Consider Skills As You Mine For Future Talent

There is truth behind the heavily publicized ‘skills gap’. Part of the problem is a disconnect in communication between employers and education institutions (67 percent of business leaders disagree or are neutral to the statement ‘higher education graduates have the skills my business needs’), part of the problem is rapid adoption of new technologies (according to DOL, 65 percent of students will have a job that currently does not exist).

As a company, it is important to consider:

  • Forecasting demand for not only job positions, but also the underlying skills. This signals what specific skills you are looking for and allows you to define your company learning culture.
  • Share the forecast with your community (both online and offline), so educators, workforce preparedness organizations, and civic government can create initiates and plan curriculum to address needs.
  • Get the forecast in the hands of impressionable students (in high school or college). Students see the demand in the aggregate (high demand for electrical engineering) or specifically targeting your company (company y is seeking these skills / professions over the next three years). Regardless, students know there is opportunity, they acquire skills using the Skills Based Approach methodology. Students also have choice on how they acquire the skills (college courses, MOOCs, specific jobs, etc.) based on measures such as ROI.
  • Publicize the demand for both technical and transferable skills. You hire based on transferable skills and desired competency levels – measure by skill assessments. Then, create a ‘state of the art’ on boarding and training program to teach the technical skills.
  • Hire based on skills. Create assessments, tests, and/or gamification to assess desired skill competencies. Require potential hires to ‘prove their skills’ with the power of demonstration (work projects, coursework, etc. ). This expands the talent pool. Your company considers more education and training backgrounds.

Hear a popular phrase: “Hire for character, you can train for skills”.

Disagree. I believe a commitment to acquire skills and behaviors over an extended period of time demonstrates character. Conscientiously applying them in every experience requires diligence.

I will be doing an upcoming seminar on this subject.


Skills Label

I am working on a new process (pat. pending) to create standardized displays for educational resources and experiences. Think about it: there is not a standardized process and display to attribute what has been learned from an educational resource.

There is no way of comparing traditional learning types – books, classroom courses, with emerging learning types – online games and courses, IoT, etc. This disarray becomes more apparent when comparing education, higher education, and professional learning resources.

Thinking in skills is one big step forward. Skills are the foundation of all learning. They work laterally across subjects and disciplines and vertically across education and career stages.

Picture a parent at a store (online or brick and mortar) comparing skills labels (aka education label) representing education resources and chooses a resource based on: cost or return on investment (ROI), how much time it takes to consume, learning preferences (like a type: book versus a game), or credential earned upon completion – all content shown clearly, concisely on the labels.

I invite you to see the current solution ( or ). I appreciate any and all feedback, send yours to: .

Skill Is the ‘Verb’ in Knowledge

I was asked to do a webinar on Skills-Based Approach and how it applies to learning and job training. A few years ago, I came up with a methodology called Skills Based Approach and ever since I have been working on its application; this year I have been laser focused on its application because of its value in education, higher education, and career development.

For the webinar, on one hand I want to demonstrate how the application works and on the other hand convince an audience skills should be used to describe learning and job training expectations. You need to see the value in ‘speaking in skills’, before truly adopting the application; but once you do, Skills Based Approach simplifies everything.

I champion the use of skills. I say you must consider how you apply skills in all of your experiences (one aspect of a Skills Culture to learning). As a prelude to the upcoming webinar, I thought I would write a short article on how skills are the language for talking about learning. Skills describe learning laterally across subjects and disciplines and vertically across career stages.

Looking up the definition of knowledge in Google returns the following: skills and facts and information acquired through experiences; a practical understanding of a subject matter.

Let’s concentrate on the first clause and the last word: experiences. We learn through experiences; this is where we apply skills and practice their underlying methods and applications. Experiences happen all the time. There are no constraints. Skills define how we think, converse, listen, write, solve problems, debate, create, design, engineer, play, and etc.

Skills are the foundation of learning and more broadly intersects all aspects of life. In all circumstances there is an opportunity to apply skills. Here are some examples:

Say you are asked to create a graphic for a website and you have no graphic design experience. To get the graphic, you might: rip or buy a stock graphic of the internet and spend 10 minutes, hack your way through creating one quickly and spend 30 minutes, or learn the skill of using Adobe Photoshop by watching a few tutorials and practicing methods and spend 3 to 5 hours. If you choose the last option, you produce something authentic, might discover interest in a particular technical skill (graphic design), and build transferrable skills (‘attention to detail’ and ‘following instructions’).

Say you are asked to take the lead on an upcoming project. You can respond by simply accepting the project and essentially ‘do your best’ or proactively take the time to learn the required skills: project management, teamwork, verbal presentation, supervision and leadership. There also might be a project management technology. For example, if the project is a web application, you purchase a book on SCRUM and apply that skill too. Taking the investment in building the skills increases the chance of success, which means being asked for future lead positions.

