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How to Use Skill Mapping to Enable Employee Growth 

  • 7 Min Read

Thought leaders from the corporate landscape share their insights on how skill mapping can boost employee growth, retention and strategic workforce planning.


Knowing what skills your employees bring to the table and how they align with current and future open roles in your organization is a game changer. It’s called skill mapping and it’s a great way to encourage employee growth while also filling projected skills gaps in your industry or business—a true win-win. 

Understanding the Skills in Skill Mapping

Part of skill mapping is understanding what skills are currently in demand and those your organization may need in the future. One way to do this, according to Matt Sigelman, president of the Burning Glass Institute, is by using real-time labor market data.  

The process starts by scraping millions of online job postings on a daily basis and using that information to see who’s hiring for what roles, along with the skills and credentials they’re seeking.  

“From a talent acquisition perspective, it starts to give us a sense of with whom we’re competing. Who’s likely to have a workforce that’s invested with skills that we’re looking for?” said Sigelman in an episode of The Skill Shift. “What it also does is give us a sense of the skills that are changing work. What are the skills that are becoming valuable? 

“If you look at the kinds of sectors that are on the leading edge, the companies that are bellwethers … you can start to see certain sets of skills reshaping work, growing super-fast and driving significant premiums.” 

Why Learning and Development Should Own Skill Mapping

Knowing what skills are up-and-coming for your organization is only part of the puzzle. The other piece is knowing and having a record of what talent—and their skills—already exists within your company so skill mapping can be used as part of strategic workforce planning. Instead of scrambling to fill skills gaps by hiring new talent, you can upskill existing employees over time to avoid gaps in the first place. 

“The talent function should know what the talent base looks like and what their workforce skills are, but I think most of us would acknowledge that many companies have very little idea of who works for them,” said Sigelman. “Most companies really don’t know what skills reside in each function and with each individual.” 

Enter the workforce skills map.   

“If you can start to create a workforce map, you can more effectively inventory skills. And when you can do that, you can then say, ‘Okay, we know that we’re going to need these sets of skills here. Where inside the organization are some of those skills today?’” explained Sigelman. “The people who are in those functions, what skills do they have, what skills do they not yet have? And how do we create programs that bridge those gaps very efficiently and specifically?” 

When learning and development (L&D) leaders own the skill mapping process, they’re able to provide more value to employees by understanding them as a person and a contributor. Knowing the skills each of your employees holds can help make connections between seemingly unrelated jobs clearer. It’s also an opportunity to foster employee growth through career pathways and upskilling or reskilling opportunities. 

Talent professionals need to become the source of insight for the company in terms of what talent is actually inside the company. 

Matt Sigelman, president, Burning Glass Institute

Curating Talent to Fill Skills Gaps

As Sigelman foreshadowed, when you move from a mindset of reactionary hiring to proactive and intentional upskilling, your company creates a culture of curating existing talent.  

Cat Ward, vice president of employer mobilization at Jobs for the Future (JFF), explains the emerging role of talent curation in more detail. 

“Companies are saying, ‘Where are we going as a business?’ They’re thinking about talent acquisition, but more in this sort of talent curation,” Ward told D2L. Instead of hiring for one specific role, you can start to figure out how to curate talent across their experience, from pre-hire to hire to moving internally.  

As Ward explained, internal mobility doesn’t just have to mean upward mobility. 

“It might mean lateral mobility into a whole different pathway that provides the employee with greater upward mobility over the course of their career,” she said. While you can use skill maps to create career paths for employee growth, you’re also giving yourself more options when it comes to looking for talent to fill gaps. 

The Relationship Between Retention and Employee Growth

Not only does skill mapping help meet your company goals and objectives, having a solid plan in place for employee growth can boost retention. 

Meena Naik, director of skills-first design at JFF, highlighted the shrinking labor force and how the personalization seen in higher education to increase retention can be mimicked in the corporate world. 

“We have fewer people getting ready to enter the workforce every single day while our actual job need continues to grow … so retention is immensely important,” said Naik. Person-centered practices, one-on-one conversations and genuine engagement have been seen to boost retention, she explained. 

“The way we go about hiring and why skills are so important is because skills let us shift to a potential-orientated approach. What does someone bring to the table, and what is the potential that they have and offer?” she said. “The minute you do that, it shifts how you talk to them. It shifts how you work with them and how you coach them.” 

Moving toward a culture of employee growth provides your workers with a clear path for progression while allowing your organization to see how they work within it on multiple levels. 

“When we really start to think about what that individual brings to the table, how they work within the organization and how it benefits from their presence, you’re more likely to increase that retention over time,” said Naik. “It’s this one shift that means, ‘I’m not just moving you through a process via filters. I’m moving you through a process because I see an opportunity to do something really good with you at the level of an individual contributor all the way up through an org-wide organizational function.’” 

Skill Mapping Provides Clarity and Consistency With Company Goals

Understanding what skills make up a job is a crucial step in being able to map the skills existing or future employees have or need in order to fill the role. D2L spoke to Chike Aguh, senior advisor, The Project on Workforce at Harvard University, who shared his experience with asking companies about the skills they want and need. 

“There are times I’ve gone to companies and said, ‘Tell me what skills are needed for job X.’ You can talk to two or three different people and get two or three different answers,” said Aguh. “One thing I’ve said to some companies is, ‘You overestimate your clarity to the market about what you need and what you want.’” 

If your goal is to bridge a skills gap by filling an open role, having the skills required clearly outlined and universally agreed upon is the first step to mapping them to existing employees or future applicants. Aguh mentioned that Connor Diemand-Yauman, cofounder and co-CEO of Merit America, said that most jobs are composed of 32 separate subtasks. 

“Does your company know what each of those are? Can you now agree on the prioritization of those skills from one to 32? Can you also agree on what skills people need coming in versus what skills you’re willing to teach them when they’re on the job? That is the level of precision required,” said Aguh.  

Getting a handle on the skills your employees already have allows you to map out how they can be applied to company goals in terms of future roles to be filled. 

Closing Skills Gaps With Employee Growth

Having a beat on the current and future skills that will be impactful in the job market is a game changer for any company.  

These insights will help you avoid falling behind with your talent and skills needs. This can be done by understanding what your existing employees are already bringing to the table. When a new role is on the horizon, mapping the skills of your staff to the open role will help avoid gaps. This practice also supports employee upskilling and in turn their growth and retention within your company. 

Ready to start mapping the skills in your company? Let’s talk about how D2L for Business can help. 

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Table of Contents
  1. Understanding the Skills in Skill Mapping
  2. Why Learning and Development Should Own Skill Mapping
  3. Curating Talent to Fill Skills Gaps
  4. The Relationship Between Retention and Employee Growth
  5. Skill Mapping Provides Clarity and Consistency With Company Goals
  6. Closing Skills Gaps With Employee Growth