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The upskilling and reskilling revolution: An interview with CEO and Author Eric Shepherd

Faethm Chief Economist Michael Kollo recently interviewed Eric Shepherd, Author of Talent Transformation.

Watch the full interview here.


Eric Shepherd has a history of looking at skills and abilities during his extensive career. From developing a competency model to help employees understand how to develop their knowledge, skills and abilities to looking at personality traits and behaviours. After 18 years as CEO for Questionmark Group, Eric had a firm interest in the 4th Industrial Revolution and AI, but was noticing that the wave of emerging technologies was beginning to displace people from jobs and if handled badly, could lead to a lot of social unrest. Eric wanted to contribute to a solution and so developed the Talent Transformation Pyramid.

The Talent Transformation Pyramid is a model that helps you see what you can't see, enabling you to understand what supports certain behaviours: personality traits, social emotional intelligence, psychological safety etc and how does that support behaviours, but also things like cognitive ability, physical ability, along with training support capabilities on the job. How does all of this come together and how can you measure it and correlate to success.

The interest in the pyramid was great and it was suggested that Eric write a book. It took Eric and co-author Joan Phaup nine months to write Talent Transformation, which begins talking about what will probably change our future: technology, augmentation, AI etc and how the model can help people measure personalities, behaviours, skills and how to you put that together with the measurement of people, teams, and organisations and then helping leaders understand what could actually bring success during these times of change.

"One of the things we can see with technology is that it will take over the repeatable and logical tasks first. And so what that will leave us with is the more human tasks, we're seeing that new skills are related to behaviours on the job, social and emotional intelligence, managers creating psychological safety to help their people perform etc.

"In the past there was an accent on functional skills within schools, colleges and universities and they did a great job in developing these functional skills, but now we're switching more to behavioural competencies and we don't have a pipeline that's been developed for things like creativity, conflict resolution, creative thinking and communications."


So what's the difference between skills and competencies?

We think about competency as a skill used in context, then we split competencies into behavioural competencies, so how are you going to behave in different situations. For example you would probably behave differently in a fine dining restaurant to how you would behave at a sporting event. With capabilities it's a case of understanding what somebody is capable of knowing and doing and they are the more functional skills we've been learning.

E.g. Public Speaking = skill / presenting to your team = competency

A skill is your raw ability to do that thing and take action, whereas a competency is how that action translates into work etc.


How does a competency become economic value?

Competency is part of the talent component within a business model. If you consider a CEO reviewing a company's values and how they are packaged up to the market, the first considerations include strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. The CEO needs to understand what the culture is, or even better set the culture, and then define strategies and missions of where they are going to go and determine whether they're ready to pursue that strategy or mission. Within that strategy there will be tasks that have to be performed to support the tactics and then, what are the competencies required to perform those tasks.

We would expect that machine learning, AI and simple search will help us find a collection of competencies for people to perform as a task of today or a task of tomorrow. In the future we could see AI or other technologies being used for sentiment analysis. More and more people are going to begin to look at the values and the culture of an organisation to make the decision as to whether they want to join. The more people pay attention to their own learning, the more choices they will have because they will have the competence to be able to do more tasks. They will be able to look at the culture of an organisation and think 'do I actually want to work here or not'. We then get into candidate experience and how we can help candidates coming to the company to understand the true culture, so it's important it's not misrepresented. When someone joins the organisation, the employee experience within the first week normally defines whether someone is going to stay with that organisation for a while, so there has to be a lot of focus on that first week and then after that, there are life experiences that someone is going through, especially in these times of Covid, there are so many challenges that people are dealing with that there is definitely more room for sentiment analysis to improve the employee experience.

Eric believes that in the future we'll begin to see a wallet of competencies and within that wallet there would be data about our credentials, data about our job history and learning and employment records. These kinds of wallets of credentials, educational experiences, work experiences, coupled with assessments around our personality traits, what we value, our preferences, our ambitions will be targeted towards opportunities. People need a deeper understanding of themselves, and the kind of culture within an organisation that would be a good match - "Tinder for Jobs", if there is a good match, then people tend to enjoy their job and stay, but if they need to be someone different at work than they are in their natural habitat, then they're going to come home feeling stressed and unhappy. The people make the difference, so setting the culture to ensure that it resonates not only across employees, but also across the customer experience is essential. Just as employees have a choice as to whether they want to work with someone, based on values and preferences, customers will almost certainly make those decisions as well. The customer experience becomes more crucial and so recruiting for preferences, values etc becomes more important.


Do humans feel that they're facing off against technology?

Handling complexity, handling ambiguity and understanding that the world is going to change is essential. The upskilling/reskilling revolution is here, we need to encourage people to learn by challenging them, but not breaking them. Everyone learns in different ways and AI could be a solution to finding the most appropriate learning environment for employees. Positivity, enthusiasm and curiosity are all crucial motivators to learning.

We tend to think that we're almost at the end of our technology development, but Eric suggests that we're just at the beginning. If we were to look 50 or 100 years into the future, it's not inconceivable that we'll have nomadic space flights and tourism to the moon. If we think like the Luddites, that it's all over, technology is going to replace us and we're just going to play video games all day, that's a fairly demotivating future.

"I wonder if we are transitioning from a world where employers focus on efficiency to a world where nurturing becomes more important. Machines are going to handle efficiency, we want our people to be creative, it doesn't just happen. People need time, space and autonomy to be creative, so I like the idea of nurturing a workforce to produce things and there are some great examples of how other companies have succeeded with this approach, such as Google who gave their employees one day per week to do whatever they wanted, which gave them some of their better innovations such as Gmail"


We'd like to take this opportunity to thank Eric Shepherd for his time and contribution to this webcast.


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