Future-Proof Your Talent: Harnessing Verified Skills Data to Stay Ahead in AI and Tech

Five Key Takeaways from Workera’s Webinar with Degreed and Josh Bersin

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Five Key Takeaways from Workera’s Webinar with Degreed and Josh Bersin

The world is becoming skills-based. But what does that mean in practice, and how should organizations think about shifting towards skills-based operations?

To answer these questions and others around learning and development, AI, and upskilling, Workera hosted a webinar in April bringing together some of the industry’s biggest thought leaders. The discussion was moderated by Josh Bersin, global industry analyst & founder of The Josh Bersin Company. Josh interviewed Workera CEO Kian Katanforoosh, as well as David Blake, founder and CEO of Degreed.

The webinar explored topics ranging from the definition of a skill to AI systems to skills verification. Here are the five biggest takeaways from their discussion:


Skills taxonomies are only useful with verification

One of the most interesting and complex topics in skills development is the skills taxonomy — the inventory of skills that applies to a specific workplace, role or project. But Kian Katanforoosh pointed out that a skills taxonomy on its own doesn’t offer much information.

“The skills taxonomy is interesting, but it’s not helpful unless you’re able to verify that skill,” said Katanforoosh. This information is only useful to an organization when they can confirm an individual employee’s skill level and understanding.

David Blake emphasized that organizations need to move away from the idea of associating degrees and certifications with competency and skills verification. “As we get into the world of microcredentials and skills… it will come down to a new, definitive set of numbers. You might have thousands of tangible skills, and you might use 100 of those in your job. And of that 100, maybe 10 to 12 will be the regular, key skills,” said Blake.


Employees need both durable and perishable skills to innovate

While upskilling programs tend to focus on technical skills — and AI skills in particular — the future of skills development will fully incorporate both technical and non-technical skills. But as AI advances, the skills we consider technical today may be more accessible in the future. “I think a worker requires certain durable skills and certain perishable skills,” said Katanforoosh. “What’s interesting about IT skills and AI skills — they’re becoming horizontal (durable) skills. AI literacy and AI fluency… those are more horizontal skills.”

While platforms like Workera focus today on AI and other IT skills, the same measurement and analysis principles apply to non-technical skills. When a user demonstrates strong abilities in linear algebra, Workera is able to infer a similar ability level in other mathematical skills like calculus. In the future, we will see Workera draw similar connections across non-technical skills: for example, someone with strong verbal communication will likely have similar ability levels in written communication.


Effective upskilling begins with business outcomes

For an upskilling program to deliver value, it needs to help an organization achieve its business goals. Yet for years, upskilling programs were designed from the top down: “Over the past 10 years, upskilling was content-led,” said Katanforoosh. “You have 1,000 people, you send them to a 100-hour program, and then you try to staff them to your projects and realize they’re not quite aligned with what you just taught. Maybe engagement was low because the information was too difficult, or too easy, or wasn’t relevant.”

An effective upskilling program will begin with a specific business goal. “You start at the bottom with the OKR or with the business goal. You translate that to a skills ontology, make it verifiable, and then when it’s verifiable at the company level, you layer in the content,” said Katanforoosh. “We need to build that muscle and start at the business level before layering in content.”


L&D and talent acquisition are converging

Over the course of the conversation, Bersin, Blake and Katanforoosh discussed how skills development is becoming more useful across organizations. Instead of simply belonging to HR or L&D, skills data is now informing decision-making in other areas of the business. As a result, Katanforoosh is seeing some of these units working more closely together.

“L&D and talent acquisition are getting closer to each other,” said Katanforoosh. “When you deploy a measurement system internally, it helps to standardize what you’re seeing in the market so that you can make a sound decision in the talent acquisition pipeline… I see those functions getting closer and closer over time.”

Again, Katanforoosh emphasized the importance of connecting skills development to business value. “Learning programs and upskilling programs become more effective when the business cares,” said Katanforoosh. “To get the business to care, you need to align upskilling with job architecture. [In the future] maybe L&D can become more of a hub-and-spoke, or a center of excellence across different functions of the business.”


Learning and skills verification should be independent of each other

At the end of the webinar, the three experts zoomed in on an important topic: the difference between learning and skills verification. Historically, learners would assess their skills at the end of a particular learning experience — a chapter or a unit or a course. Katanforoosh argues that skills verification should instead be connected to specific jobs and capabilities rather than the learning experience.

“You want learning and skills technology to be independent,” said Katanforoosh. “Skills verification doesn’t belong at the end of a course. It should be elevated at the job architecture level or the capability level — something meta.”


To hear more from Josh Bersin, David Blake and Kian Katanforoosh, check out the full recording of the webinar. And for a deeper look at some of the topics discussed, visit Kian’s recently published eBook, The Leader’s Guide to Skills-based Organizations.

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