Leveraging Skills To Bounce Back from the Great Attrition

Patrizia Ciuppa

In the wake of The Great Attrition, HR leaders have scrambled to engage and retain employees. Yet despite their best efforts, people are still leaving — and taking their valuable skills with them. 
 

Cliff Jurkiewicz, Phenom’s VP of Global Strategy, joined last week’s episode of Talent Experience Live to explain how HR can leverage new data to identify opportunities to upskill, reskill, and redeploy talent at scale, and answered some of the industry’s most burning questions. 
 

Keep reading to learn what he had to share, or watch the full episode right here.
 

 

What Is Your Role at Phenom?
 

Jurkiewicz has been with Phenom since the company’s early days. Although he started as Head of Services, his talent and passion for connecting with both client and internal teams led him to his current role. As VP of Global Strategy, he works to build confidence in the thought leadership that drives the technology behind Phenom’s Talent Experience Management (TXM) platform.
 

“I really connected with the mission to help a billion people find the right job,” he said. “Phenom and this role in particular take advantage of all of the things that I’m passionate about … when you’re happy about the work you do, that transcends everything in your life.”
 

What Do You See as the Main Drivers of Employee Attrition?
 

In addition to the heavily publicized reasons employees are quitting jobs at record rates — more flexibility, growth opportunities, better pay — Jurkiewicz also identified another issue: employees want to feel connected to a purpose.
 

“[It seems] people don’t feel connected to the work they’re doing right now. That’s the biggest problem, and I think employers have done themselves a disservice by not having a [clear] purpose and mission.” 
 

Employers must also clearly communicate how employees can contribute to fulfilling that purpose.
 


Related: How to Create a More Meaningful & Inspiring Workplace


Why Are Employees Demanding a Purpose-driven Work Experience Right Now?
 

The human need to contribute has been hardwired for centuries. Why are employees feeling empowered at this moment to demand that experience at work? 
 

Jurkiewicz believes the paradigm shift — the drive to feel a sense of purpose — was already in motion as younger generations entered the workforce. The pandemic acted as an accelerator: “Employers are desperately seeking talented people, and talented people are saying, 'I have a choice now.’” 
 

That’s why helping employees connect to a clearly stated purpose is key to today’s talent experience. “That purpose is probably the most important thing in the employer-employee relationship.” 
 

 

How Are Workplace Leaders Reacting to This Paradigm Shift?
 

In general, organization leaders are meeting the moment in one of two ways:
 

Legacy thinking: Like it or leave it. This is the way we’ve always done it. This type of thinking exists more often in traditional industry verticals, where change tends to be slow and difficult. 
 

Something needs to change: Something has gone wrong in the way we attract and retain talent — but we’re not sure how to fix it. Over the last 18 months, this is the reaction Jurkiewicz said he’s seeing more and more often. 
 

What’s Necessary to Boost Attraction and Retention?
 

Companies know something is broken in the employee experience. There’s no easy button to improve talent attraction and retention, but according to Jurkiewicz, there are two steps to jumpstarting the process. The first is taking a look at the makeup of the organization. “You can tell the strength of an organization not by who’s coming in, but by who is leaving,” he noted. 
 

In order to understand what needs to improve, a company must understand which skills are walking out the door and which skills are entering the organization. For those who are leaving  — where are they going? For those who are coming in — what skills are they bringing with them? 
 

Second only to skills, a stated purpose and mission are critical to ingraining a sense of belonging and inclusion into the employee experience. Often companies are willing to stand behind a purpose and promote DE&I, but they end up failing in the execution, focusing on metrics rather than actionable steps needed to bring that purpose to life. 
 


Learn More: Diversity and Inclusion: The Definitive Guide for HR


How Do Workforce Segments Affect the Employee Experience? 
 

Organizations need to approach the conversation differently for frontline or hourly workers versus knowledge workers. Frontline workers generally prioritize scheduling flexibility and availability; knowledge workers tend to focus on skill-building opportunities. 
 

These workforce segments have different attributes and needs — and it’s on employers to figure out how to best serve them when it comes to work experience. 
 

How Should Leaders Approach Skills Inventory? 
 

To maximize production and innovation, you need the right skill mix in your employee population. But most organizations don’t have data on skills — which means they don’t know their core strengths. Instead of making strategic decisions on workforce planning and retention, they’re making guesses.
 

This is where AI and machine learning are game-changers, Jurkiewicz said, because they surface existing skills in the employee population (including “hidden skills” that aren’t necessarily tied to job roles) and also predict what skills will be needed to fulfill future needs. 
 

Phenom’s platform, for example, has collected a decade’s worth of data on employee skills as they relate to jobs. “We’ve seen billions of individuals come through our platform, and we’ve assessed what their skills are. We’ve looked at millions — hundreds of millions — of job roles. We know what skills are successful in those roles. So we’re looking at how those two things match up on a huge scale.” 
 

