Many factors can drive the demand for skills in the workplace; the current landscape is ever-changing, which brings with it a unique set of challenges for businesses of all sizes. Market-wide digital transformation and technology advancements are some of the biggest changes we have seen right across the globe in response to Covid-19.

In our recent ‘Adapting is thriving in a post-pandemic world’ virtual event, where we were joined by UK leading thinkers on the future of work, UK Government adviser and chief executive of the RSA, Matthew Taylor and Professor Jonathan Trevor from Saïd Business School, University of Oxford, it was suggested that the disruption that we have experienced has, in fact, not introduced new changes, just merely accelerated an existing trajectory of change.

Considering what this means for businesses, there are some key questions to think about:

  • How should we structure our organisation in the future? 
  • How do you develop culture in a virtual working environment? 
  • Is remote working a viable option for us long term? 
  • And importantly, what does a great skill set look like in the future? 

Ultimately, determining the ideal strategy for future success falls on leadership teams and there is no one-size-fits-all or generic prescription that will work for everybody. Thinking about it from a people perspective, Jonathan highlighted they he would expect to see companies increasingly segment our workforces into different but highly complementary skill sets and capability sets. In particular, to differentiate between performers and transformers skill sets. 

Skills challenges - performers vs transformers

Digital transformation has driven a tremendous uplift in demand for technical know-how, forcing organisations to confront their skills gaps. First, they need to follow these steps below to find out what those skills gaps are.

  • Perform a skills gap analysis by identifying the skills that each existing role requires and comparing that to the skill levels of existing employees
  • Calculate any costs, aligned with organisational requirements
  • Create a sustainable strategy to fill those gaps 

 When you're looking at skills gaps in any team, what you're trying to make sure that you avoid is replacing like for like without thinking and standing back.

Nick Kirk, UK Managing Director, PageGroup

Once the gap has been identified, there are many ways to plug it. This can be done through training, mentoring, and even succession planning. With employees skilled in the right areas, businesses are much better placed to push ahead with their short and long-term aims and objectives.

Professor Jonathan Trevor explained that the focus for businesses moving forward should be on, as it always is, ensuring strong performance but increasingly trying to develop talent that can operate in a transformer capacity in addition to supporting the key performers. 

Operating in this way will require a different mindset in approaching how we attract, hire, and these employees:

Performers - those most responsible for the implementation of strategy, for generating results, for the day-to-day delivery of the organisation's products and services to its customers. 

Performers typically want clarity of expectation. They want the tools necessary to perform their work as optimally as possible. They want clarity of not just expectation but also measure as well. There must be a clear focus on what good looks.

Transformers - these individuals think about the long term. They think strategically about the questions of aligning purpose, strategy, and organisations, operating with a view of leading the whole of the organization as a system to balance performance today with identifying the types of capabilities that it will need in the future.
Transformers do not typically need structure, direction, or guidance. They require freedom to create and freedom to look at the tactical operations of a company and at the strategic level long term. 

What is driving the tech skills gap?

Before the global health crisis, many organisations were too slow to get to grips with certain developments like automation, blockchain, and cloud computing, but even simpler concepts such as remote working and operating virtually. It may be that they may have the basis of automation in place, but their processes might not be refined. What if they are running a blockchain network? Are the computer systems robust enough for the complex blockchain protocols? Or, do they have their data running through the cloud? Has a thorough risk assessment around their cloud security set-up been conducted? 

Getting businesses ready for a quick shift to remote operating has perhaps been the first building block in creating more agile system ways of working. However, employing expertise with the right technical acumen to implement it on an organisational scale, has proved to be a challenge.

Advancements in technology continue to move at a fast pace and the ongoing and competitive war for talent can create an unhealthy skills gap. Businesses have accepted that they have to be bolder and react quicker to attain the right candidates. Meanwhile, a diversified approach to recruitment has seen the skills gap in the tech area shrink to some extent.

Getting the right balance 

In addition to ensuring performer and transformer capabilities are complementary of one another in the organisational structure, a keen mix of technical and soft skills provides the perfect balance in any industry.

 “The balance of soft skills and hard skills is something that all organisations will be wrestling with. It's about understanding your priorities. Fundamentally, there will be a set of hard skills for every role that the candidate will absolutely have to have.”

Nick Kirk, UK Managing Director, PageGroup

Situational and emotional intelligence are soft skill growth areas that are now seen as an important component in the candidate recruitment process. However, people with high levels of learning quotient and critical thinking, now need to balance this with hard, technical skills. They need to be adaptable with an open personality that fits into their company strategy and culture.

Balancing the need for soft and technical skills is the challenge for every organisation and it is difficult to agree to compromise on either soft or hard skills. Yet, there are times when compromise will be necessary, depending on company constraints/needs. There is a fair argument to say that if implemented correctly, both opposing skills sets will complement each other. It is also crucial for employers to evaluate the work environment, the team and the open position, to understand the top-level behavioural skills required not just today, but in the future too.

How will skills evolve?

The smart thinking is that the demand for skills will be fairly fluid; in other words, employees will need to learn new skills quickly to increase their employability. With workforces adapting to automation, understanding, and managing the overarching process, we will see it flipped on its side. Emotional empathy will be keyed into AI, increasing AI’s human thought patterns for customer interaction tools like chatbots. However, machines performing technical and routine tasks will require people to programme and monitor them. Adding to the complexity of recruiting, is the fact that candidates with high potential do not need to compromise their desire for meaningful and purposeful work. The focus needs to be on the potential mix of soft and hard skills growth, not a narrow focus on work experience and education.

 “Good candidates will have an aptitude for learning, but also a desire to develop themselves as a proposition. So, not to stand still, but to progress, and to remain relevant.”

Nick Kirk, UK Managing Director, PageGroup

Finally, employees and candidates want to understand the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ behind their role, while employers need an open view on the productivity and potential the candidate brings. That way, the company can ensure the position that needs to be filled, remains so for the long term, not just temporarily. Candidate lists should be diverse enough to reflect the real world. Recruiting should focus on personalities and behaviours with future potential, alongside the key technical skills you need today. This will create market flexibility, improve candidate mobility, and help make workplaces more representative.