Steven Forth is a Co-Founder of TeamFit. See his Skill Profile.


Back in January, I had an interesting conversation with a product leader at one of the top people intelligence software companies. People intelligence (also known as people data and people analytics) is an emerging niche of business intelligence software that combs through employee data looking for patterns and trying to make positions. Sometimes it is an extension to some existing part of the ecology. In this case, it was a specialist vendor. Our conversation quickly turned to skills and counterpart noted …

People frequently ask us if we can run our analytics on skills, but when we ask them for the data they don’t have it or can’t get it. It is hard to run analytics without data.

This does not mean the data does not exist. Just that there is no simple way to access it. Most organizations lack a system of record for skills.

Where does this data exist and where is it needed? Data about skills begins to appear early on in a person’s career. Experiential learning platforms like Riipen collect skills about project participation that gives some early evidence. LinkedIn has a lot of data about people’s skills, and is investing in improving its data. Applicant tracking systems often gather information about skills before people join the company. Theoretically at least, every employee could be on-boarded with a skill record in place.

Importantly, a good skill management system is able to take documents and content of all kinds and infer evidence of skills. Patents, technical papers, conference contributions, blog posts … all of these things can be processed by a skill management system and the most relevant skills called out.

Once a person is engaged there are many opportunities to enrich this record. One obvious place to look is learning. One reason companies invest in learning is to improve the skills of their workforce and to close skill gaps. The many applications in the learning ecosystem are fertile ground for skills: the learning management system, learning experience platform and the learning record store all have information that can be translated into skills.

Performance management is another place where skills come in to play. Skills are one of the keys to performance, and performance reviews should probe on what skills are being used, what skills the person wants to develop and uncover skill gaps.

Of course, most skill development is not the result of learning and training. It happens in the context of work. This connects to the 70-20-10 model of learning, that says that only 10% of learning comes from formal training, 20% from social interactions and a full 70% from work experience. A good skill management system connects to work systems, such as project management systems, and can infer skills from tasks. Job information can live in the Human Resources Information Systems (HRIS).

In fact though, most of the most interesting information lives in work products: patents again, white papers, project reports, case studies, anything really, that gives evidence of the skills applied to work.

The story does not end when employment ends. Think of a large company like IBM. IBM demonstrates many best practices in skill management. It maintains great records about its people. But over the past decade it has let go of tens of thousands of people. Many of these people have been hired back as contractors. There is now a disconnect. IBM knows a lot about these contractors skills, but it cannot access this knowledge.

Fortunately, there is a simple solution. An individual’s skill record should be portable and travel with them across their career. Some technology vendors, among them TeamFit and Degreed, have realized this, and we have designed our systems to make skill data portable.

To get full value from a system of record for skills one has to be able to organize the information using frameworks meaningful to the organization while maintaining the natural vibrancy of each individual’s view of their own skills. The best way to do this is with a competency model. These models organize jobs, roles, behaviours and skills into an organized structure that captures the organizations view on how to organize work.

Where this gets powerful is all those places on the diagram where integration goes two ways. The competency model can provide the necessary mappings between systems. Technically this is best done through APIs of course (application program interfaces, the best practice for sharing data between applications). Let’s look at the two way integrations from the above diagram.

Application Tracking System (ATS)

Before employment the most important integration point is with the ATS or Applicant Tracking System. The most common pattern here is for the skill management system to populate the job record with the model for the skills, behaviours, credentials and experiences. Then, once a person is hired, information gathered in the hiring process flows into the skill management system.

Learning Management System (LMS) and Learning Experience Platform (LXP)

Learning records are generally stored in the Learning Management System and the Learning Experience Platform. These applications can also have vestigial skill lists and the more advanced systems connect skills to learning resources and help to identify skill gaps. They do not work as the skill repository or system of record for skills as the data models they use are too simple to cover the different use cases across multiple systems.

An emerging integration pattern is to pull all learning records into a Learning Record Store (LRS) and then to use xAPI statements with the skill management system. TeamFit can match xAPI statements to skills.

Performance Management System

Performance management is another area that is changing rapidly, moving from formal annual reviews to much more frequent free form reviews. Insight into skills is an important part of this, such insights normally come from the skill management system. Performance management systems can be used to support conversations about skills and that information is then fed back to the skill management system.

Project Management Systems and Professional Services Automation Systems

Many companies use project management systems to manage and communicate around project work. These are rich sources of information about skills. TeamFit can map tasks (a common object in project management systems) to skills. Project management systems generally include user profiles. The skill part of this profile can be pulled from the skill management system. Helping project members understand each others skills can make for more effective project teams. A similar integration pattern can be applied to professional services automation platforms

Human Resources Information System (HRIS)

For most organizations the Human Resources Information System is the system of record for HR data. In many cases, it is important to include skills and competencies in the HRIS. They can be needed for compliance, as part of the formal personnel record, and for general record completeness. The HRIS can pull these from the formal skill record and time stamp the skills each time they are updated.

At the end of the day, what companies and individuals are both looking for is alignment between the individual’s aspirations and the company’s needs.

This is the real power of skill management. Connecting the individual’s aspirations with the organization’s needs. This is the vision that TeamFit is committed to.