Leah Carr Provides a tilr to Navigate Skills-Based Future

Jason McRobbie

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At a time when the pace of change exceeds many organizations’ ability to adapt, greater numbers of leaders are leaning towards skills-driven workplaces as the best means of future-proofing. We sit down with Leah Carr, CEO of tilr, to talk about the impact and importance of addressing the skills-driven workplace and why soft skills are now critical to organizational survival and employee satisfaction alike.

Key Takeaways:

  • Leaders need to understand that the looming skills gap cannot be surpassed with traditional methods.
  • In order to adapt to ongoing change, leaders need to understand the true value of soft skills as hard assets.
  • Adopting a skills-based strategy can help assess gaps, address opportunities and align learning and development to full organizational and individual potential.

Warning: Skills Gap Ahead. That pretty much sums up what business leaders have been hearing—if not heeding—for some time. That said, it was only recently that Korn Ferry put some serious numbers alongside the size of that upcoming skills gap, estimating the cost to American industry at about $8.5 trillion of unrealized revenue by 2030.

Part of that gap, according to a report by Dell Technologies and the Institute for the Future, is due to the fact that an estimated 85% of the jobs that will be available in 2030 don’t exist yet. More presently, McKinsey & Co. points to lack of meaning and development in their roles as the top reason employees are leaving their current roles.

“That means companies will not have the skills they need to run their businesses and to compete. So the real question has now become, ‘Do you want to be part of the lost opportunity or do you want to start thinking about addressing those gaps now?’” asked Leah Carr, CEO of the skills-based management platform tilr.

Doing so, according to Leah, requires a whole new way tackling the talent question—beginning with a shift of leadership mindset towards organizational and individual adaptability grounded in skills-based strategy.

“A lot of what is happening now is a mindset shift. A lot of companies are laying off and hiring, but if we actually understood the skills for the jobs we are hiring for, we could find more opportunities to rehire from within. The skills data is key to finding that fit for the three other roles that person might be great in.” said Leah. “Similarly, we talked with a big accounting firm that had too many people in audit and needed more few in cyber security. We showed them how to build a path to move people from that lower impact role to a higher impact role because using skills data gives you the ability to do that.”

Aligning those efforts with organizational goals is what defines and differentiates both the approach and outcome of learning and development (L&D) guided by the likes of tilr’s skills-based strategy and data. Keeping that learning—and, even more importantly, the subsequent development—going within the workplace itself is what Leah holds to be the key to organizational adaptability and employee retention alike.

“I think the top reason people leave their jobs is lack of development, so if you are going to retain people, you want to be investing in them and ensuring that growth. The thing with skills-based strategy is that it gives you the ability to match the goals of the employees with the needs of the organization so that both can grow together,” said Leah. “McKinsey just confirmed what we historically know. People leave their roles because they are not developing —and our traditional response is to insert an L&D perk. The trouble with an L&D perk is that is just that—a perk. Secondly though, it is not really a learning AND development perk, it is a learning perk, because to develop you have to come back and use those skills.”

“The difference with a skills-based strategy is that your L&D becomes a business strategy where you are matching employee wants and organizational needs. The main difference is that when someone goes out and learns something, they then come back and have the opportunity to use the skills,” said Leah. “We’re also changing the way we traditionally think of training and development because with a skills-based approach we can actually see where the gaps are both from a skills perspective and just an upskilling/proficiency perspective.”

Even with such applied learning in action though, Leah noted that an organization’s ability to keep pace stands to be outstripped if it is standing by our perennial, credential-based approach to talent alone.

“Right now, we know what we hire people to do, but we don’t know what they can do. That just does not make any sense. The one common theme amongst all my jobs is that I have been building teams from scratch, growing teams and helping others develop their careers. What I have noticed is that all people really want is the chance to prove they can do what they know they can do. Their resume might not say they can do it, but they know they can and want to be held accountable for it,” said Leah, who held herself accountable for helping create a platform to uncover such hidden talents.

“I think sometimes we get over-credentialed in our thinking. I mean, you need to be credentialed for some things. I don’t want a doctor who isn’t credentialed,” said Leah with a grin. “But what about a product manager? Does a product manager really need to be credentialed? I think that it hurts, but there are definitely people who can be a product manager without those credentials. I think that if you take people back to a skills perspective, their experience will show that they can actually do these things, while traditional resumes are focused more on job titles.”

