Opinion: Why now is the perfect time for a skills shift
The past year has hit the job market hard. Since February 2020, the number of employees on payroll in the UK has dropped by 820,000, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). And while we can’t minimise the impact this has had on individuals and organisations, there’s an opportunity for those still hiring to shift how they evaluate candidates.
In such a competitive market, there’s naturally a greater emphasis on skills. Employers are looking for ways to filter high volumes of applications, so they’re more exacting than ever of prospective employees.
Consequently, skills that typically fall under the header of ‘desirable’ on any job description have come to be essential for success in many recruitment processes. But the issue with this prescribed view of the ‘perfect candidate’ is that it causes recruiters and hiring managers to focus too heavily on what’s on paper, rather than on finding the right person for their company.
Change has been a long time coming. While lockdown may have expedited the shift, there’s been a need to reassess the value and necessity of certain skills for some time. With many people using the extra time spent at home to evaluate the next steps in their career and learn new skills, what proficiencies should be prioritised?
The skills shift
We’re already seeing companies remove the bachelor's degree requirement from many of their engineering roles. There’s now greater emphasis on a baseline level of certain skills — where a person learned them matters less and less.
One of the challenges with this shift is that, typically speaking, colleges and universities are focused on specific disciplines. While this makes sense in a theoretical context, the learning of a discipline doesn’t necessarily translate to the reality of work. Take languages for example: you may be the best in your class at reciting the conjugations of Spanish verbs, but if you can’t speak freely to express a point, that knowledge isn’t very applicable in the workplace.
Companies want to know whether a candidate can validate the skills they say they have; certifications mean nothing if not backed up by experiential learning. There are many self-taught technologists whose degrees may not reflect the field they’re in but whose skills have been, and can continue to be, augmented on the job. People who have actively sought to learn a new skill because of a genuine interest are typically more passionate, more invested, and eager to prove themselves. All it takes for them to thrive is an employer who can provide the right company mentorship and learning resources.
The priorities of today
Certain skills and abilities have been undervalued by employers, despite being vital in the world of work. What's more, with technology becoming ever more important, even employees working in nontechnical roles must demonstrate basic skills. The challenge for both candidates and employers is knowing which skills matter most, how to prove them, and how to improve them.
We use written and verbal communication every day, yet clear and consistent communication is regularly overlooked. The ability to debate a point and communicate it with clarity is essential in the professional sphere. If a role is client-facing, effective communication is even more vital. The reality is that many people associate poor grammar and communication errors with a lack of professionalism and expertise. Communication is the universal skill in today’s world.
Similarly, teamwork is a given in the structure of a modern company. If an employee doesn’t work effectively within a team, they will struggle. Tech teams, for example, often work in squads that include product managers, architects, engineers, UX designers, writers, and even marketers. It’s the collaboration, creativity, and productivity of these diverse teams that enable innovation. While talent is crucial, skills can be developed. A good cultural fit, however, is what makes or breaks a team dynamic.
Technology has penetrated all industries and specialisms. Most businesses have embraced this shift, identifying new opportunities through a digital, data-driven focus. Even the most technology-averse companies have transformed with tech, adopting new practices such as ecommerce or digital marketing. But this so-called 'age of reinvention' must also occur for people — in the technology sector and beyond. Many occupations, even those that aren’t 'technology roles,' now require basic technology skills such as experience with coding languages like Python, proficiency in specific software, or an understanding of analytics tools and how to apply their insights. The new age of work requires that staff are well-rounded.
A new age of skills
The skills we value are changing. New business focuses, increased teamwork and communication, and interdisciplinary roles have triggered a new age of skills. While job applications have typically been based on formal experience and certifications, there’s now greater value in having demonstrable, applicable skills and cultural fit.
Going forward, greater emphasis on basic tech skills will prove beneficial for businesses. Providing practical, relevant training resources will enable employees to learn and develop in line with company direction and the assimilation of technology.
While this shift might seem daunting to those in leadership and HR who are used to checkbox skills on résumés, it doesn't have to be. A more well-rounded approach to people, their passions, their existing skills, and their potential to learn on the job will empower them to grow. Building a culture of learning — and providing the resources to make it possible — provides value for everyone involved.
