Degrees good, skills essential – The new validation for today’s workforce

Skills will form the key component in driving today’s workforce, as companies begin to place a higher value and focus on skills.
By: | November 12, 2020

Academic qualifications have been the main form of validation and gatekeeping for employers in their recruitment for as long as we can remember. And for employees, a good degree has been their passport to a secure, interesting job.

But that is all about to change in the new era of work that we have been thrust into by the COVID-19 pandemic. The global workforce now finds itself scrambling to adapt not just to the new normal, but to new roles that might not have existed pre-COVID-19. And with years of digitalisation crammed into a matter of months, businesses are in desperate need of skills to meet the demands of the new digital world – be it upskilling their current workforce or sourcing new talent with the right skillset.

According to a Gartner study released in August, 33% of the skills workers needed three years ago are no longer relevant, and disruptions like the COVID-19 pandemic “continue to amplify the need for new skills as business strategies shift and employees adapt to new ways of working.”

And Brent Colescott, Senior Director, Global Business Strategy and Transformation, SumTotal Systems, believes that skills will form the key component in driving today’s workforce.

He said, “Businesses are placing higher value and focus on skills and what they can do to skill people up very quickly instead of degrees. And this is the heart of what business is now as they are placed in the role of developing people from the time they graduate.”

With academic qualifications set to play a less stringent gatekeeping role in recruitment, Colescott is adamant that the importance of HR – not only in finding the right talent, but reskilling and upskilling existing employees – will become even more pronounced and strategic.

He added, “HR used to be an adjacent strategic partner but it will now play a role of a critical strategic partner. This is very much one of the major components that we are seeing changes in. Everything is going to revolve and surround HR in terms of decisions when it comes to the workforce and upskilling. HR is going to literally develop and skill their own candidates to what they need in the business.”

As business models are being transformed by the COVID-19 pandemic, organisations’ talent and skills needs have also evolved. And employers are finding that the existing talent pipelines that have served businesses over the years no longer meet their new business needs.

“With my conversations with CHROs, the common challenge they face today is the inability to find the skills and talent that they need. And they have seen that the graduates that were coming out were not necessarily skilled in the manner that they used to be. So, it is clear that our standard talent pipelines are not necessarily filling the needs that we have,” Colescott added.

Time to re-think higher education?

Universities have long played an integral role in providing a talent pipeline to the workforce. But with much of their focus on academic knowledge rather than vocational skills, the business value of graduates to organisations in today’s digital and skill-based talent market is coming under increasing scrutiny.

And Colescott believes there is a need to re-think the role and value of higher education in the workforce. He said, “We are seeing that colleges and universities are struggling to deal with the changes and now the question is whether there is still value in them in terms of the ability to meet the needs and skills gaps that are out there.

“So as we start to rethink higher education and look at the skills needed in this talent crisis, we see that there is a need for different ways of doing things. And with all the changes in businesses now, CHROs whom I have been talking to have found that the skills they need aren’t necessarily out there,” he said.

Employers are starting to move from a degree validation to a skill-based recruitment model.

“The degree used to be a good housekeeping seal of approval as it meant that graduates are ready to move into the workforce. But now we are seeing that the majority of HR professionals are prioritising the need for skills, or are actively exploring and considering this direction,” he continued.

While traditional education pathways are slowly but surely taking a backseat in today’s workforce, there remains a need for validation of skills. And Colescott foresees a boom in certifications which he believes are more relevant and effective in helping employers find the right talent.

“We are going to see the area of certifications expand as it addresses the issue of degree versus skills. We are going to see more certifications replacing the higher educational functions because of the efficiencies. Degrees have lots of excess content courses in them while certifications are very specific to the skill sets that are needed,” he added.

In the current fast-changing business and talent environment, businesses not only have to upskill and reskill their workforce, but they have to do so at speed. And the need for employers to leverage on technology such as learning management and talent development systems has never been more pronounced.

“Businesses are focused on reskilling and what they can do to skill people up very quickly to address more urgent needs within their organisation. And this is where platforms such as learning management and talent development systems at SumTotal can support these needs and help with the ability to find people and align the skill sets to jobs or projects within your organisation,” he explained.

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