3 Steps to Skills-Led Workforce Planning

Published on Sep 26, 2023

Written by Mariana Marques & Rob Slane

Global skills shortages are making it painfully challenging for companies to find the right talent. Skills are the engine that keeps the machine (a.k.a. your organisation) working. Without them, evolving, innovating, and keeping ahead of competition may well be a losing battle. 

But nothing is lost yet. In fact, this is the perfect time to rethink, reimagine and ultimately restructure your approach to workforce planning. Perfect timing, because recent innovative advances in the collection, categorisation, and deployment of real-world labour market data make it possible to build your workforce and talent planning on a foundation of skills – not job titles.

In this article, we guide you through how this skills-led approach to workforce planning is possible, and how you can bring it to life in your company. Spoiler alert: by the end of this article, you will be as excited about skills as we are!

Why the need for a new paradigm in workforce planning 

You already know that workforce planning enables alignment between business needs and your talent strategy. But here’s a question to ponder: if you want to align the needs of your organisation with your people strategy, what is the common denominator between the two? Traditionally, the answer has been job titles or qualifications. Company X has a strategy to achieve a set of goals, and it goes looking for people with particular qualifications or certain job titles in order to achieve this.

However, the problem with this is that in the modern labour market, qualifications and job titles tell us little about the role being performed, or the person carrying out the role. This is why the currency of the modern labour market is no longer the qualifications people have or the job title they’ve got. Rather it is skills: those they’ve acquired and those they may need more training in. 

So you need to align your current job titles with the skills of the labour market. Now, where do you even start? Lightcast’s ready-made Skills and Occupation Taxonomies, plus our vast database of Standardised Job Titles, enables us to do all the heavy lifting for you. 

The 3 key steps of skills-led workforce planning

Transforming your workforce planning to a skills-based foundation is a complex business. But we break it down into three simple steps: 

  • Step 1: We take your job roles and normalise them to our occupation taxonomy or standardised job titles;

  • Step 2: We map these normalised roles to our broad skills categories;

  • Step 3: We build out market-optimised common and specialised skills for each role.

Step 1: Normalising job roles to the current labour market

The problem a lot of companies have when trying to understand their workforce in the context of the current labour market, is that a lot of their job titles and job role descriptions are out-of-date. Another problem - and many companies openly admit to this - is that their job architecture is a bit messy (to put it mildly).

Here at Lightcast we’re totally geared for dealing with cleaning up mess. This is because we’ve been working with messy occupations and job titles for years, cleaning them up to make them intelligible, and sorting them into various taxonomies and standardised datasets. All of which means we can take your job roles – whether they’re out-of-date, or maybe a bit messy – and we can clean them up and normalise them to the current labour market using what we’ve built.

Let’s start with occupations. The The Lightcast Occupation Taxonomy (LOT) was developed to give a far more detailed view of the labour market than standard occupation taxonomies. Built from real-world job postings and profiles, and updated annually to incorporate emerging roles, LOT has a hierarchical structure including 27 career areas, 180+ occupation groups, 780+ occupations, and 1,900+ specialised occupations. Simply put, LOT is the most current, comprehensive, and comprehensible occupation taxonomy available today. 

Let us show you a simple example: taking the broad career area of Information Technology, our taxonomy uncovers its occupation groups, occupations, and even specialised occupations – in this instance Software Development, Mobile Applications Developer, and finally iOS Developer/Engineer. Four different layers giving you a complete view of a specialised IT occupation in the labour market: from high-level to highly granular. 

And why do you need this granularity? Because whereas standard taxonomies are often too broad to be particularly meaningful, LOT allows us to categorise and analyse occupations with far more specificity, which in turn enables us to understand the different skillsets required for different roles. In our example, both Android and IoS Developers belong to the occupation group Software Development, and the occupation Mobile Applications Developer – yet there may be numerous differences and nuances in the skills required to do them.

The Lightcast Occupation Taxonomy

Along with our occupation taxonomy, we’ve also built out a database of Standardised Job Titles. This is a crucial element in being able to transform your workforce data, as it allows us to analyse your workforce using a language that is common to the labour market today. How have we done this?

Having collected billions of job postings and profiles across the globe, we've refined and standardised their job titles into a highly accessible database of around 75,000 titles. This means that along with being able to normalise your job titles to the labour market, we also have the potential to compare your workforce data against your market and competitors - particularly in terms of a skills analysis. If only we had a robust Skills Taxonomy that is! 

Normalising your job titles to the labour market.

 Step 2: Mapping these normalised roles to skills categories

Every Workforce Planner and HR Leader knows that the success of their company is heavily dependent on ensuring that they have people with the right skills for the right roles. But how many Workforce Planners and HR Leaders could – if pressed – define the skills that exist in their company right now, not to mention the skills that are needed for future success?

It would be surprising if there were many that could, but this is where we can come in and shine a light. Lightcast has spent years developing what we believe to be the most up-to-date, robust, relevant Skills Taxonomy in the world, which means we can help you understand the workforce skills – both internally, and in relation to the wider market and your competitors.

The Lightcast Skills Taxonomy is based on our Open Skills Library, which groups over 32,000 skills from billions of job postings and profiles and is constantly being updated. Skills are organised into a hierarchy of categories, sub-categories, and, finally, highly granular common and specialised skills. Below you can see an example of how Lightcast can take a broad skills category - business - and uncover its skills subcategories and specialised and common skills. 

The Lightcast Skills Taxonomy

Step 3: Building market-optimised skills 

Now, we get to look at the whole picture. Using our Occupation Taxonomies + Standardised Job Titles + Skills Taxonomy, we can connect the dots between your job titles and their skills components. The image below shows an actual example from work we’ve done with a large European food and beverage company. You can see how we normalised their role to our occupation taxonomy – Digital HR Manager to HRIS Manager –, then mapped this to its broad skills categories, and finally identified the market-optimised common and specialised skills needed to perform it. Now imagine that we can do this for ALL of your job roles.

Connecting the dots between your job titles and skills in the labour market.

Ready to start your skills-led workforce planning journey?

And that’s skills-led workforce planning in a nutshell! Actually, this is just the beginning. What we’ve set out is really all about changing your workforce data, so that you can then use the cleansed, up-to-date, market-optimised results in variety of different ways including:

  1. Identifying areas for upskilling and reskilling;

  2. Informing your talent planning decisions;

  3. Improving your Learning and Development programme;

  4. Identifying new talent pools with the skills you need;

  5. Benchmarking your workforce skills against your competition.

Visit our page to learn more about how we can help you on your skills-led workforce planning journey, or contact us below if you would like to discuss your current workforce challenges. We are excited to embark on this journey with you.

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