A New Look At Which Job Skills Are Critical
The Rise of Innovation, Diversity, and Teamwork
The pandemic, artificial intelligence, and remote access have changed work and, along with it, the focus of recruiting.
Over the past twenty years, The focus of much recruiting has been on hiring highly skilled and experienced experts - technical, medical, engineering, computer, and scientists. They are in high demand and limited supply, and many insist on working remotely. A significant number have left permanent employment. Firms that rely on these workers have struggled to hire and keep them. Leadership has been torn by their desire to have these people physically at work versus the reality that many of the best refuse to do that.
But the news is not all bad. Demand is shifting, and although it may be hard to see right now, the most sought-after people and the hardest-to-find will not be these workers. While science, computer, mathematics, and other hard-to-find skills will remain important, people with broad, diverse, and less technical backgrounds are gaining.
Technical skills may be useful or even required, but the focus is shifting to a more well-rounded and versatile type of worker. This is forcing leaders and recruiters to shift their thinking to focus on finding and hiring people with a penchant for being innovative. creative, and who thrive on teamwork.
When we divide workers into broad categories, some interesting patterns emerge. Look at the chart (Figure 1) below that allocates work into four quadrants.
In looking at Figure 1, you can see that Transactional skills (lower left corner) performed by people acting as secretaries, receptionists, bookkeepers, legal clerks, and machine operators, for example, are largely governed by rules and procedures that need to be learned and followed with some rigor. There is little room for interpretation, judgment, innovation, or teamwork. Individuals perform these jobs and are rewarded for how well they follow guidelines and rules as individuals. Some positions require specific skills, but these skills can be learned fairly quickly and can be applied without significant modification for long periods.
A.I. will likely take over many or even most of these functions within the next few years. In every area, A.I. and robotics are getting more capable and efficient.
Recruiting here is usually routine, and recruiting leadership should find automated tools to make hiring for these positions fast, effective and inexpensive or outsource them to a third party.
These are the current “darlings” of recruiters. As we have mentioned, finding people to fill these positions is the focus of most sourcers and recruiters.
Major talent shortages exist in specific areas because of the few graduates with these skills, credential creep, and fierce competition. The lower right quadrant includes these skills, including technical, engineering, software, and hardware positions. It also includes positions where deep expertise is valued, and advanced degrees or licenses are required, including legal, human resources, financial, and leadership functions.
These positions require people who follow rules but also apply judgment, often augmented by statistics, to make decisions. Being innovative is not critical, but using best practices and acting predictably are. Everything is aimed at not making mistakes. These positions are sustaining and provide continuity and predictability, traits that are necessary but not ones that lead to growth or innovation. And many of their contributions can be made remotely by acting as consultants.
Over the next decade, many of these positions will be augmented by A.I. Artificial intelligence will replace some, provide answers to technical questions, even write code and reduce the amount and depth of knowledge individuals need to be effective. Some positions may be augmented significantly enough to allow a junior person to be effective. I envision more focus on how intelligent software could take over many of the routine parts of these positions. This will reduce job requirements and credentials for the remaining people, thus eliminating talent shortages.
Experts who fill these jobs may be freelance workers or consultants, and many will not choose to be permanent employees. We are already seeing this. Many workers opt to leave permanent employment when the work can be done remotely.
Communication and Networking Skills
The skills that are emerging as critical for success in an A.I. augmented world are not the ones you might expect. As noted above, technical and STEM skills will be gradually augmented with A.I. But the most in-demand skills will include making critical decisions and expertise in influencing, challenging, coordinating, and communicating with a global team. We will need people who can work remotely across cultures, build strong relationships, and encourage creative decision-making in the face of unknown and unknowable challenges.
A.I. may help those in these positions, but that help will be technical. It will provide a basis for decisions and interactions based on emotion and relationships. These positions require people comfortable sharing intellectual property, exchanging and debating ideas, and coming to mutually acceptable decisions. Some of these people may straddle the border with the experts, and we will have the best of both worlds when this happens.
This is the category to focus on for recruiters and hiring managers, and nurturing skills at finding and hiring for these positions will be critical. Influencing hiring managers to think outside the technical requirements box and begin to choose people that may lack strong technical backgrounds but have above-average communication skills will be important.
Diverse Thinking Skills
Innovators, rebels, and entrepreneurs are complex and do not conform to the usual recruiting or working methods.
Imagine the job description for Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, Richard Branson, or Albert Einstein. Where and how would anyone find people with their eclectic and non-traditional skills? What skills have made them exceptional? What tests or behavior patterns would you use to assess them?
Yet, these positions will create and build future organizations and keep current ones profitable. We have all seen innovative startups lose their creativity and innovation as they mature. We’ve seen the decline of organizations that were considered the best and that were the most profitable because they were not able to hire, develop or promote the mavericks and innovators that might have kept them booming
We need to focus both A.I. and our recruiting research on how we can find or develop more people with innovation skills, willing to experiment and fail, willing to pick up the pieces and try again. These people need to have a combination of skills that are not normally found or encouraged, and we will need recruiters with an unconventional approach to finding and hiring them.
While Figure 1 portrays a simplistic model and does not take in all the shades of gray, it may provide a useful starting point for thinking differently about positions and what we expect from them. Hopefully, it will help change the narrow mindsets of both recruiters and hiring managers on who their most important hires are and where they should spend the most time and money.
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