Why the Skills Imperative Is a Post-Pandemic Business Priority for European Businesses

How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the skills businesses will need to thrive in the future? This article looks at how organisations across Europe must embrace the skills imperative and provide continuous development of their workforce to be successful in the post-pandemic world.

As many businesses prepare to welcome employees back into the workplace, the rise of homeworking has changed the game for many organisations and fuelled the acceleration of digital transformation. As businesses seek to strike a balance between home, office, and hybrid working, questions persist around how the skills landscape needs to change. So what are human resources (HR) leaders at leading European organisations doing to find, develop, and retain the skills and talent needed to thrive in the post-pandemic world?

It may not be surprising that research from Workday, in partnership with Yonder, reveals that European workers are prioritising skills development and new opportunities as they seek to bounce back from the pandemic and bolster their career growth. One troubling finding from the research “The Employee Outlook: Understanding Employee Sentiment and Priorities Across Europe” explains why this is so important: Almost half of all workers aged 18 to 34 feel opportunities to gain new responsibilities and skills were reduced in 2020.

Businesses Prioritise a Skills-First Focus

While the COVID-19 pandemic may have focused the spotlight back on skills, Julien Fanon, managing director at Accenture, told a recent Workday Digital Experience event in France that continuous skills development and working for a company that prioritises learning new skills is fast becoming an expectation from workers.

“Employees expect leaders to prioritise the development of skills, so continuous learning and development should now be high on the list for businesses,” Fanon said. “In 1985, it was estimated that you could leave school and capitalise on the skills you had throughout your entire career. That could be 30 years, but today the lifespan of some skills has been reduced down to five years. That makes reskilling a real priority.”

With over 120,000 employees, managing talent and skills is crucial for Michelin, the multinational tyre manufacturing company based in Clermont-Ferrand, France. Véronique Etiévant, digital competency manager, Michelin, explains: “It's important to have the right competencies in the right places, at the right time, and to know how to anticipate them, too. To meet business needs and to do things at a lower cost, we need to be able to reclassify competencies.”

“Employees expect leaders to prioritise the development of skills, so continuous learning and development should now be high on the list for businesses.”

Julien Fanon Managing Director Accenture, France

“Before our HR transformation in 2016, we had competencies referenced by role, but they were not necessarily well used, visible to employees, or clearly defined in terms of their usefulness. We didn't even have tools for evaluating competencies. Afterwards, with the programme to transform the personnel function, we really put competencies at the heart of the system. And what is important for us is the continuous development of competencies as a real cornerstone of the development of people and teams.”

How HR Can Identify Skills Development Opportunities

The challenge is about more than keeping employees engaged, though. In a McKinsey Global Survey, “Beyond Hiring: How Companies Are Reskilling to Address Talent Gaps,” 87% of executives said they were experiencing skills gaps—but less than half of respondents had a clear sense of how to address the problem. So how can HR lead from the front when it comes to ensuring companies have the right skills?

Discussing Michelin’s deployment of Workday Human Capital Management, Etiévant outlines three key areas to help identify gaps and provide employees with the opportunity to develop their existing competencies.

“The first thing is to have employees take ownership of their own competency development. We now have 80% of people at Michelin who have been assessed on at least two competencies. We also need—and this is the second axis—to have a very detailed knowledge of the competency pools and therefore our needs. This leads to the third axis: a development offer made available to everyone through Workday. This is very important because the evaluation alone is not enough; it is only the trigger. Behind it, you obviously have to develop and fill the gaps in competency. It’s not just about six months of initial training to ingest everything and then nothing more. It is the continuous development of competencies that is important,” says Etiévant.

“If you want to prepare yourself for tomorrow, you have to spend the time today.”

Véronique Etiévant Digital Competency Manager Michelin

Instead of trying to hire outside talent to fill the need for new skills, HR leaders should focus on upskilling the current workforce to prepare for current and future disruption.

Upskilling creates a mutually beneficial relationship. Expanding internal skill sets not only helps companies quickly adapt to change, but it also gives employees new areas of expertise they can use to further their careers.

Competency Versus Skills: Why It Matters

For organisations, getting to grips with the skills they have at their disposal is one thing, but having insights into the level of competency within their workforce is another level. Often used interchangeably, “competency” and “skill” are not the same, and for HR, having the ability to understand how good the workforce is across multiple skill sets is hugely important.

Etiévant explains Michelin’s approach. “Knowing a person's skills allows us to determine their propensity to carry out an activity and gives us the ‘what,’ but what about the how? Ability doesn't give you the how. This is where competencies come into play because they frame aptitude in a professional environment. They allow us to see how people really do things, what behaviours they will demonstrate, and the quality of what they do. And that's why there is a progression in the competencies. At Michelin, we have levels from 1 to 5 that show the progression and therefore the difference between the what and the how.”

New Skills and the Co-Construction of the Career Path

Having the right tools and data to identify skills gaps is one thing, but helping employees take responsibility for their career development is another. Many organisations, including Michelin, believe in empowering their workforce and “co-constructing” the career path—that is to say, both parties take responsibility for identifying areas for new skills development and ensuring those are achieved.

“If you want to prepare yourself for tomorrow, you have to spend the time today. And once people commit to improving their skills, they are very happy because they realise the benefits,” Etiévant says. “I agree with the idea of co-construction and being an actor in one's own development, but, in fact, it's a two-way street. There is the actor, but there is also the manager, who must pull the teams upwards, and a third actor who is the local development partner of the HR world. All these actors working together allow this new evolution, and I hope that this enables the flourishing of the skills we all need for the future.”

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