Strategies to Close Skills Gaps: T-Shaped Skills

So far, we’ve talked about the impact of skills gaps, strategies to overcome them and analysis to discover ways to convert problems into opportunities. Today, I’m interested in your thoughts about a gap that can easily be overlooked.

We’ve touched lightly on the business, workforce and technology disrupters that cause skills gaps; let’s dig deeper into a wide range of roles where automation and integration impact practically everyone:

  • Marketing automation (MA) is a mix of art and technology, so it’s not a surprise that MA roles require a strong understanding of technology mixed with classical marketing theory.
  • Cloud computing is a great example where process and relationship management are appended to a classical technology role.
  • The Internet of Things (IoT) will impact a wide range of roles — adding analytics (that uncover opportunities buried in massive amounts of data) to traditional responsibilities.

In each of these roles, a new, broader set of skills is integrated with more traditional responsibilities. In the cloud example, a network security manager who wants to become a cloud security manager:

  • Has less need for deep technological skills (because underlying hardware and software is managed by the cloud provider)
  • But needs stronger process and relationship management skills to understand and optimize the cloud security environment, contracts, compliance standards and to manage risk by interacting with the cloud provider and other interested parties

HR professionals often use the term “T-shaped skills” to describe the need for broad capabilities across a wide range of subjects in conjunction with deep specialization in other areas. Breadth is usually represented as a mix of people, process and technology:
Practically every modern role includes some mix of these three areas. The cloud security example requires technology specialization, although the depth is likely less than the previous network security role.
The T-shaped skills diagram for the cloud security role (above) is a useful visual representation of basic requirements for this role.

Note that process and people skills are significant in this role, but technology remains the primary skill.

If we apply this model to previous examples:

  • The marketing automation example would likely be centered on a deep “people” skills with less, but significant, depth in technology and process
  • Since the IoT example crosses practically any role, the T-shaped skills diagram would include that core requirements plus technology. This position might be represented by the relatively balanced “Versatililist” shape:

Now that we have a common understanding of T-shaped skills, you can probably can imagine why they are crucial in a skills gap conversation:

  1. Disrupters often force job roles closer to core business
  2. Organizational agility requires that most roles evolve to support rapid responses to customer needs
  3. As a result, traditional “stovepipe models” (imagine the letter “I” with deep skills/limited breadth) that require translation and negotiation from specialty area to specialty area, become less pertinent.

T-shaped skills are an excellent construct for individuals to analyze their own training path, for managers planning change or for organizational development where dramatic results are required.

Now imagine the extremely large number of efficient, dedicated and proven employees with narrow job descriptions in your organization — IT, marketing, customer support, management — practically everyone outside of legal and grounds keeping may need to expand skill sets. Technologists need more management and soft skills while the business needs a stronger understanding of the opportunities at the heart of the digital revaluation.

Most organizations will remain competitive by repurposing most of their existing workforce — their current capabilities can be measured in their current position and they can be excellent resources when planning new roles. There are times when new hires will be a better fit, however, the need to define and onboard into the new role is much the same.

So what do you have to say about T-shaped skills and the need to broaden skill sets?

  1. Are you seeing the need for different “shapes” in your organization?
  1. What drivers are creating the gaps? Do you see any relationships between families of job roles and specific shapes?
  1. What’s the best way to close the gaps? For the individual or the business?

We’ve talked a lot about skills gaps, why they are common and that some analysis is required if we really want to understand the challenge.

Next time, let’s talk about how gaps are actually closed. What does it take for the individual or the business to turn disrupters into opportunities, to close the gaps and grow?

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1 comment

  1. Michael Reply

    Great image! Wonderful visual to sum up skill gaps, opportunity, potential, global impact- and it all starts with the individual! Great job summing up the series in one photo!