What is skillability - and why is it so important for future-minded organizations?

Skillability: Will It Solve the Talent Crunch?

The current talent market poses numerous challenges for leaders and employees, alike. Perhaps the most disruptive force redefining the post-pandemic business landscape is persistently high employee turnover. This Great Reshuffle” demonstrates just how quickly teams can change—even beyond the pandemic shift to remote work.

A New Business Necessity: Skillability

This fluid employment environment brings good news and bad. Employees are welcoming it as an opportunity to advance their careers. But among employers, it has given rise to the practice of talent poaching. Global companies are proactively pursuing candidates from all over the world, culling the best talent away from other, smaller businesses.

And on top of this highly competitive talent market, employers are now struggling with the effects of inflation. As the cost of living continues to increase, so do demands for higher wages. And candidates are willing to hold out when employers don’t meet their salary expectations. These dynamics can make it tough to fill openings, even for high-paying, highly-skilled roles.

At the same time, employees face a volatile economic landscape that is sending conflicting messages about how to weigh the stability of an existing job against other attractive options. Today’s sky-high inflation hasn’t done employees any favors, either. Even though individuals have more bargaining power, inflation quickly eats into any wage increases gained from a job switch. As a result, economics plays a much more active role in career choices these days.

But despite all of these issues, both employers and employees can rely on one shared secret weapon. It’s something I call skillability.

The Power of Skillability

A skill is an individual’s capacity to perform a job task or function, based on existing knowledge, ability and competence. Skillability, in contrast, is an individual’s capacity to develop proficiency in an unfamiliar skill.

The faster and more efficiently someone can develop a skill, the better. So, skillability can be measured by determining the time an employee needs to develop new skills, along with the investment needed to build those skills.

Training, alone, is not enough to improve skillability. It also requires a supportive, learning-forward work environment. Together, they can nurture professional growth and create a win-win for individuals and their employers.

It’s essential for leaders to develop key workforce skills internally. This gives them new ways to support employees in their current roles, while helping them prepare for future growth within the organization. At the same time, by proactively encouraging team skillability, leaders can uncover new growth opportunities for themselves.

For example, consider technology advancements. While new technologies may promise greater operational efficiency and profitability, they also require specific skills that existing employees may lack. Employees with a high level of skillability can help companies hedge against the uncertainty of changing technology by being adaptable and agile in the face of change.

Building Skillability Within Your Organization

Skillability may sound like a trait, but the ability to develop new skills can actually be learned. It’s all in your approach to training, development, and talent acquisition. Here are just a few ideas to help your organization move forward with this strategy:

1) Consider Candidates Who May Not Fit the Mold

Candidates who lack one or more “required” proficiencies can bring a background or experience that enables them to quickly pick up new skills, duties, and responsibilities. Don’t screen out these individuals.

This approach offers several advantages. First, it opens your organization to new, often untapped talent pools. Also, it encourages the development of existing internal talent, which can drive retention and avoid the consequences of unwanted turnover.

Think about it. If you hire new employees for skillability and their desire to learn, you’re not just investing in their future, but in your organization’s future competitiveness, as well.

2) Build Achievable Benchmarks Into Training

Benchmarking is nothing new. Business leaders use it to determine the highest standards of performance. However, it can also be used for training and onboarding. Benchmarks and timelines can spur self-driven learning over a defined period.

Industrial technology provider, Emerson, relies on a powerful version of this model. It instills lifelong learning “DNA” in new employees to ensure that they will be skillable throughout their employee journey. This kind of approach indicates early on whether employees are likely to grow continually and take on new challenges as they arise. It also encourages the most enterprising employees to quickly distinguish themselves and demonstrate their skillability.

3) Break Employees Out of Their Comfort Zones

Sometimes, the most effective way to cultivate skillability is to nudge employees toward learning opportunities that push their existing boundaries and routines. This strategy is inspired by the fact that people learn more effectively when they’re somewhat uncomfortable as they explore new ways of thinking and doing things. 

Effective learning disrupts the status quo, so to speak. And overcoming these challenges has a way of encouraging people to continue pursuing learning opportunities for themselves. This means you’ll want to put employees in new situations that force them to challenge their thinking, expand their knowledge, test their abilities, and ignite their desire to grow and evolve in their careers. 

4) Establish a Supportive Environment

The climate you establish for new and existing employees is paramount to skillability’s success. It’s important to create a setting where fear is seen as an invitation to grow, rather than a signal to hold back.

Often, leaders inadvertently discourage growth in others because they fear negative consequences or they’re anxious about their own ability to grow. This can intimidate others and put a damper on skillability. One way to avoid this is for senior leaders to consistently and openly encourage all team members to develop skillability, and for the organization to reward people at all levels who step up to the challenge.

Final Thoughts

Employers can become so invested in hiring for a specific skill set that they fail to consider a candidate’s skillability. When you hire people, you’re already planning to involve them in training. So, why not broaden your talent options to include those with a stronger likelihood to learn much-needed skills in the future?

Even if you look within your ranks for employees with motivation and a commitment to continuous learning, you’re likely to find viable job candidates you might not have otherwise considered. It may only take a gentle push in the right direction and an environment that gives them the support they need to grow and succeed.