Use Skill Clusters to Develop Top Technical Talent

Some of the best examples of technical upskilling — taking an individual’s core skill set and cross-functionalizing it — that can be found in the United States today are driven by public-private sector initiatives.

These initiatives involve aligning job training provided by local educators with the skills companies demand. Many companies working collectively with local educators to advance job training options for individuals in a particular region create training hubs.

Companies in training hubs, or regions where they proactively work with local educators to customize training for local job openings, are best positioned to find the highly skilled talent they need now and in the future.

One approach to build a sustainable training hub and drive regional job growth across related industries involves developing a skills cluster. Contemporary skills clusters group multiple occupations that share similar skills to mobilize workers across functions and industries, and multiply their work opportunities. Ultimately, this model helps identify the skills and subsequent training that can be used in various industries and roles. Skills clusters can only be successful if employers collaborate with educators, governments and potential job candidates.

A key part of this collaboration involves forecasting skills that will be in demand. Having constant insight into new skills in demand is critical so individuals, employers, educators and other talent stakeholders can plan ahead. Today, stakeholders tend to rely on employer forecasts focused on specific occupations. This short-term, one-dimensional approach makes it difficult to strategize and integrate long-term career paths while driving business success.

Occupational silos that train workers only for vertical industries are also ineffective because more jobs require both advanced job training and cross-functional skills. Traditional methods that categorize skills by occupation do not reflect the rising importance of flexibility.

Skills clusters are designed as foundation skills, preparing people to enter the workforce either at an entry level or during career changes. Clusters differ in their impact. Some may focus on high growth and entrepreneurialism that drive economic performance and employment. Others may represent skills needed en masse by steady employers.

The state of Wisconsin built a long-term workforce strategy to produce clusters of in-demand skilled workers. Its study, “Be Bold 2: Growing Wisconsin’s Talent Pool,” details how Wisconsin’s business, government and academic leaders can tighten the state’s skills gap and build a sustainable and globally competitive workforce to accelerate economic growth.

The Be Bold 2 initiative began with an assessment of Wisconsin’s supply and demand profile in skills clusters that generate more than half of its gross domestic product. Today approximately 6,440 jobs are unfilled in these clusters: systems and network software development; nursing and health-related; accounting and financial analysis; and mechanical engineering and metal manufacturing. According to ManpowerGroup’s research, if Wisconsin does not take steps to advance these clusters, that figure will exceed 54,000 during the next 10 years.

Knowing the talent supply problem facing employers now is escalating, employers need to take steps to build the right talent pools. As the United States faces increased competition from companies overseas when sourcing top technical talent, employers must invest in sustainable models to find and upskill these key individuals.

Rebekah Kowalski is principal consultant, strategic workforce consulting for Right Management, a ManpowerGroup company. She can be reached at

One Leader’s Take on Emerging Market Strategies

Talent Management asked Annette Ellison, senior executive of GE Healthcare’s executive and talent development team, how she’s coping with rapid growth in emerging markets.

Since the late 1990s, emerging markets have routinely grown faster than advanced economies. What does this mean for your business?

It has meant that we need to shift some of our attention to build talent paths faster in emerging markets while continuing to provide development in mature markets. We have also shifted the talent and leadership development resources so that we have more local talent building local talent.

We have done this in a variety of ways. One example is our talent forums. We use local talent forums to showcase key talent in the country. We tend to focus on roles critical to our strategic plans within the region. It’s a terrific way to get leaders involved and provide exposure to emerging high-potential talent.

Another example would be the shift in our training delivery. In the past, we ran most programs through our New York learning center. Now we offer local training and programs, delivered by local leaders but using our global framework and materials. This provides greater access at a lower price point, allowing us to train more emerging leaders and ensure language capabilities, understanding and application.

And finally, our organization and talent leaders are based in each region. We agree as a team on the global framework for talent development, and then each local organization and talent development leader uses our global strategy and framework to implement locally — making cultural changes as needed for their environment.

— Ladan Nikravan