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Focus on Durable-Skills for a Future-Proof Workplace

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It’s 2021, and in half a decade, the World Economic Forum’s Future of Jobs Report predicts that 50% of all employees will need reskilling! This means that half of us will need to re-skill in the next five years as the “double-disruption” of the pandemic’s economic impact and increasing automation in jobs take hold. 

Research suggests that skills generally have a “half-life” of about five years, with the more technical skills at just two and a half years. According to the Chief Learning Officer (CLO) Magazine, business leaders and learners need a completely new model for thinking about skills. This model fosters thinking about emerging questions:

  • Are skills more durable or more perishable?
  • Are skills transferable across roles, job families, or industries?
  • Are skills in demand, and will they be so in the future?

 Why is this important? 

Remember back in college where many of the technical-specific things we learned were not used upon entering the workforce? I was a Computer Science major, and we were studying programming in COBOL, Basic, and C+ in my freshman year.  The operating system back then was DOS.  However, upon entering the workplace four years later, I was introduced to Windows and MS Office Suites and needed to learn those instead to be productive and efficient at work.

Now imagine today’s students and their transition to the workplace. As organizations and individuals get ready for a reset and start to think through a skill refresh, it is essential to consider just how transferable a given set of skills are. This, along with the skills’ durability, provides a framework that can adapt to the changing business needs. 

Skills’ Durability

According to research, you can divide skill durability into three categories:  perishable, semi-durable and durable skills.   A perishable skill has a half-life of less than two and a half years. An example is specific technology skills that are updated frequently. They can also be organization-specific policies and tools, and specialized processes. Just think about the last 12 months, how many of us had to learn how to use Zoom or MS Teams to conduct virtual meetings, collaborate or join learning sessions? Are these important? Yes. One would need to learn them to be effective and proficient in their work, but with the speed of technological skills, who knows if we will be using the same tools today as we will a year or two from now, especially when the world opens up again. Other examples are HRIS systems and workflows where know-how may become irrelevant as soon as they are updated or replaced. 

Semi-durable skills on the other hand have a half-life of two and a half to seven and a half years.  They tend to be those frameworks that are based on understandings that may remain relevant for a few years. Every field has frameworks like these, base sets of knowledge from which field-specific technologies, processes, and tools arise. They are longer-lasting and more critical than perishable skills. However, they are still likely to be replaced as the field grows, expands, and evolves. Think of the framework SMART Goals. It has now evolved into SMARTER Goals, including, Evaluated, and Reviewed as part of  Specific, Measurable, Action-Oriented,  Realistic, Time-Based.

Lastly, durable skills have a half-life of more than seven and a half years and constitute a base layer of mindsets and dispositions. These skills aren’t just “ways of thinking”; they are tangible, teachable, and measurable. They include growth mindset, design thinking, psychological safety, project management practices, effective communication, and leading others.

Here is a summary of the categories for skills durability. Examine your own organization’s competencies – which of them fall under each of these?

Perishable Semi-Durable Durable
Tech skills, especially those related to specific vendors, platforms, or programming languages that are updated frequently.  

Examples: 

Zoom, MS Teams, Webex,

Collaboration Tools – Jira, Sharepoint, etc.

specialized processes an individual team puts in place: intake, prioritization, procurement, customer support, and even data gathering 

Example: data entry is now being replaced by QR codes scanning; customer support is being replaced by BOTs

Frameworks or various learning theories that may have currency today, but are likely to change

Example: 

Command & Control Leadership, 

Employee Feedback Sandwich (Positive Feedback, Negative Feedback, Positive Feedback)

Quality Circles (popular in the 90s)

Durable skills constitute a base layer of mindsets and dispositions. These skills aren’t just “ways of thinking”; they are tangible, teachable, and measurable

Examples:

Psychological safety, design thinking, strategic thinking, project management practices, effective communication, and leadership skills, 

 

Durable skills have necessary implications for the effective development and implementation of both semi-durable and perishable skills an organization requires. A learning and talent development professional, for example, possesses a durable critical skill: breaking down complex ideas and behaviors to communicate them to others. That skill can be applied in varying contexts, such as in-person instruction, e-learning, or video. It can be deployed to relate other semi-durable and perishable skills, such as how to use Zoom to conduct virtual training or how to use YouTube to create learning videos. 

How can organizations prepare their workforce?

While training people on perishable skills is important, and there is an immediate impact on the bottom-line, it allows for little flexibility between roles and job families. Approaching training from a durable-skills-first perspective empowers individuals to make dynamic, longer-term contributions to an organization as they navigate through various jobs during their tenure.

 Picture skills development like a tree.  Durable skills form the tree roots, with semi-durable frameworks forming the branches and more perishable skills coming and going like the leaves with the changing seasons.  The organizational task is to grow a tall and wide tree and one that flourishes in every season.  It feeds the roots to keep the tree steady, growing branches of new expertise and fostering the leaves that change over time.  A tree-shaped paradigm enables us to frame learning as an essential to skills development. 

As organizations look to navigate this new post-COVID world, it needs to nourish its employees’ skills tree with various opportunities that develop capabilities aligned with whatever strategic direction it has identified to achieve success.  It must continue to invest in all three types of skills in its learning development initiatives and not only focus on what is needed now, and these most commonly are perishable skills.  Organizations  need to take a long-term view of how it can continuously feed the roots and not only tend to the leaves.

 

What can organizations do now?

  1. Do a talent inventory.  What are the existing talents in my organization? How will you categorize them in terms of perishable, semi-durable, and durable?
  2. Identify the skills gap for the present.  What are the skills needed for the here and now to sustain and grow the business?   
  3. Don’t stop at No. 2.  Think with the skills-tree paradigm in mind – what durable skills will we need to invest in now to make my organization successful towards the future?

 

At Management Strategies, we can help your organization and partner in your skills development.  For close to 30 years, we have lived out our purpose of “transforming people and organizations, so that together we can transform society” through our innovative and relevant services. These include our expert consulting approach, transformative frameworks, and inspiring learning programs. Our framework centers around durable-skills-first perspectives, including: Social & Emotional Intelligence, Generative Intelligence, Transformative Intelligence, Contextual Intelligence, Moral Intelligence, Technological Intelligence. 

This framework was authored by Dr. John Kao and published by WEF.

Learn more about MGTSTRAT-U Learning Programs on http://bit.ly/MGTSTRAT-U

 References:

  1. Whiting, Kate (2020) “These are the top 10 job skills of tomorrow – and how long it takes to learn them”

https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2020/10/top-10-work-skills-of-tomorrow-how-long-it-takes-to-learn-them?fbclid=IwAR1kEuL7OEzu4z3mooLwgHhzfue0iE0J515OQ-TwSsVyswScR4cIWx3r220

  1. Daniel, Matthew J. (2020) “Skills aren’t soft or hard – they’re durable or perishable”

https://www.chieflearningofficer.com/2020/10/29/skills-arent-soft-or-hard-theyre-durable-or-perishable/

  1. Malik, Sonia (2020) “Skills Transformation for the 2021 workplace”

https://www.ibm.com/blogs/ibm-training/skills-transformation-2021-workplace/

 

 This article was written by Elmo Alforque of the Management Strategies R&D Team
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