Say you designed and created an application and are asked to pitch it to a potential client. You could go to the meeting and try to make the deal based on your personality. You could also spend time learning the skills behind sales: negotiation, persuasion, and presenting. Take a MOOC, watch a YouTube video, or buy a book on the art of negotiation. The investment pays off by increasing your chances of success at the pitch and gives you some skill expertise to continue building on in the future.

Some experts have attempted to answer the question: How long it takes to learn a skill? The biggest factor is a desired level of expertise with the skill. Do you want to become a master? One properly referenced article says it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill , which translates to about 9 years (consider 5 days a week, spending 4 hours a day). Another article says it can take 6 months or more to develop a new skill. Do you need it for a particular project? Do you want to explore a personal interest? One article says it can take 20 hours to learn a skill “to perform well enough for your own purposes”.

Think this 20 hours threshold for acquiring skills fits well with a Skills Culture. Students and professionals are motivated to learn skills. They are not hampered by preconceived talents or a feeling they must master skills to be successful. Josh Kaufman sums this up well: “The idea of ‘mastering’ a skill when you’re just getting started is counterproductive: it can be a significant barrier to exploring a new skill in the first place.”

Skills act as the ‘verb’ in knowledge; it is the action part of knowledge. Arguably, this becomes the biggest factor because we are already seeing technology augmenting our ability to retrieve facts and information.

Network Vs. Identity: Slideshare

My first blog was about the concept of representing a network versus an identity. Since I wrote the blog, establishing and thinking about an online identity has become even more critical. Social media is pervasive in everything we do. It also becomes relevant once we start making connections and projecting a representation of ourselves online (so high school and college student should be considering it).Here is a slideshow summarizing some key points:

‘Being Social’ Is Not Everything

Some people are social, some people are less social. There is a lot of chatter about all leaders having rock star participation in social media. But there are a lot of smart people who have vision, without social skills. Think of all the hacker introverts. They think, design, and build concepts. Aren’t they leaders too? Yes, in their own way. (In my opinion, you build a team with social and visionary leaders – elevate the collective intelligence of the team. Guess I also think a team is comprised of leaders – a flat hierarchy. A leader’s role is defined by his or her strengths.)

4Ps of Leadership
4Ps of Leadership

Some gripes I have about this rally cry that everything must be social:

There are elements of a popularity contest. Gaining attention in social media requires posturing. Those who have a large number of followers exert significant influence. Some of these influencers do not necessarily have the best idea or insights, but are highly likeable. Popularity is valuable. Good ideas are valuable.

‘Being social’ is a time consuming process. It requires finding content, networking, conversing, etc.. Building an audience takes many years of hard work. Is ‘being social’ always worth the investment in time and resources? Spend time where you make the biggest ROI for the company.

Status still has a major impact on how content is consumed. ‘Rock stars’ in social media have high Klout scores; some companies are willing to pay them to endorse their products. It can be frustrating to get your ideas out because of the competition for an audience. Leave broadcasting ideas to those who are skilled at making an impact with an audience.

I do think there are aspects of social that are good for all of us.

Building connections and relationships is nurturing. Obviously, this is huge. Social media facilitates the process of building and maintaining relationships; of course, some are deeper than others. It can be reaffirming when your connections share a similar sentiment.

Getting a personal boost (nudge) when you need it. You can jump on social media at any time of the day and immediately participate in a conversation or chat.

It is exhilarating when you get engagement from an audience. This is true especially when you are the primary source of the content. A back and forth conversation nailing down a concept collectively is also rewarding.

You can build a network from scratch and reach an audience (if you want to). Social media is a platform to get your ideas out to a target audience.

In a recent HBR article From the Knowledge Economy to the Human Economy, the author talks about how companies must commit to humanity. Yes a valid point, we should embrace being social and connected – what makes us human. Still we must continue investing in deep and critical thinking. Otherwise, we might fall into the trap of following the herd and disregard the necessary thinking to truly evolve in a meaningful way (which also contributes to humanity). Moving forward is not all about being social and gaining consensus, it’s also about improving ideas.

Online Personal Branding Solutions

Last year I introduced a functional model for personal branding  with three elements: skill set, aura, and identity. It is meant to capture a holistic picture of you. I want to provide you with solutions for each of these elements.

Branding Solutions
Branding Solutions

As you work on your skill set, I suggest using the Skills-Based Approach methodology. It is a complete package. There are strategies and tools for career planning and development, constant learning, and gaining credibility – all based on the premise of developing  a skill set throughout your lifetime.

With an aura, the idea is to flesh out perceptions (especially on an emotional level) about you. The best way to learn what people think about you is through a focus group or interview and what I call a branding club. Ideally a focus group or interview is conducted face-to-face, but you can also setup an online video conference with Skype or a Google+ private chat. Some other suggestions to get a perspective of your ‘aura’ (all happen to be free):

  • Create a SurveyMonkey survey, then send it to a target audience.
  • Create a private LinkedIn group and start discussions where members talk about personal brands.

What I like about a branding club is personalization. It combines a professional networking meeting (like BNI), with a social gathering (like a book club). If you are uncomfortable about asking others to respond to a series of questions about you, with a branding club, you commit to return the favor on another night. I suggest doing it within your community if you can; though logistically speaking, it can be coordinated online.