Using an AI-driven platform adds value for employees, too. What Jurkiewicz refers to as “explainable AI” can illuminate skills that employees never knew they had, and show them how to best leverage those skills against career paths and aspirations.
 


Related: Intro to Skills: The Key to Unlocking Employee Growth & Engagement


How Does Unified Data Help TA and Talent Management Teams Work More Collaboratively?
 

A platform that unifies data can bridge the gap that’s traditionally existed between recruiters and talent management teams. When both teams are accessing the same data on needed skills, candidate profiles, and employee profiles, they can collaborate on how to refine their approach to sourcing and attracting the right talent. 
 

For example, job descriptions can be adjusted to more accurately represent the skills needed to close gaps for teams. “It’s a challenge to put on paper everything that you’re looking for,” Jurkiewicz said. “Technology can … analyze a team and say what skills are really important.”  
 

What Exactly Is "Skills Ontology"? 
 

Skills ontology — a buzzword that’s made its way into the TA world — refers to the relationship between skills and how an organization applies them to job roles, Jurkiewicz explained.
 

“These ontologies can get really, really big. That’s why you need machine learning and AI to help understand them,” Jurkiewicz said, and assess whether or not employees are using their skills best to fulfill what the organization needs.  
 

How Can Technology Evolve the Skill Sets Companies Need? 
 

Along with a fluctuating labor market, businesses are pressed to keep up with shifting priorities and market demands. For example, many organizations are pledging to go carbon-neutral by a certain date. 
 

Transformations like these require new or evolved skill sets. A platform with skills ontology capabilities gives organizations data on: 
 

  • Skills that are available within the current employee population
  • New skills employees are learning  
  • Open job roles that require new skills, and whether those skill needs match up with what current employees are learning


With these critical building blocks of data, leaders, managers, and recruiters gain insight on how to set and meet achievable goals. Upskilling and re-skilling current employees becomes a much more viable path, which is good for retention — fulfilling employees’ desire to learn and grow — and good for the organization, which can take an agile approach to redeploying talent. 
 


Learn more: Driving Employee Engagement with Gigs and L&D


How Does a Tech-driven Approach to Skills Help Retain Employees?
 

Skills ontology software helps employees connect to their organization’s purpose by providing data to help their employers understand what skills are needed to be successful. With this knowledge, employers can better communicate to employees what the organization needs from them to fulfill mission and purpose — in essence, helping them better understand the impact of their contributions, which will make them want to stick around for the long-haul. 
 

Technology lets organizations take it a step further by matching learning content and career path opportunities to employees interested in gaining those new skills, communicating a message central to the employee experience: 
 

“We want you here, we’re going to support you in these capacities, and in return we get something. We get a smarter, more skillful, more capable individual to help us grow the organization,” Jurkiewicz said. “It’s an investment on both sides — but without the data, it’s hard to know where to make that investment.” 
 


Related: How To Elevate Opportunity and Trajectory To Drive Employee Engagement


What's the Benefit of Using a Unified Platform To Store Skills Data?
 

There are hundreds of players in the HR software space — but not many offer solutions that unify data across the talent experience, Jurkiewicz noted. A platform like Phenom’s enables companies to track data through the entire lifecycle: from the skills a candidate brings in on the date of hire, the skills they gain through onboarding, and even the skills they continuously learn throughout their employment. 
 

“Data should not be the barrier to the growth. It has to be integrated, and it has to tell a harmonized story. Otherwise, in some cases you’re left worse off, because now you know you have something missing and you have no idea how to find it. And that’s the biggest problem we see when you don’t fully integrate the data with the experience across these platforms.” 
 

 

What's the Biggest Benefit Talent Experience Management Technology Can Offer Employees?
 

Talent experience management technology positions organizations to provide “servant leadership,” Jurkiewicz pointed out. 
 

What does that mean? 
 

With greater visibility into their true skill sets, this technology can show employees the best path to unlocking their potential — and that might be with a different employer. That’s ok, Jurkiewicz said: servant leaders encourage what’s best for their employees, no matter what.
 

It may sound counterintuitive, but this type of culture shift can actually encourage retention, according to Jurkiewicz. “Now [leaders are] operating selflessly, and as a servant to their employees. And that’s the way it should be. When employees see that, they’re actually more apt to stay.” Servant leadership is why he’s still at Phenom. “I’m a benefactor of this kind of thinking.”
 

How Can HR Leaders Learn More About This Topic?
 

“If it’s not Phenom, reach out to a vendor in this space who is doing this work. Have a conversation about what’s working and what isn't,” Jurkiewicz suggested “Most of us will have that conversation, no strings attached, because education is a huge part of what we do.” He also loves SHRM, the Society of Human Resources Management, and Forrester research for the data they bring to the table. 
 

His advice? Don’t wait. In today’s competitive market, it’s no longer a war on talent, but it’s a race to engage — and whoever engages faster will win.
 

Possibly the best resource to turn to, according to Jurkiewicz? “Your employees. They’ll tell you what they want if you just listen. You should do everything in your power to meet that.”
 


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