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    Build Your Future-Proof Workforce: Ditch Lists, Embrace Skills Ontology

    January 17, 2024

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    A pictorial depiction of HRs building a workforce of the future with skills ontology
    Dibyajyoti Dasgupta
    Written By
    Dibyajyoti Dasgupta

    The constant tide of change demands we rethink talent models. Traditional skills lists fall short. Enter skills ontology, an AI-powered map for navigating future needs. Explore this approach, unlock its potential, and build a workforce ready to thrive in flux.

    A 2023 PwC survey revealed a sobering statistic: 40% of CEOs fear their businesses could become commercially unsustainable within a decade. Surprising? Perhaps not.

    Those of us who have observed the business landscape closely will agree that the technological disruption fueled by advancements in AI, automation, robotics, blurring of traditional job boundaries etc., is reshaping industries at a dizzying pace. Today’s concept is tomorrow’s reality, and today’s reality is obsolete. For the CHROs of today, the question isn't "if" to adapt, but "how?".

    However, CHROs face a critical obstacle: a lack of comprehensive insight into their workforce's current capabilities and the knowledge required to navigate emerging challenges and opportunities. This blind spot, as it could be termed, hinders the development of a future-proof workforce, leaving organizations vulnerable to the winds of change.

    But are you relying on antiquated tools in this crucial step? Outdated methods risk leaving critical needs hidden, potentially jeopardizing your competitive edge and hampering agility.

    Learn More: The Art of Creating a Strategic Workforce Plan For IT and ITeS

    Why Your Skill Mapping Methods May Need an Overhaul?

    Most organizations still depend on dated methods like skill matrices, self-assessment surveys, questionnaires, static skills benchmarking, etc.

    While these may have served you well in the last decade, traditional skill mapping methods are often clunky and static. In fact, it wouldn’t be incorrect to say that the future of work is a moving target. Some of the disadvantages of traditional methods are listed below:

    • Blind you to hidden skills: Relying on static job descriptions or self-assessments misses the dynamic nature of evolving skill sets.
    • Fuel bias and inconsistency: Skill mapping via subjective evaluations can be skewed, overlooking true potential and perpetuating inequities.
    • Drown you in data overload: Manual processes bog you down in paperwork, obscuring real-time insights and actionable data.
    • Lock you in silos: Ignoring cross-functional skills and future needs limits adaptability and hampers talent mobility.
    • Are time-consuming and resource-intensive: Manual processes for data collection and analysis leading to high costs and a lack of real-time insights.
    • Limit the scope: Focuses on specific roles or departments, ignoring cross-functional skills and broader organizational needs.

    Skills Ontology – The Future of Skills Mapping?

    If the knowledge and skills your workforce needs is a giant map, a skills ontology is like an interactive GPS for this map, constantly updating and showing you:

    • What skills does every person have, not just on paper but based on their work and learning
    • How skills connect and build on each other, not just as isolated lists
    • What future skills your team would need to anticipate changes in your industry and technology

    It's like having an intelligent guide on your skills map, helping you prepare a workforce for anything the future throws its way. Remember, it's all about understanding, adapting, and thriving in a world where skills are constantly evolving.

    Here's another way to think about it:

    • Think of skills as ingredients.
    • A skills list is a recipe written once
    • A skills ontology is like an AI chef who doesn't just follow fixed recipes but adapts in real-time, creating new dishes based on available ingredients and the diner's preferences.

    It's all about going beyond static lists and embracing the dynamic nature of skills and knowledge.

    Why Do Companies Need A Skills-Ontology-Based Approach?

    The business battlefield is shifting, and skills are the new weapons. But simply collecting a list of "what" employees can do isn't enough. Companies need a deeper understanding of "how" skills connect, evolve, and predict future needs. Here's where the skills ontology approach shines, offering a powerful advantage over traditional methods:

    Here are the key benefits of a skills ontology-based approach:

    1. Make smarter hiring moves: Skills ontologies can provide valuable insights into company’s current skill landscape and anticipated future requirements. This granular understanding enables executives to optimize talent management, including informed hiring decisions based on clearly defined knowledge and skill prerequisites for specific roles. AI-driven tools like Darwinbox's Sense take it a step further, introducing features such as stack ranking, job description generation, focused candidate messaging, and organization-wide talent search, revolutionizing the hiring game.

    2. Right skill, right place, right time: Get granular insights into the talent pool, empowering data-driven matching of individual expertise with project requirements. This enables benchmarking internal teams by skillset and facilitates the development of a thriving internal talent marketplace.

    3. Invest in upskilling/reskilling strategically: Armed with insights into existing skills and future competencies, leaders can confidently design and implement targeted skill-building initiatives to address identified gaps. The skills-ontology-based approach also helps unveil trends, guiding investments in development and upskilling, preparing for roles of the future with foresight.

    4. Refine, Redeploy, Excel: Siloed skills limit career growth. By illuminating skill connections, skills ontologies pave the way for employees to explore adjacent roles and leverage their existing knowledge in new ways, fostering internal mobility and career development.

    Learn More: Cost-Effective Recruitment Strategies: The Ultimate Guide to Maximizing Your Hiring Budget

    Exploring Skills Ontology in Action

    To vividly showcase the real-world advantages of a skills ontology-based approach, we delve into three industry-wide use cases. These practical examples serve to illuminate the tangible benefits and applications of leveraging a skills ontology in diverse contexts.

    For Managers 

    Talent Development: Identify individual potential and tailor development plans. See how existing skills can bridge gaps to future needs. Anticipate skills needed for upcoming projects and identify employees best suited for the task. 

