Skill Disruption: What Is It and What Does It Mean for HR?

Maggie Blehar

July 1, 2022

Pandemic-driven unemployment, The Great Resignation, and the possibility of an upcoming recession are all major factors affecting the workforce today. But another big game-changer is something we don’t often think about: skills
 

On last week’s episode of Talent Experience Live, Layla O’Kane, Research Manager at Lightcast, explored emerging trends in “skill disruption” that she and her research team identified in a new study of over 15 million job postings. 
 

Learn what her discovery means for HR and TA professionals in the full episode below, or read on for highlights. 
 


What was the main objective of the skill disruption study?
 

Lightcast, previously known as Emsi Burning Glass, is a labor market data company where O’Kane studies broad trends affecting the workforce, such as digitalization, labor shortages, AI, and automation. 
 

One trend that’s been brewing over the last several years? Skill requirements for jobs have been changing. No one had researched much about how or why — or the implications this has on hiring and recruiting — until now.
 

“We hadn’t looked at that across the labor market or in any kind of quantifiable way,” O’Kane said. “We had seen just in our own data over time that the types of skills being asked for have changed.” 
 

Anecdotally, she and other researchers could tie some of these shifts to the pandemic and the emergence of new technologies. But “we hadn’t really had a chance to deep dive into this and understand just how big an effect it was having… and that’s what we wanted to do.”
 

The resulting May 2022 report — “Shifting Skills, Moving Targets, and Remaking the Workforce” — analyzes job listings from 2016 through 2021, revealing “significant changes in requested skills, with new skills appearing, some existing skills disappearing, and other existing skills shifting in importance.”
 

What exactly is skill disruption?
 

“Skill disruption” refers to the need for workers to learn new skills when their job shifts in some way. O’Kane and her research partners created a Skill Disruption Index that ranges from 0 to 100, analyzing how much a job role changed over the last five years. A score of 100 is a job that’s changed the most, while a score of 0 is a job that’s changed the least. 
 

For example, the core skills needed to be a mystery shopper or lifeguard haven’t changed significantly, and both scored low on the Skill Disruption Index. In contrast, the skills needed for roles like web developers and data engineers have changed significantly, putting them at the opposite end. 
 

Interestingly, TA and recruiting roles fall near the top, scoring around 71 to 72, according to O’Kane, and any job scoring higher than 50 is considered significantly disrupted.
 


How should HR professionals respond to “The Great Disruption”?
 

Mainly, HR and TA professionals need to be aware that this rapid evolution of job skills — “The Great Disruption,” as O’Kane and her team call it — is happening simultaneously with The Great Resignation.
 

Because skill disruption is happening to current employees — affecting retention and engagement — HR departments need to support learning and career development more than ever. This will help upskill the workforce and attract and retain talent.
 

“As technology has developed, we’ve seen a really big influx in jobs being disrupted, and skills that are needed just really rapidly changing, even in these short time periods,” O’Kane said. 
 

O’Kane shared the following statistics from her research:

  • 37% of skills have changed in the average job in the last five years
  • 75% of skills have changed among the most significantly disrupted jobs in the last five years


“That’s a ton of movement that’s sort of under the radar because people are experiencing it and not really thinking about it,” O’Kane noted. “We talk about lifelong learning, and this is really capturing the need for it.”
 

Related resource: Leveraging Skills to Bounce Back from the Great Attrition   


What are other drivers of skill disruption?
 

It’s easy to point to the pandemic as the biggest influence on skill disruption, but jobs started changing well before 2020. “We specifically wanted to start in 2016 and end in 2021 in order to weed out some of the core pandemic changes,” O’Kane explained. 
 

New technology has been one of the biggest drivers of change. And it isn’t just learning how to use new technology, but also learning how to navigate its ripple effects. For example, a team leader may need to change their management skills when the group adopts new technology, or learn how to evaluate the tech’s ROI. 
 

For context, O’Kane shared the three types of skill change the research team looked at to build the Skill Disruption Index: 
 

  1. New skills (e.g., new software programs)
     
  2. Disappearing skills (e.g., outdated technology)
     
  3. Skills that have shifted up or down in frequency of use (e.g., a tech solution automates responses to new business requests so the employee can focus on using skills somewhere else)  


Another important driver of skill disruption? Changes in the way employees collaborate and work together, which have been influenced both by the pandemic and new technologies. 
 


What skill disruption trends did you discover?
 

Through their research, O’Kane and her team identified four trends in skill change:
 

  1. Digital skills are now required for many jobs that were traditionally non-digital. For example, sales reps need to understand how to use a CRM or a marketer needs to have a grasp of data analytics. 
     
  2. Non-digital skills, like collaboration and communication, are becoming necessary for technical and digital jobs, where employees need to be able to work with team members and explain complex concepts to non-technical stakeholders.
     
  3. Social media skills are in demand across a wide range of job roles. For example, you may be a receptionist at a small company who manages the brand’s social media presence, even though social media skills aren’t typically required of receptionists. 
     
  4. Data visualization skills are rising in prominence, requiring knowledge of programs like Tableau and Microsoft Power BI that help communicate findings to general audiences.


Understanding these skills is imperative for TA teams because it can drastically change the way they write job descriptions, set up interviews, and engage with talent in order to find the best fit for their company.
 


Related Resource: Driving Employee Engagement with Gigs and L&D



How can HR adapt to keep their organizations competitive?
 

The report’s findings represent a great opportunity to take a fresh look at how you’re engaging with talent. For example, when looking at your company’s job descriptions, ask: Do the skills listed attract the right candidates to drive growth? How do they compare to skills competitors are asking for? Do skills need to be added to meet modern needs (e.g., social media skills)? 
 

Here are the top three insights HR teams must consider, according to O’Kane and her team:
 

  1. Use data-driven and digital approaches. HR benefits from a data-driven approach and digital outreach — but that may not be top-of-mind. “Make sure that your HR space is using data really well, and that you’re recruiting for people using data and thinking about the more technical side of things,” O’Kane said.
     
  2. Source talent in new ways. “As these skills are changing, it might mean your original sources of talent may not be the right candidate pool anymore,” O’Kane said. This requires TA and recruitment professionals to find new sources and expand their pools to meet the demand for new skills.
     
  3. Lead and engage stakeholders. Buy-in from senior leadership is critical, O’Kane emphasized. “It’s helping them understand that you have these build, buy, borrow, or automate options available to you when you’re looking at talent, and you’ve got to be strategic about what you use where. The Skill Disruption Index and how much a job is changing can help you make those decisions, and you definitely need senior leadership involvement in that to be successful.” 

 


Having more strategic conversations with hiring managers about the skills required for a job is imperative for HR teams to successfully adapt to the changing workforce. Using new technology and leveraging data to analyze skill changes, and then adapting accordingly, will keep companies competitive and employees invested for now and years to come.
 

Read our blog, The Role of AI in Skills Management and Career Pathing, to learn more about driving skill growth and employee development.

Maggie Blehar

Maggie is a writer at Phenom, bringing you information on all things talent experience. In addition to writing, she enjoys traveling, painting, cooking, and spending time with her family and friends.