Fact-Driven Skills and Competence Provision: The Art of Not Looking for a Needle in a Haystack

In the wake of the recession, it is tempting to put the brakes on hiring. But the need to control costs in the short term should not make you lose track of the long term. On the contrary, times of crisis are exactly the right time to take steps to prepare for the future. Skills and competences are one such issue. According to 3,000 European and Asian business leaders, getting the right skills is the biggest strategic challenge facing companies and organizations in both the short and long term. This is despite the economic uncertainty many are currently experiencing. 

The issue of skills supply has many more dimensions today than it did a decade ago. Solving the skills problem requires a complex, multi-step process. The first step is to build an overall picture of the skills that will be needed in the longer term, something we can call understanding the future. Both insight into the competency needs of the organization as a whole and a thorough picture of the roles and competencies employees will need to fill and fulfill. 

Today, requirements are shifting rapidly. The next level of digitalization where AI developments are radically changing the work content of many professions, an increasingly complex sustainability situation and a post-pandemic environment that has changed the expectations of workplaces and leadership. Over the past few years, we have helped a number of industries and organizations understand this. From the hospitality and healthcare sectors to the electricians, mechanical contractors and special prosecutors of the future. 

Today´s Skills Requirements Go Beyond the Formal
Today, employers' expectations of their employees' skills often go beyond formal education. In a study on the competence requirements for tomorrow's installers (electricians and plumbers), we noted a few years ago that many employers said that in a high school class of 30 future electricians, no more than a handful of the students actually correspond to what they wanted. And we hear this situation from many employers in many sectors. Formal skills are a good foundation, but they are not enough. Instead, it is rather the attitude, ambition and ability to manage and solve complex situations that is crucial. 

The Big Challenge: Finding People with the Right Skills
Many employers today have done their homework. They have a clear understanding of the skills they need and are confident that their skills requirements are future-proof. But then comes step two, which is often the big challenge - how to find the people with the skills they need. 

With the Right Facts You Don´t Have to Search in the Haystack
Too many employers think that job content is the key to attracting people with the right skills. But years of research into how people view work and employers has taught us that job content is only one piece of the puzzle for most employees. People's preferences about work and employers today are determined by more than interesting and meaningful tasks. For example, friends and family are now much more important to Swedes than work, as our annual survey of Swedish values "Läget i landet – tecken i tiden" shows.   

Of course, the content of the work plays a role, but for most people the social factors of the workplace are even more important. Good colleagues, a pleasant atmosphere and good managers repeatedly come out on top in the many surveys conducted by Kairos Future and other research companies. The importance of social factors is likely to increase even more when the world is in turmoil and the effects of the recession become clear. 

To understand the social drivers, there are plenty of facts and insights that can guide employers away from looking for staff in haystacks. Here are a few examples: 

The Fundamental Importance of Life Stage 
Where you are in life plays a fundamental role in people's willingness to change jobs. For example, young adults in their twenties and thirties tend to have high expectations that the workplace will be an arena where new social relationships are formed, while those in the family phase look for workplaces where they can balance their lives. While social relationships are important for them too, they do not have the same importance as for young adults. These differences are reflected in several studies on attitudes towards telework: young adults are the least interested in it, while expectations of being able to control where they work increase with age. If you want to reach target groups where many potential employees are young, you may therefore need to ensure that there are opportunities for social activities such as after works and participation in team-based exercise competitions, while employees with children in the early childhood phase appreciate flexible working hours more. 

The life stage has more aspects than social differences. This becomes even clearer if the equation includes a move to a new place of residence. The reasons for a move differ significantly for a twenty-five-year-old person or someone in their fifties, which is crucial to be aware of if a recruitment will require a move. We at Kairos Future have studied this for many years and in the winter of 2023, we will conduct a new survey of Swedes' views on housing and moving, which will result in new fresh data on migration patterns with a bearing on workforce attraction after the pandemic. 

Younger Generations Not Interested in Traditional Careers  
Sometimes we hear voices that make it sound like young people have a completely different view of the world of work than previous generations. But this is not true. Many expectations of jobs and employers remain relatively constant over time. At the same time, there are clear differences. One obvious difference is that younger people are more accustomed to working with digital tools; in particular, they interact more casually socially through digital solutions than older people. Another is the perception of careers. Traditionally, a career has been about moving up the corporate ladder, but for most younger people, career is more about ensuring their own personal development. We saw an example of this when we conducted a study with Nexer Tech Talent of 300 young IT and technology trainees. One of the conclusions of this study was that – compared to other young graduates – Tech Talents have higher expectations for almost everything when it comes to work, but the biggest difference is in expectations for skills development. Their interest in a traditional career in a hierarchical organization was very limited. What attracted them was the opportunity to constantly learn new things. At the same time, they were discouraged by a competitive culture and stated that the most important thing for them was that the workplace offer an innovative and collaborative environment. 

Navigating between what is constant and what is changing is a delicate art and requires that you have done your homework and gathered data that provides a solid basis for strategies and the implementation of competence management measures.  

Life outside work determines attraction – interests lead the way 
As social life becomes more important to employees, it is also important to understand who they want to spend time with. In which social circles do they exist? What are their interests? Understanding this is fundamental to creating attractive workplaces. When choosing a new employer, many people look at what social spheres exist in the workplace today. The question asked is "Will I find my peers there?". What you are looking for is preferably people in the same lifestyle circles as you are in, i.e. people with the same interests as you have. 

Understanding people's lifestyle interests is not just about workplace composition. It is also a key way to find the communication channels that provide shortcuts to the workforce you want to reach. While a lot of employers use LinkedIn as a recruitment channel, there are many professionals who are not on LinkedIn at all. Instead, other channels are used to maintain their interest-based social relationships.  

When it comes to interests, we at Kairos Future have for several years built up a database with about 70,000 Swedes' answers about their leisure interests. We can see that these are largely determined by their social arenas, and we can link different occupational groups with specific interest lifestyles. This makes it possible to obtain data on potential candidate groups who possess the key skills and competences. Both what their demographic profile looks like as well as where they currently live and what their interests are. 

We recently carried out such a mapping exercise for the municipality of Nordmaling, whose business community needs the critical skill of "process operator". With the help of a deep dive into a number of different databases, we were able to produce solid facts about this target group. It turned out that they were more interested in motorcycles and boats than Swedes in general, and that the most important thing for them was that their place of residence was quiet (they wanted to live in the countryside) and that the employer offered secure employment conditions. There was also an overview of the neighboring municipalities where the current process operators live. All in all, it gave the client a very good understanding, so that they could pinpoint activities to more effectively reach and attract this target group, which is central to Nordmaling's future. 

Do you know how your key target groups see life and work? Where do they live and what are their interests? With the right facts, you don't have to be in the dark when it comes to finding the right skills. If you want to know more, contact Erik Herngren.

By Erik Herngren