Neglecting frontline skillsets is no longer an option


Tom White delves into the bedrock of organisational success: the stable core of skills

Many industries are experiencing workforce shortages, largely because of widening skills gaps and poor retention rates. The manufacturing industry in the US, for example, could face 2.1 million unfilled jobs by 2030, potentially costing the industry $1trn in 2030 alone.  

Meanwhile, America’s healthcare industry is losing nurses by the millions, with an annual turnover rate of 19.1%, because of burnout. And when it comes to the energy sector, technological advancements, increasing stakeholder demands, and the push for net-zero are increasing the competency and compliance requirements for the workforce. Studies show that by 2025, the oil and gas industry will experience a shortage of up to 40,000 competent workers. 

The stable core of skills emerges as a linchpin in the operational success of organisations across various industries 

While each industry is facing its unique challenges, a common thread that’s precipitating this shortage of skilled workers is how the technological revolution is changing workforce demands across the board.  

This is especially the case for frontline workers who account for 80% of the workforce and require specific skillsets with dwindling half-lives, due to jobs becoming more automated, technology-enabled, and complex. Despite worthy efforts, companies are struggling to maintain skilled workforces. 

The stable core 

Yet, with this whirlwind of evolving skill requirements, there’s a foundational layer that remains constant – one that leaders should be focusing on to bridge the skills gap in their organisations: the stable core.  

This foundational layer encompasses essential skills, competencies and certifications that remain relatively constant amid the flux of evolving skill requirements. Serving as the bedrock upon which organisational adaptation, growth and innovation are built, the stable core ensures proficiency and safety within the workforce throughout periods of transition and stability alike.  

It also provides a consistent base for additional skills and competencies to be developed, enabling organisations to navigate the complexities of the modern business environment with resilience. 

This core is not just HR data, but an organisation’s licence to operate, and it’s vital for many fields. Across industries such as pharma/life sciences, manufacturing, maritime and healthcare, where operations are critical and demand a rigorous understanding of skills, the stable core of skills is indispensable. Its validation guarantees that employees have the fundamental skills to perform their tasks effectively and safely, thereby underpinning operational success and mitigating risks. 

Frontline challenges 

Frontline workers often deal with heavy workloads and time constraints, especially in sectors where demand fluctuates rapidly. High workloads can lead to stress, fatigue and burnout, impacting both the quality of service delivery and the wellbeing of workers. It’s the perfect recipe for disaster when workers face inherent health and safety risks such as exposure to infectious diseases, heavy and dangerous equipment, and hazardous environments.  

Therefore, companies must prioritise skills that account for the unique demands of frontline workers and shift towards technology that not only recognises but prioritises their essential role.  

This approach is not just about compliance or meeting minimum standards; it’s about leveraging the full potential of every employee, thereby enhancing operational efficiency and safety while maintaining a competitive edge. 

As key stakeholders in evaluating solutions impacting employee development, HR leaders play a crucial role in ensuring alignment between organisational objectives and workforce readiness. The stable core, therefore, acts as a common ground for integrating solutions seamlessly into existing HR systems, enhancing workforce development initiatives.  

Current HR technology, however, often leaves this portion of the workforce underserved and overlooked. Primarily catering to back-office functions, these solutions typically don’t support the needs of frontline workers, nor do they effectively address the stable core.  

Disregarding the stable core of skills can have profound repercussions for individuals and organisations alike. Without a strong foundation in these essential competencies, individuals may struggle to adapt to changing job requirements, hindering career advancement and professional fulfillment.  

Similarly, businesses that overlook the importance of nurturing these foundational skills risk diminished productivity, innovation stagnation, and decreased competitiveness in the marketplace. 

Bridge the technology gap 

Most human capital management (HCM) systems aren’t adept at navigating the detailed requirements of the operational workforce skills programmes and cannot effectively manage and validate the critical skills and competencies that remain central to diverse industries. Their limitations extend not just to integration complexities, but also to the depth of detail needed for frontline workforces.   

Consequently, solutions that ensure the efficient management and validation of skills find fertile ground for implementation and adoption, as they recognise the needs of frontline workers and the unique demands of their roles.  

Without these operational skills-based validation platforms, HCM systems may present nonintuitive interfaces, leading to a lack of programme engagement. A compromised user experience is a real risk, and low engagement could undermine the entire operational skills initiative.  

But these fit-for-purpose tools designed specifically for frontline workers not only cater to how the frontline works and the on-the-job learning they require, they also aim to elevate HR’s contribution to strategic decision-making, ensuring organisations are not just surviving but thriving in this new era.  

Start having those conversations 

The stable core of skills emerges as a linchpin in the operational success of organisations across various industries. Its role in ensuring proficiency, safety, strategic alignment and organisational agility underscores its significance.  

By understanding and leveraging the stable core, organisations can effectively navigate the challenges of skill management, foster workforce development, and position themselves for sustained success in an ever-evolving business landscape. 

The time is now for HR leaders to start having conversations with operational teams, to truly understand the work of the frontline, and to integrate tools specifically designed to support their needs.  

Emphasising this shift towards a more inclusive and practical approach to workforce development is not just beneficial; it’s imperative for the resilience and success of businesses across sectors. 

Tom White is Vice-President, Product Management, at Kahuna 

Tom White

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