The identity element is about establishing and owning an identity, then controlling how you are represented across networks. Some actions you should take to master your identity.

  • Get your own domain name. Your domain name becomes another personal characteristic of yours, like a phone number, address, etc. The longer you have a domain name, the better it appears in search engines. It is possible to use subdomains to link to various web services.
  • Build a personal website. This is the cornerstone of your personal brand. You want for it to appear first in a Google search. You own all the content. You control the style, aesthetics, and layout. There are no ads or distractions (unless you choose to have them). It is all about you, everything down to the pixel.
  • Take an inventory of assets (IP). In the Information Age most students and professionals create and accumulate content, including papers, graphics, video, presentations, etc. This content is produced from education, employment, or other experiences. You should identify content that is IP, then separate what content you have control over. Figure out its value, then answer these questions: Do you want to relinquish royalty and/or copyright privileges? Should it be used on a personal website to validate skill competencies? Can it generate some income?
  • Understand how you are represented on networks. Each of the social media platforms has an analytics platform to understand your presence on their network. (I use Twitter Analytics to see who is reading my Tweets, what hashtags are effective, etc.) There are also social media analytic platforms like HooteSuite, Sprout, etc., which are effective if you are super engaged in social media.  BrandYourself is a free service you can use to monitor how you are represented on a Google search engine results page (“SERP”) and provides tools to improve the results.
  • Establish a mobile presence. Make sure you subscribe to popular mobile apps, some are only accessible via the app itself. For example, you can only create an account for the popular app Instagram from an IOS or Andriod device. (Instagram has 300 million active users!) Mobile usage is surpassing desktop usage and it only becomes more lopsided in the future.

Of course there are many other tools applicable to the Online Personal Brand model.  Please share tools you find to be effective and what element it targets (skill set, aura, or identity).

Meaningful Work

A typical worker is driven to do meaningful things, at least in my opinion. What a worker looks for in a job has changed through the generations – from lifelong employment to getting money to doing something with purpose (admittedly, these are big generalities). Actually, an ideal job has aspects from all three generations: career security, comfortable pay, and impactfulness. Purpose, sometimes defined in a mission statement, should be part of a company culture. Moreover, it should be used as an instrument to attract and retain talent. Millennials are thinking about the purpose of a company; according to a Deloitte Survey:

Millennials overwhelmingly believe (75 percent) businesses are focused on their own agendas rather than helping to improve society.1

Meaningful Work
Meaningful Work

There is a Greek parable about Sisyphus often referenced on the subject of work engagement. Sisyphus is a man condemned to roll a boulder up a hill. Right before it reaches the top, the boulder rolls back down to the bottom. He repeats this over and over again; never accomplishing the task. Ultimate futility…

In our modern workplace, the outcome might be losing a bid, having a project mothballed, getting ignored by an audience, etc. Sometimes compensation satisfies the sting, but not always. Leadership has to be cognizant of this demoralizing effect and step in to alleviate the effects of deflated workers. This can be accomplished in a few ways.

First, give internal recognition. For example, if a project is mothballed, invest the time and resources to acknowledge the participants. Setup an event and presentation to talk about what was accomplished (at least conceptually).

Second, salvage anything of value. Knowing it affects the morale of those involved, set aside time to find resources. Then publish, share, and learn whatever you can.

Third, change the game from ‘finite’ to ‘infinite’ whenever possible. This means find ways to make a better move against the competition. For example, if a worker loses a sales bid, repackage the proposal, make it better, and bid again.

Fourth, validate skill competencies. Identify and endorse skills each worker acquired while working on the task; experiences always involve knowledge gains. If possible, let workers take over possession of the resulting product – something they can share as a work sample on a personal website and/or LinkedIn profile.

I wrote this piece a couple of weeks ago and was surprised to read a NY Times article referencing the same Greek parable, where the author made a counter argument:

Life is a succession of tasks rather than a cascade of inspiration, an experience that is more repetitive than revelatory, at least on a day-to-day basis. The thing is to perform the task well and find reward even in the mundane.2

His point has some takeaways. If you do a basic task, then you might as well do it as best you can, take your pay, and find other ways to satisfy your curiosities. (To apply “compensation” in the parable above, Sisyphus can take consolation in being one of the fittest men in ancient Greece!) In the modern world, many recent college graduates are underemployed and asked to do boring work; according to the same Deloitte survey, “Only 28 percent of Millennials feel that their current organization is making full use of their skills.” Best thing they can do is to show grit, build skills, and find purpose in other areas of their life.

Work is meaningful to us on an emotional, personal level. There are many routine, mundane, and uninspiring things we do as part of a job and simply getting paid is a motivator. Yet, deep within us, most of us yearn for some satisfaction and purpose in our career. Popular marketing guru Seth Godin calls it art. I agree. In a lifetime, you want to use your talents to create things and reach people in a positive way.

Original Image © Depositphoto/ Photocreo #63993111