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Introducing the skills supply chain for the workforce of the future

Businessman Hand Draws Target Customers Diagram
Laurence Collins

Does anyone really understand the rules of the talent game? As many business leaders have realised, the stakes relating to the workforce have increased and the codes of practice have evolved. Before, when ‘talent’ was mentioned, many would imagine pre-fixing with the words acquisition or management. But those terms don’t really mean anything to business leaders. New terms like the skills supply chain are emerging.

More worryingly, and if we are being really honest, it has never meant anything to our customers either (unless they happened to be in the privileged minority of the top percentile for seniority). For a concept that was designed to drive business performance through more effective workforce endeavours, it seldom touched all employees and we haven’t a clue about how much of a difference it made.

Why the skills supply chain?

Shifting views

The old talent viewpoint is no longer sufficient. Automation is increasingly part of the workplace. The use of crowdsourcing is rising exponentially, plus large swathes of work production are moving towards a more task-based model. The narrow definition of talent as ‘new recruits’ or ‘top-end employees on the balance sheet’ are now outdated concepts.

This seismic shift in the number of resourcing options available for completing the act of ‘work production’ is changing the way organisations organise work and the workforce. The name of the game nowadays is to arrange the new complexity of labour and cognitive options in such a way that it creates superior economic value. Then there are the shifting expectations around work – moving towards more meaningful experiences. The landscape looks extremely uncertain. No wonder that we are in the midst of the Industrial Revolution 4.0.

Advances in technology

We’ve been here before though. Whenever economies have struggled to generate wealth for their people there have been advances in technology (and thinking) that have unlocked leaps in productivity. In turn, this has created more wealth. Assuming it’s reasonably distributed, this has created happier and healthier societies.

Take a look at the advent of mass production. Henry Ford was one of the first pioneers to figure out how to harness electricity to power his newly invented mass production lines in 1908. As a result output, and therefore productivity, was transformed. Prices of Model Ts became affordable and a society literally moved forward. However, what happened since 1883 when the potential of electricity use in manufacturing was proven to be technically feasible? Why take so long to change ways of working? Adoption was dramatically slower than what the benefit potential would have indicated. This is because the move to incorporate electricity in factories created many new challenges and complexities.

One of the biggest changes was in the skills profile of the new workforces flooding into massively expanded factory workspaces.  In essence the operating model of the business had created new work and needed new skills from its enlarged workforce.

Figuring out what disruption means

It took some time for people to figure out what all this disruption meant and how best to harness it. For those that made the leap, the superior economic value that was created ensured they survived. Indeed in Mr Ford’s case, it thrived through most of the rest of the 20th Century.  The same facet of human behaviour in relation to adoption of business technology to drive productivity is playing out today. We have new cognitive technologies, and new workforce supply sources that are the equivalent of electricity.

Work moving from jobs to tasks

Today (just like what happened to skilled trade professionals building cars) work itself is no longer assigned to just one person in the form of a ‘job’. Facilitated by technology, it’s becoming more common to see jobs carved up into smaller components of work that are then distributed between different people, or automated. The benefits of this approach are obvious: increased efficiency for organisations, and (if matched correctly) more interesting work for employees.

Of course, these tasks need to be matched to the right mix of resources with the right skills and the right price point if we are to drive productivity and future business sustainability. This ability, unlike talent management, is much more of a science and it requires the ability to handle far more complexity around work, workforces and economics than ever before. It’s the hot new business domain: workforce optimisation. The winners will be the organisations that figure out how to harness this disruption first.

Trendy workforce optimisation

The economics surrounding the future of work is the reason workforce optimisation is such a trend at the moment. Progressive organisations are sensing that the structure and application of their workforces are the key to superior value creation. Gone are the days of the glib ‘people are OUR greatest asset’ remark. The truth is that people skills are becoming more of an open market. Future value is only created by those that have the capability to organise their total workforce around work tasks more flexibly and more effectively. That means optimising their teams. Which is where the skills supply chain comes in.

Introducing the skills supply chain

Regardless of your industry, you have some form of supply chain and because of this, it’s a core competency in your business model. Your skills supply chain should be no different.

At a basic level, your supply chain looks at what resources you need, making sure you get this at the right price (and time) and then moving this to the right place for your finished product.

Using a farming analogy of ‘farm to fork’, in order to reach your dinner table a grocery retailer has to source the raw product, procure it, transport it, store it, price it and sell it – all the while ensuring its quality remains consistent through the chain. The skills supply chain follows a similar concept. By applying these principles to your workforce optimisation you can drive forward your productivity and effectively prepare for the future of work.

Building your skills supply chain

Continuing the conversation

Now you understand more about the skills supply chain and why organisations need it. Stay tuned for our next article in this two part series coming out in two weeks time. Our next article will uncover the ways the skills supply chain can be implemented in your company.

Interested in more insights? Take a look at our other insight pieces here.

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