People Moves EMEA: Kearney, KPMG, Oliver Wyman, Skoda
It’s been a busy week for executive transitions across EMEA and especially in the world of consulting, with partner/CEO announcements at Oliver Wyman, KPMG and Kearney, and in the role of head of sustainability, with new CSO appointments at Laing O’Rourke and Syngenta Group.
We round up the biggest executive moves across Europe, the Middle East and Africa.
Nick Studer announced as CEO of consulting giant Oliver Wyman
Set to take the top job at consulting giant Oliver Wyman next month, Nick Studer has been named CEO and Dual President of the firm’s economic and brand consulting subsidiaries NERA and Lippincott and will be based in London. Having been with Oliver Wyman for more than two decades, becoming partner in 2003, Studer has since served in a variety of international leadership roles, including head of Global Corporate and Institutional banking Practice, before becoming managing partner at the start of 2021.
According to Dan Glaser, CEO of Oliver Wyman parent Marsh McLennan, Studer has not just led many of the firm’s practices, but he “has been a leading voice for change and a major driver of our Inclusion and Diversity agenda”.
Delphine Bourrilly to lead Kearney in France
Seasoned consultant Delphine Bourrilly has been appointed leader of consulting firm Kearney for France, one of the firm’s larger locations in Europe, becoming fifth head of the Paris office. Having been with Kearney for more than a decade, most recently leading the Leadership, Change and Organisation practice across Europe, Bourrilly has an array of client successes under her consulting belt, including overseeing an operating model transformation at a large retailer. Prior to this, she spent five years at UBS. According to Geir Olsen, Head of Europe at Kearney, Bourrilly’s “talent, energy and charisma will be critical in leading Kearney through its next growth phase in France”.
Roland Villinger becomes head of corporate and product strategy, Skoda Auto
A consulting veteran, Roland Villinger has been appointed head of Skoda Auto’s corporate and product strategy, a newly created area for the Czech car manufacturer that combines two departments. Described by Skoda’s CEO Thomas Schafer as “an international experienced leader and proven digital expert”, Villinger most recently oversaw the implementation of Volkswagen Group strategy and was also previously chief strategy officer and chief digital officer at Audi AG. Prior to this, he spent 25 years at consultancy McKinsey including serving as a senior partner and running McKinsey’s operations in the APAC region.
Hanan Alowain promoted to Partner, public sector, KPMG
Becoming the second Saudi female partner in the history of KPMG, Hanan Alowain has been promoted to Partner in the firm’s Public Sector function. With 14 years of experience in human capital and social development in the Kingdom, including the last three and a half years at KPMG, Alowain is a Harvard Business School graduate with extensive experience both in the public sector, as director of research and development for the Saudi government’s Ministry of Labour, and the private sector, including as a partner at investment & development group Eradah.
Vicky Bullivant named Laing O’Rourke’s first-ever group head of sustainability
Seasoned ESG leader Vicky Bullivant is joining Laing O’Rourke as its first-ever group head of sustainability from Drax Group where she was head of sustainable business and responsible for developing the firm’s climate ambition, social strategy and community and charity policies. Having led the world’s first company ambition to be carbon negative by 2030, and the UK’s first energy company to commit to improving skills and education for one million people by 2025, Bullivant boasts 25 years of ESG business experience in highly regulated sectors, FTSE 100 companies, government and NGOs.
Bullivant spent eight years at Experian, where she was head of corporate affairs and community, nearly four years as head of corporate responsibility at Eon, five years as group head of sustainability at Rolls-Royce, where she turned around the firm’s performance in the Dow Jones Sustainability index, as well as sustainability heads at Tate & Lyle and Drax Group.
Daniel Vennard joins Syngenta Group as new CSO
Former global director at the World Resources Institute Daniel Vennard has been appointed chief sustainability officer for Syngenta Group. Based in Basel, Switzerland, Vennard will be responsible for developing and implementing the Group’s sustainability into its business strategy. Bringing extensive experience in the development of sustainability strategies and in launching global sustainability programmes that deliver growth and impact, Vennard most recently served as global director at the World Resources Institute, Vennard founded the Better Buying Lab bringing together scientists to develop, test and scale innovations that help consumers opt for sustainable plant-based food.
Prior to this he spent 15 years at Mars and Procter & Gamble in sustainability, corporate strategy and marketing and brings “creativity and remarkable expertise in sustainability” that will “help us further advance regenerative farming practices and help mitigate the harmful effects of global warming”, says Erik Fyrwald, CEO, Syngenta Group.