This is not only more inclusive, Leah noted, but far more welcoming and encouraging to those applying from more diverse backgrounds.

In fact, with the half-life of hard skills shrinking inversely to the pace of new tech emerging, finding new ways to tap talent—as well as the talent within an organization—has become mandatory. This, coupled with the competitive landscape of a globalized, post-pandemic world, has also put an greater emphasis on the true value of sustainable soft skills—with communication, adaptability, empathy, collaboration and resilience at the forefront.

“Your employees might not be changing jobs, but your employees’ jobs are changing. With so much change, there is just so much we can’t know. What we do know is that soft skills will only increase in value, even with—or maybe specially because—of game changers like ChatGPT that just pop out of the woodwork,” said Leah. “This is the important thing—it is the skills that require a human that are growing in demand substantially faster than those that don’t. For example, ChatGPT might be able to write a killer sales email to be blasted off, but at the end of the day, the personalization that a human adds to that base email, the follow up and conversations—that is not going to be replaced, so that is where the skills are growing.”

Case in point, Leah noted that sales and HR stand within the top jobs for 2023.

That said, the gap encompasses both hard and soft skill sets.

“Forty-three percent of companies are already reporting that they see a skills gap. As a society, I think we have a problem and we need to fix it, so it becomes absolutely critical for your company—and the people who work in it—to be upskilling, reskilling and training people,” said Leah, who has applied that understanding to the evolution of tilr’s skills-based platform for small and medium-sized businesses.

As for moving the needle on skills-based learning, Leah stressed the ultimate importance of buy-in and communicating the strategic, and ultimately bottom line, value of the shift.

“There are two scenarios. There are those companies already pursuing L&D programs, for whom a skills-data platform is only going to save money and make them more effective. Instead of just a $1,000 a year for anyone to ‘develop’ as they will, the skills-data allows for a more targeted approach that avoids wasted dollars or overspending,” said Leah. “I would argue the right platform not only saves money or carries a relative cost, but also gives far better results. For those without an L&D program, there is an obvious expense, but for the same good reasons.”

The second essential step is finding a platform that fits.

“You need to find what is right for your company at your stage and at that time—and have the ability to grow from there,” said Leah, noting that more expensive options can actually be the antithesis of that fit for most SMEs. “It’s going to cost you more and deliver less. They just have too many bells and whistles that you don’t need and that can complicate your ability to get what you want out of the platform.”

To further demystify what IS needed, Leah boiled down the basic platform essentials to anchoring skills data to four primary areas: skill profiles, skill inventories, competencies and application-based learning.

“Tilr sits between your HRIS and your LMS or, especially for smaller companies, we are your LMS. We have the connection into your Coursera and Udemy and we can get you the content and you can upload some of your own material, so in some cases there is no need for an LMS depending on what you do,” Leah said.

Step three is the key for those looking to unlock full value—a good roll out. Anything less is a roll over in Leah’s books.

“Typically, you want to begin with your admin or HR teams depending on your set up, then to your people leaders, then to your employees—and you want to do it in the right way with the right training guides, resources and that key buy-in at every level,” said Leah. “This helps people understand what it is they need to do, but more importantly what they can expect to get out of it.that they understand the benefits of doing so.”

And while adapting to any platform is always a heavier lift at the beginning, Leah admitted to the additional challenge of transitioning to a skills-based strategy for some.

“The biggest roadblock is that this is so new, which can feel overwhelming. It hasn’t been around so long that we been able to fully understand the skills of our workforce and fully operate with a skills-first approach,” said Leah. “So, it’s really about developing those internal champions to simplify both the message and the methodology to get it out to people in a way that’s easy to digest.”

Fortunately, we have all become more adept at adapting in recent years and with soft skills already championed as hard essentials by the likes of Josh Bersin, Deloitte and McKinsey, Leah and tilr’s course are well set.

“It really comes down to understanding the skills that you need, knowing the skills of your people and using those skills to operate more productively and efficiently—growing your people with opportunities that you can provide for skills your organization needs,” said Leah.

“Ultimately, I think it’s so important to not just leverage skills gained through obvious channels, but through life experiences, hobbies, volunteering—things people find meaningful. We need to apply that at work.” said Leah. “You want to play people to their strengths because people not only want meaningful work, they do better work when its meaningful.”