The talent shortage has become an alarming issue in the world of work in the last couple of months. Employers have struggled to find and attract qualified candidates. As a result, many companies have found it very challenging to close skills gaps. However, although the lack of compatible job seekers is undeniable, employers are often uncompromising about finding people with rare competencies.

Technology is rapidly changing, providing machines with the capability to handle tasks that were formally performed manually. Because of this sudden shift in the business world, many abilities that were once invaluable are now obsolete. This also means that as new job roles continuously evolve, there will be a demand for emerging and unique skill sets.

Therefore, companies seeking exact competencies on their job description will likely struggle to recruit and hire skilled candidates. That could also prolong the time to hire, slow down the recruitment process and increase hiring costs. The solution is to seek job applicants with adjacent skills aligned with the skills listed in the job description.

What are Adjacent Skills?

Adjacent skills are a mix of technical and transferrable abilities but learning leaders often don’t target them in job ads and education. They are related to a competency or experience an employee already has, enabling them to increase the understanding of their job role and be more efficient.

Workers typically develop these abilities to expand their expertise, keep up with industry-related trends and be more employable. However, some professionals adopt them to become indispensable to their companies. An employee usually builds these abilities by improving their knowledge in a secondary field and deepening their core expertise. For example, financial analysts often learn the scripting language to become more apt and progress in their careers.

Reskilling is a stellar way to help people obtain adjacent skills and improve internal mobility. Companies can help employees develop abilities related to those necessary for a job opening by identifying who has the potential and interest to transition to a different job role.

It’s crucial to consider adjacent skills when recruiting external candidates as that reminds you that it’s the abilities that make every position and not a title. A job applicant might never have had the job role you’re looking for, but they may have the necessary competencies to perform it well.

Moreover, some candidates could have the relevant job title but not the abilities you need. Including adjacent skills in the selection process expands your pursuit of a compatible job applicant and makes it easier to identify people with the potential to obtain critical abilities.

The Importance of Adjacent Skills

Although many companies have turned to reskilling during the COVID-19 pandemic, many may perceive reskilling as an extreme skills training rehaul. However, unless someone is switching careers, that’s rarely the case. But you don’t have to reskill a sales representative to become a web developer. Instead, strive to help employees develop abilities related to the skills and knowledge they already possess.

For example, a social media manager might have good writing potential, enabling him to learn search engine optimization (SEO) or become a copywriter. Adjacent skills development also helps obtain other related abilities as one leads to another. As a result, someone who knows to code may learn technical writing easier than a journalist, for example. Every skill relates to many similar competencies and knowing one would make it easier to adopt the rest.

That’s why continuous learning and growth is essential. Every professional should strive to improve their expertise and pay attention to emerging trends. Otherwise, they risk stagnation and never increasing their knowledge and advancement. In general, skills have a half-life of about five years. The situation is even direr with technical abilities, as they transform faster and might be completely different in only two and a half years.

But employees shouldn’t only adopt adjacent skills to stay ahead of industry changes and stay employable. They should also adopt adjacent skills because it allows them to perform more efficiently and boost productivity and innovation. Moreover, developing adjacent skills can be a competitive edge when up for a promotion, and advantageous with improving decision making and adapting to changes that impact how your people perform. These transferable skills also can help employees become more resilient and confident about their future with a company.

When hiring, employers should focus on hiring candidates with adjacent skills that can close competencies gap and help prevent talent shortages within their organization. This shouldn’t only target technical skills, but also extend to soft skills. The pandemic has already disrupted the workforce and made recruitment harder. Targeting and developing adjacent skills can help companies prepare for the post-pandemic future and improve their market position.

Benefits of Adjacent Skills

Here are some of the benefits to adjacent skills:

  • Improved internal hiring: Internal mobility allows companies to promote top talent within their organization. It’s easier to identify adjacent skills among existing employees as they’ve already shown their capabilities and potential. As a result, companies can avoid talent shortages and build a stable pipeline of qualified candidates internally.
  • They help close skills gaps: Every company has skills gaps, but the difference is in how they respond. The solution is to be flexible and look for job applicants who possess related abilities to those the job description targets. It’s much easier to help employees develop the necessary competencies than find a person who meets all requirements.
  • Improved employee motivation: Workers often lose motivation when they lack the skills to complete a task or participate in a new project. Helping them strengthen their adjacent skills increases their odds of being able to switch between multiple assignments.
  • An expanded perspective: When employees possess skills from various spheres, they have a unique perspective and can approach tasks from different angles. Thanks to that, they’ll be able to identify connections, possibilities and overlaps that others can’t.
  • Expanded professional opportunities: Nowadays, most people change multiple job roles and positions throughout their lives, striving to find what they do best. Adjacent skills allow employees to explore their potential and open doors they wouldn’t otherwise.

How to Identify and Develop Adjacent Skills

Here are a few tips on how to detect adjacent skills in your employees and in potential candidates:

Establish Employee Skill Set Portfolio

The easiest way to assess employees’ abilities is to make them visible. Encourage workers to share their interests, competencies and goals as that can help you better understand their true potential. Managers should also pay attention to what their employees do well in and encourage them to pursue their passions and to develop their weaker skills. With their manager or team lead, employees can create a skills set portfolio, defining their adjacent skills and room for improvement.

Seek Less Visible Skills

Adjacent skills are rarely the first ones that come to mind when creating job ads or learning and development (L&D) programs. Instead, they are less obvious, making it more challenging to target them. Focus on related core skills and think of what secondary or tertiary competencies to use as a building foundation. For example, according to a 2020 Gartner report, a marketing representative experienced in social listening will most likely have sentiment analysis knowledge. That in turn makes them more likely to develop natural language processing skills, enabling them to transition to an information technology (IT) role.

However, this career progression would require efficient upskilling. In 2021, LinkedIn ran an analysis for the World Economic Forum in their 2021 Workplace Learning Report and found that many workers who transitioned into emerging roles over the past five years originated from entirely different professions. These findings highlight the importance of understanding adjacent skills and reskilling employees.

Improve Professional Path Strategies

Prioritize flexible professional progression if you want to encourage employees to develop their secondary competencies and consider different job roles and departments. Also, consider how you and your workers can benefit from adjacent skills.

After identifying the value proposition, you’ll find it much easier to adjust your career advancement strategies and develop a well-rounded upskilling and reskilling program. However, avoid forcing employees to transition to different occupations or to expand their non-job-related competencies if that doesn’t align with their goals.

They should want to upskill and reskill because it’s what resonates with their ambitions and career development. On the other hand, keep employees with relevant strengths and abilities informed of current job openings. That could encourage them to imagine themselves in another job role and explore a different career path. Moreover, workers should know if their current role is no longer needed, and if developing adjacent skills would help with their future in the company.

Moving Forward

Most learning leaders know that evolving technologies require the workforce to continuously update and improve upon their skills. However, not all employers realize that they don’t need to seek candidates who match the exact job description.

Instead, companies should look for related competencies and transferable skills. Once hired, employees can later expand their knowledge and become more compatible within their role. That also can be a strategic and stellar way to close skills gaps and prevent talent shortages. Learning leaders can leverage analytics and data to understand their workforce’s skill set and potential. These insights can help them target relevant skills adjacencies and build well-targeted reskilling and upskilling programs.