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3 Ways a Skills Ontology Helps Close Competency Gaps

Wouldn’t it be nice if every time your company needed a new project manager, accountant or software engineer you could simply go recruit someone who held that job in another organization and be confident the new hire would be able to do the job?

But it doesn’t really work that way. Job titles, despite their prominence on resumes and business cards, don’t mean the same thing from one organization to another. They may not even mean the same thing in different functional areas or business units across a single enterprise.

A project manager working with a product team in a software company likely does different activities — and needs different skills — than a project manager working in corporate marketing. Other job role titles can be similarly unclear. Does that staff accountant spend their time managing accounts payable? Analyzing cost data? Preparing tax returns?

That’s why the heart of any workforce strategy, and especially the heart of any learning and development program, is skills. And trying to understand skills across an organization without a robust skills ontology is a bit like trying to win an arm-wrestling match with both hands tied behind your back.

First, let’s define what skills ontology means.

Definition: A skills ontology is the categorizing of skills in a logical way to define job roles based on the skills require to perform them.

There are many platforms that offer pre-built skills ontologies as part of their offering. They are not all the same. A smart skills ontology is more than just a lengthy list of skills required to perform all the job roles within your organization. It is organized so that the relationships between skills are clear. It should automatically distinguish between general skills required in many roles and more specialized skills required in fewer roles.

A smart, thorough skills ontology can help organizations close competency gaps in three ways.

1. Describing the skills you need across the company with universal terminology to simplify and improve recruiting, retention and L&D initiatives

Using your existing descriptions of job roles — including duties, key activities and qualifications — allows you to develop an understanding of all the skills needed to do the work of your organization, from strategy to daily operations.

Because skill requirements are constantly changing, this skills ontology must be updated to reflect both changes in job roles as well as emerging skill needs. Having an up-to-date skills ontology for your organization — as well as breakdowns for departments, teams and individuals — ensures that your recruiting, retention and training efforts are focused. A skills ontology allows you to better assess internal and external job candidates (especially when paired with skill credentials data), build teams faster and identify learning and development priorities.

A skills ontology is the difference between “we need people who can help us move our infrastructure to the cloud” and “we need people who are skilled with Amazon Web Services' offerings and infrastructure.”

2. Visualize the skills gaps across your workforce

The gap between the skills you have and the skills you need to meet business challenges in the next quarter, year or decade, will likely drive many of your L&D and other HR efforts. A Gartner survey showed that building critical skills and competencies was a top priority for HR leaders in 2022, and will continue to be. Some 47% of respondents in Gartner’s survey reported not knowing what skills gaps their workforces have.

A skills ontology provides a precise tool to identify and measure the skill gaps across the organization. It can tell you where you lack specialized skills, where specialized roles will need more general purpose skills, and where you should focus your efforts.

A good skills ontology will include both skills already present in your workforce, as well as skills that are becoming more important due to changing market forces or a new business strategy. When you know what skills your workforce is missing, you can design programs to bridge those gaps.

Visualizing skills gaps also allows HR leaders to contribute more richly to enterprise strategy discussions. Identifying specific skills gaps, with the help of a robust ontology, allows HR leaders to better understand how long it will take to close critical skill gaps and the best ways to do so. A skills ontology can show you that you already have talent that just needs a bit of training to bridge gaps, or it can reveal that you’ll need to bring in new people with different skills to meet organizational goals.

3. Accelerate recruit-retain-develop initiatives for your workforce

One of the challenges HR leaders face as they transition to a skills-based approach to hiring and development is keeping up with the pace of change. In addition to finding that nearly half of HR leaders don’t know what skill gaps they have in their organization, 40% of respondents to the Gartner survey said they couldn’t develop skills development solutions fast enough to meet their organizations’ needs.

A skills ontology framework that’s included in a workforce management solution can’t slow down the pace of change, but it can speed up how HR leaders and L&D managers respond. Until recently, skills mapping relied on laborious manual processes — talking to hiring managers, surveying industry trends and recording individual, team and organizational skills requirements manually.

This process was subject to human error at every stage, from data entry to the limits of any individual’s view of the market. A smart skills ontology, however, can draw from millions of job listings and automatically sort and organize that skills data into logical categories and subcategories tied to thousands of roles, job titles and discrete job tasks.

HR leaders can use a skills ontology, along with verifiable skills data about their existing workforce, to quickly highlight skill gaps in an organization’s talent pool. Because a good skills ontology is more than just a lengthy list of skills, it can also help HR leaders quickly identify the fastest and most efficient ways to close gaps.

The ability of HR leaders to quickly extract detailed insights about skills needs from ever part of their business — without needing deep first-hand knowledge about the latest trends in software development or retail marketing, for example — can speed up the real value L&D managers and others bring to an organization: ensuring the enterprise has the talent it needs to execute its strategy successfully.

A skills ontology translates your workforce data so you get a clear picture of every employee within your organization, and the underlying skills and tasks behind their role. Tap into the power of this technology, so you can start making data-driven decisions about the future.

Schedule a demo to learn more today.