where skills can thrive

Hiring freezes, economic uncertainty, and the lingering impact of the pandemic, mean that developing your employees’ skills is crucial. But to achieve this strategic shift, leaders must build cultures where individuals and hiring managers feel psychologically safe exploring and stretching their skills. In environments where managers fence in their best talent and workers feel uncomfortable raising their hands for new challenges, it’s easy for skills to stagnate and attrition rates to rise. During our panel discussion, Andrea Marston, Senior Director Global Talent Acquisition, VMware, shared details of an initiative that is powering internal skills mobility – this programme allows leaders to offer internal short-term ‘gigs’, giving workers the opportunity to ‘try on’ new roles for 90 days. Andrea explained this has helped to overcome “imposter syndrome” and has encouraged both managers and workers to look internally for skills and development opportunities. However, our speakers also discussed the importance of balancing upskilling opportunities with well-being to avoid burnout.

Bridging the skills gap

In the current economic climate, many organisations are shrinking or maintaining their permanent headcount, but a large proportion still face the same workload. This is seeing some leaders look not only to internal skills but also increasingly to global contingent talent to fill the gaps. Leaders are reassessing their build, buy, and borrow strategies, with some turning to – as Maarten Hansson mentioned in his keynote – bots as a further labour channel via automated work solutions. Our panelist Matt Norton, Workforce Solutions Research Director, Staffing Industry Analysts, also highlighted the increasing importance of direct sourcing to ensure organizations can more easily pinpoint people with the skills they need, explaining, “at the moment 5% of spend goes through direct sourcing talent pools, we think that’s going to triple within the next two years and we expect 500% growth in the next 10 years.” Leaders everywhere are reassessing their talent mix and looking to external talent, new technologies, and untapped sourcing channels to ensure they have the skills they need to get work done.

Challenging hiring manager expectations

Many leaders are overseeing a skills culture reset, particularly in how they consider the hidden skills inside their business. This often means becoming more flexible with skills requirements. Melanie Forbes, Managing Director, APSCo Outsource, asked an important question during our panel discussion, “Why do you need to go external, you’ve got somebody here who’s got 70% of everything you need? And the 30% they haven’t got – you can train.” Andrea Marston explained that all of the hiring at VMware is “skills-based hiring, and we have that for everything internal, external – it’s about what are you going to come in and do in the role rather than here’s the shopping list of things you must have done.”

At TLIA, I heard a similar story from attendees across almost every industry, having the skill sets is one thing, but how do you then engineer it? How do you make sure you’ve got the right technology, the right systems, the right processes to make sure that the story of one skilled employee can be scalable based on good systems, and not just based on a great manager who spotted some talent? I think that’s a key consideration for all leaders looking ahead to 2023 and beyond – are they prepared to be bold and make lasting structural changes to access the skills they need?

If you’d like to be part of the conversation at our next TLIA event, hear from workforce experts, and network with influential senior leaders across procurement, HR, operations, and talent acquisition, make sure you register for our next event in June 2023.


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