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ICYMI: What should L&D be doing to build a dynamic, agile skills strategy?

Here’s our roundup of the best bits from the recent THRIVE panel discussion all about the future of skills

Richard Bailey Marketing Executive

What should L&D be doing to build a fluid, dynamic skills strategy?

Did you manage to catch our all-star LinkedIn Live skills panel recently? If not, don’t panic. You can watch the whole session on demand here. If you’re short on time then you’re in luck, we’ve rounded up the highlights and nuggets of wisdom for you right here. Enjoy! 

Panel host Helen Marshall, Head of Learning at THRIVE, opened the session talking about the ‘skills crisis’ and asking the panel:

What’s your experience as an L&D professional looking back at how we’ve got to this point?

“I wonder how much of a ‘crisis’ we’re really in? Is it just that we’re recalibrating, based on digitisation and the need to have a fundamental shift because we’re in the middle of another industrial revolution and a new set of ways of working? - Caroline Ford, Head of Future Skills, Novartis Learning Institute

Kristina Tsiriotakis, Senior Director of L&D at DECIEM echoed Caroline’s thoughts and added her view that this shift feels more about a shift in the language we use to talk about the issue. She proposed that we’re talking about the issue differently and language shapes culture. 

“None of this is new, but the period we’ve been through (over the past few years) has helped to distil that developing skills isn’t ‘feel good’ learning. It’s shifted how L&D is looked at, because it’s now a strategic focus.”

In his famous ‘no frills’ approach to talking about this topic, Future Skills and Career Lead at DirectLine, Simon Gibson, injected some controversy with “We’ve been part of the problem. We’ve spent too long doing the wrong things.”

“How many billions do you reckon we spend on management and leadership development every year, knowing fundamentally that it’s always going to be an issue?” The situation has become really complex, really quickly, but we can’t get away from the fact that we’ve just been doing some nice stuff. All of a sudden there’s a sharper, more strategic narrative that…we could actually work on things that REALLY matter.”

Another interesting point to respond to the question came from Paul Morgan, Director of Learning at ForHousing:

“For years we’ve mixed ‘skill’ with ‘certification’. Organisations have tried to sell the benefits of their skilled workforce where most of these skills are technical, and the ones we thought were going to underpin everything else. We’ve neglected other skills and we’ve put our money in the wrong places. BREXIT created a hole, Covid created a crater, and now we’re trying to work out how to deal with it.”


As the conversation moved away from the past and toward what L&D should be doing to build a skills strategy that will deliver against business challenges, our panellists had lots of insight to offer other L&D professionals.

Simon challenged the audience to ask themselves:

  • Do you really understand your business?
  • Do you understand how it makes money?
  • Do you understand its value?
  • Do you understand its strategy?
  • What has it got vs. what does it need?
  • Where can you focus energy on tackling real problems that will make a difference?

And why are these questions important? In Simon’s words; “We’re all after similar people, and we can’t all get them from the market. Your development strategy is fundamental to that, and if it’s not tackling real business problems then I don’t know what you’re doing.”

For DECIEM’s Kristina, the answer to L&D building a successful skills strategy lies in simplicity. 

“We need to take the noise out of skills mapping. Sometimes you look at different models and there’s 60, 70, different approaches and different competencies. If it’s dizzying for us, how would that be for the employee experience? So something that we’ve done at Deciem is really try to distil those foundational skills that are broad and fluid enough to be customisable to different areas of the business.”

Simplicity is also something that Ross Stevenson, Head of Learning at Trainline and Founder of the Steal These Thoughts newsletter, thinks is key when moving forward with strategic skills strategies. 

“In terms of the business challenges, just go and ask people! Have those conversations with your C-Suite. I think HR and People teams have always worked in silos, not going out and asking the people who are facing these challenges, building those business strategies. What are the skills that people need to focus on today, to get to that point?”

Pushing on the panel to offer up one key piece of advice to L&D professionals who want to move the needle on the skills strategy at their organisation, we heard some great tips.

Echoing his thoughts earlier in the session, ForHousing’s Paul advised that, “You need to define what a skill is first. I’ve spent the last 6 months looking at this internally and externally and skills are described in different ways. They can be knowledge, experience or behaviours. So take a proportion of a department, look at their job roles. If you look at their roles and can’t work out their core skills, you’ve got a problem. That;s where you need to start. Start small. Educate the business.”

Simon offered up his advice in line with his earlier comments about L&D not just doing the same as they’ve always done. “My recommendation is to go and understand your business then try something that’s going to make a real impact on your business. Use that as your accolade.”

Audience question - Is the job title dead?

According to Paul, yes! 

“The market needs to change. Job titles shouldn’t define pay, skills should. Period.”

And Simon?

“It has to be. I don’t need to know what a thing was called from 5, 10 or even probably 2-3 years ago. We need to better understand the tasks, skills, capabilities that a person is going to perform in that role, what does that mean in the next 12-18 months?”

Hopefully we’ve whetted your appetite with some of the topics and talking points from this incredible session. If you want to talk to us about your own skill strategies and the challenges you’re facing or approaches you’re taking, we’d love to hear from you, and if you want to find out more of our thoughts on the L&D space, check out our resources and webinars!

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