Getting started with your skills library: what you need to know

A skills library is the foundational element for a skills-based approach, enabling you to act in a real-time and dynamic way to support strategy, and employee-focused decisions.

It seems as though we’re in the middle of a perfect storm. As our lives and careers get longer, the useful life of the skills we learn today are getting shorter. Businesses, looking to be more resilient in the times of COVID, automation and AI, are scrambling to find the skills they need for the future. And, employees are looking for development opportunities that better link their career aspirations with their own goals and interests.

As HR leaders, Project Managers, L&D professionals and business leaders we can’t sit back. Gartner’s 2020 Shifting Skills Survey found that 69% of HR professionals have seen an increase in pressure from employees while 60% are being pressured by their CEOs to build a more resilient business that’s aligned with future skills.

It’s very easy to make in-the-moment decisions on these issues, but how do you know they’re working? Are they helping your employees to thrive? Are they adding value to your customers? Are they helping you become more resilient as an organization?

We need to stop and think about the underlying data that we’re basing these decisions on. However, before we can begin to understand the data, we need to define a structure that will allow us to make sense of it and to act in a meaningful way.

The old way of doing things — static, siloed, and ad-hoc — just doesn’t cut it in today’s fast-paced and dynamic world.

So, what is a skills library?

In its most basic form, a skills library — also called, a skills inventory, a skills catalog or skill ontology is a centralized and structured database of skills data, qualifications and employee attributes that helps to create a unified understanding of skills within an organization.

Your skills library should be a dynamic system that can be updated based on your workforce and the ever-changing skills landscape. When deployed as part of a broader skills-based strategy, you are in a better position to build more competent project teams, create fit-for-purpose training programs, support L&D investment decisions and create a business that can thrive in a volatile market.

How do I start building a skills library?

An important starting point in relation to your skills library is understanding the underlying data structure or schema. Excel and spreadsheets will always have their place however, when looking to create complex data relationships, and encourage a collaborative and transparent environment at scale, an Excel tool will inevitably fall apart.

It’s also worth understanding that your skills library won’t ever be perfect. Your strategy should be focused on first getting to an adequate milestone and then constantly measuring, optimizing and iterating based on your employee assessment data and the skills gaps across your business.

So getting started, what are the components of a good skills library?

Component 1 - Skill categorisation and hierarchy

One of the first things you want to do is create a skills hierarchy or skills categories within your business. This will change drastically based on each individual organization. For simple soft skills there is less interpretation involved overall, the decision that you have to make however is whether or not you focus more on role specific categories such as HR, Marketing, Devops, and IT or track highly process driven skills such as “applying security measures to IT infrastructure” or “Quality Assurance for end-of-the-line manufacturing”.

You should take time to consider the implications of skills categories across your organization to ensure they align to your business goals and that everyone can easily understand and interpret the data.

Component 2 - Skill Names

Skill names should not be so broad that the organization loses out on the valuable information a greater number of more specific skills would be captured. Nor should skills be so specific that measuring staff performance against them fails to add more value than what would have been captured by a smaller number of broader skills.

Component 3 - Skill Descriptions

Skill Descriptions are key to creating a unified understanding of each skill. By keeping the descriptions as detailed as possible prevents individual interpretation. This becomes critical when you begin using this as a basis for auditing and assessing the competency of your team.

Component 4 - Skill Relationship Mapping

In order to move beyond a static and simple skills library you must figure out how you want to assign your employees to roles, teams and different geographic locations. Having these specific entities mapped to each skill helps to build context and relevance to your data, and becomes an essential part to measuring success and making data-led decisions based on specific skill gaps and strengths.

So, where to from here?

Your skills library is an essential part to your business, and making data-driven decisions around employee, and organization outcomes. And, it should be a priority for any Human Resources, Learning and Development, Training and organizational leader.

If you need help getting started, looking into your skills-based technology stack, or stuck on what to do next we’re always here to help.