Organisations, especially tech companies, are finding it hard to source employees with relevant skills, as the COVID-led disruption drags on. Tech titan IBM is going beyond conventional ways to tap into the unrepresented workforce to close employment gaps. Obed Louissaint, Senior Vice President, Transformation and Culture at IBM, shares how the skills-based model of talent pipeline can widen employers' access to diverse talents.
Here are the edited excerpts of the interview.
How do you manage a diverse portfolio of leading transformation and culture at a large company like IBM?
It’s people and the culture of co-creation. Having people with the right skill sets is critical to help an organisation succeed. Individuals who work together and co-create forge better partnerships and, in turn, deliver better outcomes.
How do you see the current landscape of work with the new COVID variant upending our plans to return to the office?
We all looked at the year 2021 with great anticipation but the ongoing pandemic has continued to unsettle the established order of business dynamics. Having said that, the year demonstrated the real meaning of being adaptable, agile and persevering, for both employers and employees. Businesses even prior to the pandemic were required to manage change and make decisions more quickly than ever before. In the accelerated world of work, corporations across industries today are forced even more to adjust, become nimble and embrace change faster than ever. The uncertainties have intensified those needs in order to meet shifting customer and employee needs.
How has the tech industry looked at the opportunities and areas of growth amid this crisis?
First, by shifting from credentials and degrees to skills. Second, by adapting to changing needs with an agile mindset. It also led to a shift from goals to measurable outcomes. When you look at the larger technology industry landscape, the competition for the limited pool of technology workers got fierce over the past 20 months. The scarcity of tech skills exploded with the unprecedented level of adoption of technologies and digital innovations largely to enable remote work and collaboration. With the nature of work and careers changing, organisations need the right skill sets to meet specific needs. As a result, a lot of organisations have revamped the process of building talent pipelines. To close employment gaps, they shifted from credentials and degrees to skills to tap into the unrepresented workforce. In the US, for instance, only a third of the population have a university degree. So, focusing on university degrees necessarily means you are narrowing the pipelines of individuals who can compete for these jobs. At IBM, we have been replicating models from countries like Switzerland, the UK and Germany that have many long-standing apprenticeship models to broaden our talent pipeline.
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So, a skills-based model of talent pipeline widens employers' access to talent pools while allowing them to build a more diverse workforce. But for decades, degree requirements have been the norm for jobs?
The shift to the unconventional method of sourcing talent has been really intense lately. This is a win-win for both the company or hiring manager and the individual. We have to radically rethink the way we have been hiring; how we source talent and how we evaluate them. There are people, for instance, in their mid-twenties who have close to 10 years of coding experience. Is our system agile enough to have these people in our talent pipeline? The way we think about the experience is changing. We found that people from under-represented communities don’t apply for jobs until they have six to seven of the 10 requirements. At IBM, 50% of jobs are open to anyone with the right skills. This skills-first approach to hiring was a response to the global scarcity of skilled tech workers. We are constantly re-evaluating what skills are necessary to appropriately fill open positions.
How do we develop that agile mindset to look at non-traditional candidates that may represent a good fit for the organisation?
We started on this journey a few years ago with a question – what do we need to do differently in order to drive a culture of agility?
At IBM, we coined a new term called “new collar.” It’s a new type of job where having the right skills matters more than having a traditional degree.
Key takeaways from our journey include:
- Change starts at the top. As leaders, it’s on us to change the tone we use and create more open and equitable pathways to employment for all.
- Review job requirements to ensure they focus on skills, and do not disqualify candidates based on unnecessary requirements.
- Build belief by showcasing talent to the organisation, sharing their amazing stories, and showing off their results.
- Success is tied to building wrap-around support. It takes focused onboarding activities for talent and your management team, but results pay off in innovation and inclusion.
Where do you see the hybrid model of work today? Is it falling apart, because employees are not ready to come back to work?
The routine return to office plan is behind us. The mindset of workers is changing; people are interested in meaningful conversations and work check-ins. Having said that, I believe, the hybrid remote-work model which offers the best of both worlds is the future. Our offices across the world are open as conditions allow and people come when they need to co-create and collaborate.
You are responsible for reinventing people systems and culture to enable innovations. What’s your advice for fellow talent leaders on how to align people and culture to drive business success?
It’s important to create a thriving culture of co-creation today. For workers to unleash their ingenuity, they need to have the right environment. Organisations should also be transparent with their employees and sharing data and the process of decision-making is super critical. This helps in increased employee engagement, stronger company culture, and more importantly, it helps build a sense of belonging for all employees.