An organization’s talent landscape in the 21st century is a collage of diverse skills. Gone are the days when a company’s workforce consisted of people with a limited skills profile Viz. the group of skills they possessed to do their job to the best of their ability. In the past, they would be expected to perform within the limitations of their role according to their ‘streamlined’ armoury of skills.
Today’s businesses are very different indeed. They have versatile employees with truly diverse skills – both individually and collectively. Individuals are, and indeed need to be adaptable. They may be seconded to a different department, have to collaborate with internal or external teams, or be required to multi-task on a particular project – calling on the entirety of their broad range of skills.
Business has arguably become the most competitive it has ever been, with customers having a host of options to choose from. Therefore the demands (and opportunities) for businesses are intense and if you cannot offer a solution to a particular client, there are plenty waiting in line that can.
But if we go back just 20 years, it was a very different story. When I worked in the manufacturing unit of a very large paint company two decades ago, the skills profile of employees was extremely limited in number.
From memory, I would estimate there were around 20 of them. This included manual labor, chemists, a few technicians ensuring the machines ran smoothly, materials movement staff, plus supervisors and management.
Contrast this to today’s world… I run a small start-up with 15 or so employees – however the skills profile is about 10 – so it is almost a ratio of 1:1. What is happening is that products and services require a diverse range of skills. This is true of most companies and not just those in the knowledge or tech space.
Even a function like customer support requires people with diverse skills. Previously, they would have been mere telephone operators employed to ensure the customers were happy. But today they are required to provide support by phone, email, chat, and also responding to posts via social media – but with tangible solutions – or at the very least, an understanding of which department will be able to resolve the issue. And then on top of that, you have to factor in languages – given that we deal with more international companies on a day-to-day basis than ever before. Therefore companies must make sure they have the necessary profile of staff to be to communicate in the local languages of every customer.
So what does this all mean?
I believe it reveals at least two important things. Firstly, that there is a greater opportunity for individuals. Unlike 20 years ago, it isn’t the norm to have a narrow set of skills. Individuals have the opportunity (and are encouraged) to grow their skill set, to be ambitious. In the case of the customer support example above, you can see that opportunities are available for those with a proficiency in multiple languages.
Secondly, managing skills from a company’s perspective has become a lot more challenging. From hiring, tracking, deploying and developing a narrow set of skills – an organisation must focus on a diverse and wider range of skills. For many companies, this continues to prove a challenge that is difficult to adapt to.