Focus on Skills to Grow Your Workforce

Emphasizing skills in your talent strategy can have an outsize positive impact on hiring, upskilling, and retaining employees.

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As the threat of an economic downturn looms, we are entering the fourth consecutive year of uncertainty and rapid change. Three years ago, a global pandemic upended supply chains, and quarantines transformed how we work. Months later, a racial justice reckoning compelled businesses to make unprecedented commitments to building inclusive organizations. Sustained remote work again challenged the status quo in the workplace and, in some cases, became a vehicle for accessibility. The ongoing tight labor market has forced companies to reconsider and adapt their efforts to attract top talent. And now advances in AI are poised to reshape the skill sets required for nearly every job in every sector.

All of these changes have brought HR to the center of C-suite conversations, with employers thinking differently about how to spot, foster, and grow talent. Rapidly, skills have come to dominate the conversation; the average number of posts mentioning skills-first-related topics on the LinkedIn networking platform roughly doubled from October 2021 to October 2022. And employers are working hard to put skills at the center of their talent strategies — from hiring to advancement — as evidenced by groups like OneTen and the Business Roundtable. As talk of a possible recession dominates many business circles, a key question hangs in the balance: How can employers maintain their growing investments in skills-first approaches to maximize a return on investment for their workers and their business?

New data from LinkedIn provides a compelling case for doubling down on skills-first efforts. The 2023 Workplace Learning Report revealed that Gen Z and millennial workers are the most likely to value opportunities for career growth and skill-building, even more than they value work-life balance. Findings also showed that internal mobility has become the second-highest workforce priority among C-suite leaders, with learning and development (L&D) leaders reporting closer collaboration with executives than ever before.

With the youngest workers demanding skills-driven career paths and executive attention following suit, businesses that fail to maintain their investments in skills-first talent strategies will get left behind. However, there is a tendency during economic slowdowns to hunker down and revert to old, predictable patterns and playbooks. Businesses’ survival instincts compel many to, in essence, choose stagnation over innovation.


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