Navigating the skills landscape – a panel discussion overview

Karen Burns

Adepto recently hosted a webinar bringing together experts and leaders from across HR, talent and learning to share ways of navigating the skills landscape, now, in uncertain times and as we embrace the future of work. 

Louise Anderson, VP of Solutions and APAC at Adepto + Degreed, John Driscoll, founder of Agylis, Louise Watts, founder of Transition Hub and Kelly Palmer, CLO at Degreed and co-author of the Expertise Economy, met to discuss the pressing issues facing HR and talent leaders today and how to prepare for coming years. Their panel discussion is summarised below.


In the current climate, things are changing very rapidly. What’s your best advice for organisations looking to engage with and focus on their talent?

Louise W: In a very short space of time, we’ve shifted from looking at skills and competencies needed for the future of work, to focussing on how we keep our employees, contractors, vendors, clients and partners safe whilst helping them navigate an uncertain time. This means we have to go back to basics. More than anything right now, people want certainty. This requires constant communication and transparency – understanding where people are right now on Maslow’s hierarchy and helping them find that sense of safety and calm, ready to move forward.

Louise A: I think it’s important to note that we will come out of this. So the focus for business leaders right now is to think of the other side and how this changes the way they engage with and relate to their workers today. Even those who may transition out of the organisation because of the current situation and pressures. It’s about thinking ahead and getting ready to ramp-up operations when the crisis is over.


How are we seeing the workplace change?

Kelly: We have seen the workplace changing over the last few years but even more dramatically in recent weeks. Just take the concept of remote work – when I was with LinkedIn, it didn’t have a very remote workforce. Now, I work for Degreed which is almost completely remote and has a remote-first infrastructure and culture. Although remote working has been on the rise, it’s all the more important now. For companies that aren’t so used to being remote, there will be a transition period (learn more: Degreed’s learning pathway on how to transition to remote). But ultimately, I see this as potentially changing the way we think about how we get work done. That’s very much a silver lining for the long-term.

The other big change I must highlight is in skills. We have a significant decrease in the half-life of skills, so people must really keep learning to keep up with new things. Like remote working. That in itself requires a set of skills and tools to understand how to be productive. We’re going to have to learn new skills all the time, and actually, right now there’s a golden opportunity for people to reflect and think about their next steps. What skills do they have? What do they need? And how to get there, how to use any current downtime to build new skills and set personal learning goals?

John: I’d like to say that it isn’t all doom and gloom. We are at the curve of complete reinvention – the way we go about work will fundamentally change. No business is going to come back from this and look the same before COVID-19. It means that we can reinvent who we are, what we do and how we do it. So if you have any downtime, start to think about what your business will look like on the other side. 

I also think that business leaders will start to explore the language of skills. To find a common framework that organisations can use to track skills, discuss them, share them and build their workforce’s skills for the future.

Louise W: For so long, time has been the big enemy and now many of us are going to have extra time. So how can we make the most of this? Additionally, how can leaders make their workers feel at ease? Learning will be a big part of this, allowing us to reset ourselves as individuals and understand what we need to complete our work best.


What is the biggest challenge in predicting the skills that organisations need in the future?

John: This is a tricky question. Many business leaders that I’ve spoken to feel that they are on (or have even completed) the digitisation pathway and that they feel they’re on top of the skills they’ll need. But we don’t truly understand what digitisation will look like. We’re executing digital transformation projects on-top of analogue thinking. We will one day be delivering in a truly digital way and this will bring about a dynamic change in the skills we need. They will be vast and many, and we don’t know what these skills are yet. However, I would say that being flexible and capable, and having a common skills language/framework will take us well on the journey.

Kelly: We need to think about work and learning differently. Returning to my earlier point about the half-life of skills, there is a need for continuous learning because what you know now will be outdated in just a couple of years. We can predict some of the skills for the near future, like technical skills required because of digitisation. Data analytics, cybersecurity, artificial intelligence and robotics are a few examples.

The other category is what’s known as soft skills, but I like to call them power skills. They are uniquely human skills that can be transferred no matter what you do. These are things like emotional intelligence and adaptability. Most importantly, I think the skills of curiosity and learning agility will overlay all of this. The ability to learn all the time and remain ahead of developments.


What strategies would you suggest we put in place with employees who have transitioned out of our organisation?

Louise W: I would say that it’s crucial for people to feel like they remain as part of the organisation, as an alumni member. Instead of feeling discarded, they can be connected and engaged with their former employer. This can help them (and your organisation) prepare for what’s happening next. It’ll also keep them as loyal advocates in the market.

John: It’s about keeping people connected and valued. Plus, you can communicate your skills requirements to alumni members, to create a dynamic connectivity between the skills that alumni have and what the business needs moving forward. In a way, this is a mentoring-style relationship between employer and alumnus. Where individuals are kept up-to-date with any changes, new strategy, and are given the opportunity to step back into the business by upskilling and identifying where they can be of value.


Do you anticipate talent having more confidence in their autonomy and skills coming out of this experience?

Kelly: I expect the crisis will force managers to manage a little differently, to move from measuring hours in an office to output and outcomes. People are going to be more independent and because of this, managers will have a cultural shift that creates a more productive, healthy and agile relationship with the workforce.

Louise A: For me, what will be exciting is seeing how this change will impact skills shortages and how we find untapped talent. Returners, carers and new parents, for instance, may not be able to make a physical journey into a company’s office, but remote work is opening up more opportunities for them and their employers. It will enable employers to build their capabilities out further.

John: Humanity recognises the need to change and is usually slow to do so. The current crisis has forced change upon us. It’s now about getting the best possible outcomes from this, to mobilise talent, link work to skills and reapply skills in new ways. This, I hope, will be carried forward long after the crisis has passed.

Download the full webinar here.

Ready to start the discussion about how you can use Adepto to embrace the future of work?