If people looking for work and employers looking for workers can better articulate the skills they have and the skills they need using the same Language of Skills (as we have set out here and here), then we will have moved a significant way towards closing the skills gap that has dogged the labour market for the past few years, and which is being exacerbated by the current crisis. But although this would create a better understanding between employees and employers, there would still be a skills gap that needs filling between the two in order to match the one to the other.
This is the space occupied by education and training providers, who essentially provide the bridge between skills required by employers and skills needed in their courses and modules. As our Venn Diagram shows, education providers can bring together people and employers, creating a sweet spot where skills alignment is achieved:
However, in order that this gap can be successfully bridged, it is essential that education providers themselves speak the same Language of Skills as those looking for work and the businesses looking for workers. This is something of a radical departure from the traditional way of thinking about the problem, where qualifications and their relation to occupations have been the bridge between learners and future employers. But the fact is that recent years have seen a big shift in the way that many employers look at hiring, whereby for a large number of roles they have become far less interested in whether a person has this or that qualification, and far more interested in whether a person has the right skills and capabilities to do the role they are being hired for. This being the case, how can colleges and universities use the Language of Skills to better understand what skills employers need, so that they can then look to incorporate them into their courses and modules?
There is a short-term and a longer-term answer to this. In the short-term, one way this gap can be bridged is by turning to Job Posting Analytics (JPA), which can help us not only get a good general understanding of current employer demand, but because it is tagged to our Skills Library, means that we can use it to investigate skills needs at a highly granular level. For example, if we imagine a college in the Lancashire region wanting to understand employer demand at this current time, they might begin by using the data to establish which jobs are being most sought after in their region. In the chart below, we have identified the Top 15 most advertised jobs in the area from April to May:
Using the skills tagger, we can then identify the actual skills that are being requested for these positions. For example, in the chart below we have picked out the Top 15 hard skills for the most in-demand job, Family Support Workers:
By using this data, an education and training provider can very quickly start to get a handle on what skills employers in their area need, which they can then use to assess how well their current courses train for these in-demand skills to start thinking about incorporating them new content into existing courses and modules, or in the creation of new ones.
However, as interesting as this concept is, it is really just a short-term solution, which only starts to
scratch the surface in terms of where the Language of Skills might take the education and training system. The really big question that will need answering in the coming years is this: how can the Language of Skills transform how we think about qualifications?
As we mentioned above, there has been a big shift in employers’ thinking around this, with years of businesses seeing big gaps in the skills of those whom they thought were qualified to a job, and the ability of those people to actually do the job, leaving many of them looking for new ways of getting people with the right skills. What this means is that the days when a particular qualification led to a particular career are fast fading, and the implication of this is that if employers are moving away from that way of thinking, then so too must the qualification system itself.
Once again, the Language of Skills has the potential to provide a radical solution to bridge the gap. For just as jobs can be broken down into skills components, as we showed in our example of Family Support Workers above, so too can qualifications. Every qualification is essentially made up of numerous skills building blocks, which can be identified using our Language of Skills. This gives the potential to create a system which is far more nuanced than is currently the case, where instead of qualification “blocks”, we instead have a series of skills building blocks we can identify as making up a qualifications, and which can be added to and supplemented in order to better reflect the rapidly changing labour market.
The future we envisage looks something like the following graphic:
What this shows is people and jobs in terms of “skill shapes”, where each person and each job has a different set of skills. However, it is not necessarily the case that the skill shape of a person is completely different than the skill shape of the job they are looking to do. Rather, they may well have acquired the core skills, yet lack some of the niche skills that are needed. This is where the education and training provider comes in, providing those niche skills, particularly in the retraining and upskilling of people, and therefore adding to a person’s skill shape so that they are a better fit for the skill shape required by an employer.
The Language of Skills therefore has the potential to completely overhaul the way we think about both jobs and qualifications, with each being broken down into their various skills components. Although this is a fairly radical concept, it is a new way of thinking that could really provide a much needed solution to the skills gap – making the job of matching people with the right skills, to jobs that need those skills, via education that can provide those skills, far easier than is currently the case, to the benefit of all.
We will have much more to say about the Language of Skills over the coming months. If you would like more information, check out our recent webinar webinar below, or contact us to discuss.