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Talent Shortage? Tap Into Transferable Skills Within Your Organization

May 12, 2022 Learning and Development
Chris Ellis
By Chris Ellis

When I talk to businesses right now, they have so many ideas and opportunities for growth. And yet their number one challenge is execution.

Internally, the assumption is often that teams lack the resourcing or bandwidth to do new or additional work. There is some truth to that, but also a danger that it becomes its own self-fulfilling prophecy. A little out-of-the-box thinking could go a long way towards meeting growth and new project delivery goals.

Almost all teams are looking for new staff, my own team included. While we continue to focus efforts on external recruitment, we also know we must get smarter in our search for skills: and that’s increasingly giving impetus for a more inward-looking focus.

Internal Skills Mobility

Organizations are already full of people with ambition and drive to succeed, with a hunger to learn new skills or to be exposed to new and different experiences.

And yet, traditionally people sat in one team for the duration of their employment. Their expertise is rarely loaned, seconded or transferred to other parts of the organization that could immediately benefit from that kind of skills injection — and that’s what has to change.

If ‘people mobility’ and skills transferability are well-designed, everyone can benefit.

Chances are your people may already view their career growth differently than they once would have. Today, a promotion is no longer seen as the step up a ladder inside of a single team or domain — it could potentially be seen as a step across onto a completely different ladder. As employers, we should apply a whole-of-organization lens to this, supporting employees with personal growth opportunities on the basis that it may help to retain them within the organization, even if it constitutes a ‘loss’ for an individual team.

Aside from supporting their people, employers should also be reminded that the transferable skills that make a person attractive to other parts of their own organization, are also attractive and transferable to other organizations as well. Best to provide that growth opportunity yourself, instead of having someone else come in with an attractive counter-offer and do it for you.

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Center of Excellence: When Skills Benefit the Entire Organization

This raises another important point about transferability — it doesn’t have to be permanent, and in fact, in our experience it often isn’t.

The emerging model is people aren’t transferring between teams or departments as much as seconding into them. This may be a temporary loan arrangement between teams, although increasingly organizations are taking their best subject matter experts (SMEs) or those with the most transferable sets of skills, and folding them into an internal “center of excellence” (CoE) structure, where they can become a ‘shared service’ for all teams in the organization. We expect to see this model in action more and more as we progress through 2022 and beyond.

Whether a temporary transfer or CoE model is pursued, some boundaries for the arrangement will need to be set. The danger is always that a shared resource has conflicting demands placed on their time. If the transfer is temporary, it is worth modeling how much of that person’s time can be sacrificed before the arrangement starts to have a negative impact on the rest of the team. Similarly for a CoE arrangement, it is worth fleshing out a set of metrics and expectations, and having all parties that will use the CoE or contribute resourcing to it sign off on them in advance of the CoE commencing operations.

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Some Guidance on Specific Skills

Explore what kinds of skills are the most transferable within your organization. Plugging ‘most transferable skills’ into a search engine produces millions of results, few of them overly useful for your specific context.

The transferability of soft skills gets its fair share of the limelight for good reason — these are infinitely transferable and are needed by all teams.

We saw a really good case study for this in the past two years when the airline and travel industries fell on hard times. A lot of employees were furloughed, but many were also seconded or found employment with other sectors like government and banking that had a strong customer service requirement.

Airline staff have some of the most advanced customer service skills in the world. When you've worked business class at the pointy end of an airline, you could do customer service for almost any organization. Transferability to the IT world would likely only require a month’s intensive training on an application or product catalogue, and after that point the career opportunities multiply.

Communications — and specifically, being able to translate tech-speak into layman’s terms — is also a highly transferable and desirable skill. Being able to clearly articulate a problem and what the solution might look like reduces the time required to actually build the solution.

Project management and administrative skills are increasingly in demand. These are often thought of as secondary to the success of big IT projects but without them projects don't get off the ground, because they’re key skills that we need to ensure a successful change or transition.

About the Author

Chris Ellis, technical director at Nintex, gained invaluable experience in SharePoint, Office 365 and the Nintex Platform as a pre-sales solution specialist within the partner network. Hailing from Aberdeen in Scotland, his work with the Nintex Platform exposed him to the full lifecycle from analysis and requirement gathering to delivery, support and training, contributing across a spectrum of projects in various industries and in some interesting places.

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