    Team Optimization: Build high-performing teams by visualizing complementary skill sets and identifying areas for cross-functional collaboration. Streamline project assignments by quickly matching tasks to individual strengths. 

    Promotions and Succession Planning: Easily identify internal candidates with the right skills and experience for open positions. Track career paths and provide personalized development guidance to support internal talent mobility.

    For Recruiters

    Targeted Sourcing: Find the perfect candidate by searching based on specific skills, not just job titles. Identify hidden talent with relevant skills outside typical recruiting pools. Predict future skill needs and recruit proactively to stay ahead of the curve.

    Candidate Screening and Matching: Quickly assess candidate skills and match them to the right roles based on real-time data, not just resumes. Ensure a more efficient and effective hiring process.

    Employee Branding and Retention: Showcase your company's commitment to skills development and career growth to attract and retain top talent. Demonstrate the exciting career paths available within your organization based on individual skill potential.

    For Employees

    Career Pathing and Development: Discover your own strengths and weaknesses through personalized skill insights. Explore potential career paths aligned with your existing skills and identify upskilling opportunities for advancement.

    Increased Visibility and Value: Gain recognition for your unique skills and contributions beyond your job title. Advocate for yourself with data-driven evidence of your capabilities.

    Continuous Learning and Growth: Take ownership of your skills development with personalized learning recommendations based on your needs and goals. Track your progress and celebrate your achievements as you evolve your skills.

    Skill Ontology vs. Skill Taxonomy vs. Database: A Talent Management Showdown

    A crucial aspect of understanding Skills Ontology is distinguishing it from related concepts like Taxonomy and Databases. Let's dive into a full comparison to elucidate these differences, ensuring clarity in the nuanced world of organizational knowledge management.

    1. Structure and Organization:

    • Skill Ontologies: Think of them as dynamic maps of interconnected skills. They delve deeper than simple categorization, revealing relationships between seemingly disparate skills, highlighting hidden talent and potential career paths.
    • Skill Taxonomies: Imagine a well-organized library, where skills are neatly categorized in a hierarchical structure. This makes searching for specific skills efficient, simplifying recruitment by allowing targeted searches based on job requirements.
    • Databases: They're like basic file cabinets, storing skills in flat lists without much organization. While offering simple retrieval functionalities, they lack the sophistication to reveal connections or support complex talent management strategies.

    2. Insights and Analysis:

    • Skill Ontologies: They shine in uncovering hidden gems and identifying skill gaps. By analyzing skill relationships, they predict future skill needs and suggest personalized development paths for individuals and teams.
    • Skill Taxonomies: Their strength lies in facilitating efficient recruitment and talent matching. They simplify candidate screening by enabling precise skill searches based on job requirements.
    • Databases: Offering limited analytical capabilities, they primarily serve as storage units. Retrieving specific skills is possible, but understanding the bigger picture or predicting future needs remains a challenge.

    3. Flexibility and Adaptability:

    • Skill Ontologies: Dynamic and ever-evolving, they adapt to changing skill landscapes and emerging trends. This makes them future-proof, constantly growing and improving alongside your talent needs.
    • Skill Taxonomies: While they offer some flexibility in adding new skills, their hierarchical structure can become rigid over time. Adapting to evolving needs might require significant restructuring.
    • Databases: Static and inflexible, they struggle to adapt to changing requirements. Adding new skills requires manual updates, and their limited structure hinders sophisticated analysis or future-proofing.

    Choose The Right Skills Ontology Tool

    Having uncovered the pros of a skills ontology approach, let's dive into the pivotal next move – selecting the tool that spells success. The right tool isn't just a choice; it's the compass guiding your organization toward a future where skills seamlessly align with success. Here are a few things you should look for in your software:

    Seamless Integration: First and foremost, the tool you select should be able to integrate seamlessly with your Core HR system.

    Leverages AI Effectively: AI will have a pivotal role in defining the future of work. Invest in an ontology software that can leverage machine learning and NLP to efficiently define relationships (distance and hierarchy) between skills.
    The platform should be able to let you customize the relationships, add new/ edit skills, and define skill levels and how they map to roles/ jobs.

    Eliminates Starter Inertia: Tools that have ready to use skills database with access to extensive libraries  can go a long way in enabling organizations to hit the ground running. For example, Darwinbox provides you access to 38,000 skills across 38 industries with comprehensive coverage of all the functions, based on O*NET, Singapore skills future, ESCO and SFIA-7.

    Gets Better With Usage: The skills framework should be able to learn with a consistent feedback loop and contextualize itself for better decision-making. It should be able to provide smart recommendations for top skills for roles.


    The future of work is a blur of disruption and uncertainty. staying ahead of the curve demands a proactive approach to talent management, one that transcends outdated methods and embraces agility. in this dynamic landscape, skills ontology emerges as a beacon of clarity, offering a comprehensive roadmap for navigating the ever-evolving skill landscape.

    Unlike static lists and siloed assessments, skills ontology can unlock hidden talent, predict future needs, and fuel agile workforce development. It equips CHROs with the foresight to anticipate shifts in the business landscape, invest strategically in upskilling and reskilling initiatives, and foster a culture of continuous learning and growth.

    Investing in skills ontology is not just a technological leap; it's a strategic shift towards a future-proof workforce. By embracing this dynamic approach, organizations can confidently step into the unknown, empowered to thrive in a world where adaptability and skill agility reign supreme.

    Find out how Darwinbox can help you build a better talent ecosystem. Ask for a demo today!


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