the power of human potential in the AI age.

September 24, 2023 Francesca Campalani
How skills will save humans and companies - Randstad Sourceright

How skills will save humans and companies

Once upon a time, around 300,000 years ago, humans were mostly hunter-gatherers. These people had populated most of the Earth by the time the ice age ended 12,000 years ago. That is when the skills based model started. The agricultural revolution made many of our ancestors transition from a nomadic life to a stationary existence as farmers in permanent settlements. The growing complexity of human settlements required different skills as housing, schooling, accountancy, writing, healing and other needs developed. Few, still current, job families were thus born.

If you go back in history, you can already see both hard and soft skills were critical to humans. Ancient gods across cultures are often archetypes for a very coherent set of skills. Heroes of our shared worldwide mythologies represent certain archetypes and sets of traits/skills as well. Our human narrative is about skills — some magical, some realistic — and transformational journeys. Allies and enemies. Prizes and rewards.

Then, the Industrial Revolution arrived, and humans have been reduced to robots on the manufacturing line for the last two centuries of our civilization.

Fast forward to 1951, when the U.S. Army created the label “soft skills” to differentiate them from “hard skills.” They always existed but this lexicon has then influenced the way we think about skills up till today. In 1988, the metacognitive skills (i.e. enthusiasm for learning, critical thinking and reasoning, etc.) were listed as critical by the U.S. Secretary of Education, and in 1999 the World Health Organization identified the following core areas of life skills: decision-making and problem-solving; creative thinking (lateral thinking) and critical thinking; communication and interpersonal skills; self-awareness and empathy; assertiveness and equanimity; and resilience and coping with emotions and stress.

After the birth of positive psychology in the noughties, soft “strengths” (the more innate skills we get energy from) became very popular, and in 2006 labor economists at MIT and Harvard Graduate School of Education stated that the economic changes brought by emerging technology and globalization would make these skills and strengths even more critical.

Up to 2010 though, skills were overlaid on top of education and past experience (learned skills). The real revolution is happening now as companies have been more willing to consider applicants who don't necessarily have a college degree or minimum years of experience. People who have done something else, but have the critical core skills to transfer and re-learn.

Today, this is one of the top workplace trends, known as skills-based hiring and talent management. This is the convergence of the digital revolution. This is investing back in humans while AI develops. This is the future.

Here are few stats if you don’t believe me:

human potential is back to stay

“Human potential” is the everlasting agility of humans to learn, unlearn and recombine a set of learned skills and more innate core skills together with individual/social aspirations and motivations.

We believe that core skills, combined with motivations, are way more powerful than anything else. The combination of “being” and “wanting” drives people outside of what they know and what they did to invent new ways, new paradigms, new discoveries. We believe, in fact, that:

  • People's abilities can be roughly split into lego-like building blocks (some more innate, some more learned). This is a simplification that does not reflect the dynamic true complexity of identity but serves us the purpose of putting some order and structure on “talent.”
     
  • People's abilities can be enhanced by education but are not directly linked to education achievements.
     
  • People's past experiences do not progress in a linear path to future experiences. This was a deterministic approach that was useful in the past where the status quo had to be preserved. Let’s shake up the status quo.
     
  • People are learning organisms well beyond the age of 19. We are built to learn and unlearn as a primordial surviving mechanism.
     
  • Organizational performance is going to be enhanced by looking at people as learning organisms versus a simple sum of education, past experience and job tasks.
     
  • People and AI are both learning different ways of expressing different skills and capabilities, so let’s invest in both. It’s not a competition, it is a complementary dance.
     
  • Belonging is a state of being, not doing. We belong when our core skills and motivations are coherent, not when we come from the same background or same degree or same experience. Equity exists when we give people permission to use their deep core skills and values, not their learned and past ones.
     
  • When people learn, re-learn or unlearn, they feel many emotions depending on how swift and radical the change is. You cannot help people to skill and reskill without taking care of their emotions and mental state.

Randstad Sourceright Human Potential Framework and areas of learning

how do we look at skills at randstad?

Instead of hard and soft skills, we prefer to talk about learned and core “innate” skills, adding the motivations and aspiration lens to the model.

Randstad Sourceright Human Potential Framework and three skills types

Learned skills are aligned to what work is done.
These skills are related to what we have learned and we can re-use even in different contexts: for example marketing skills used in employer branding, procurement skills used in risk management, coding in one language used in other languages.

Inherent core skills are aligned to how the work is done.
These are our more natural core components that have been nurtured, developed, encouraged the most. It's something fundamental to our being that can be enhanced or diminished through experience. These core skills can influence our career choices and successes in various ways.

While not the sole determinants, these core talents and abilities can nudge us toward certain professions or roles, making learning and performing tasks in those areas more accessible and enjoyable. In this category we have intellectual and personality traits and abilities such as critical thinking, lateral thinking, introversion, emotional intelligence and curiosity, for example.

Motivations and aspirations are aligned to common cultural identity patterns, beliefs and values — why work is done.
We often forget to ask people if they enjoy and want to use their skills and in which context or environment. Motivations and aspirations are strongly built on values and beliefs. They are a fundamental part of people using their talents and achieving high impact in line with the company's cultural identity, personality and values.

Motivation is the driving force that compels an individual to act in a certain way or to pursue a particular goal. It's often rooted in a need or desire, and can be influenced by factors such as personal interests, rewards, expectations or a sense of achievement.

Aspirations refer to a strong desire, longing or ambition to achieve something, often a long-term goal or higher pursuit. It's a forward-looking sentiment that often embodies an individual's hopes, dreams or ideals. When a core or learned skill is aligned to motivation and aspiration they become strengths: they make us happy, they give us energy, they fuel us.

how do you build an organization centered on skills?

First, you need to identify them, the common denominator for work to be done and the impact to be delivered. Then, you must build a plan to: 

Randstad Sourceright - Human Potential framework - skills-based organization - 5 Bs

But, more to come on this in a future post.

And remember, it is not an easy task as people feel a lot — intellectually and emotionally — during skilling and reskilling processes. So take care of them.

Take a deep dive into the human potential framework.

> watch the on-demand webinar

About the Author

Francesca Campalani

As the global head of Innovation and eXperience within Talent Advisory and Randstad Enterprise, Francesca Campalani is a creative thought leader with more than 25 years of experience in innovation, branding, talent and customer experience, human potential and culture.

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