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ATD Blog

How Skills-Based Job Profiles Change the L&D Landscape

Thursday, September 15, 2022

The workforce is changing and so are organizational structures and hiring practices. More and more, we move from job roles to skills-based project teams allowing employees to move across the organization and work on projects that align with their skills. This is beneficial to both the organization and the employee. The organization can pair the right people to the right projects based on skills regardless of business units. Employees can draw upon their different skills based on current needs gaining motivation as they upskill themselves throughout project lifecycles. Employees are more motivated because they can leverage different skills based on current needs, and they can upskill themselves while working on various projects. It’s a win-win situation. But are L&D functions ready to support this change?

Job Roles vs. Skills

Traditionally, organizations created functional job roles including job descriptions, responsibilities, and compensation levels. Based on these jobs, we created organizational levels and reporting structures, assigned required training accordingly, and asked employees to assess their performance on a semi-regular basis. Many organizations still follow this model; after all, why disrupt what has worked up to this point? But here is something to consider: A recent Deloitte study reveals that “63 percent of executives say work in their organizations is currently performed in teams or projects outside of people’s core job descriptions.” As workers respond nimbly to changing work requests and requirements, the old framework might not serve us well anymore. The study further states that “81 percent [of executives] say work is increasingly performed across functional boundaries.” These high numbers are staggering, and we wonder why organizations are still following the traditional role-based job model.

And leadership will likely back the sentiment; according to Deloitte, “only 18 percent of executives strongly agree that their workforce is using their skills and capabilities to their fullest potential.” There is untapped potential in our organizations, and we need to look at ways to bring skills-based processes into L&D, talent management, and HR.

The Move From Content Creation to Enablement

To support the changing requirements of our workforce and focus on skills-based organizations, we must welcome a transformational shift not seen in years. Much dialogue is dedicated to both the workforce and digital transformations aligning with this shift, as well as the need to upskill our employees. What’s often missing in these conversations is the need to upskill L&D and HR people first, so they can be the stewards of these organizational changes.

One big shift L&D professionals will have to get comfortable with is the move from content creation to enablement. Enablement means supporting employees in their moments of need instead of creating hour-long training offerings that become outdated once they hit the learning management system (LMS). Outside of the workplace, employees are used to quickly finding answers when they need them. Who hasn’t used Google to learn how to fix a broken shelf or find that next recipe? Employees head to search engines for answers, so why would organizations continue to put content on their LMS and expect people to log on and take training about a topic that they might not need until six weeks down the road? One solution to allow learners to pull content, instead of just pushing content to them, is to use the 5 Moments of Need approach in your learning design.


The 5 Moments of Need

Developed by Bob Mosher and Conrad Gottfredson, this simple, but powerful, model is taking the industry by storm and for very good reasons.

They identified the 5 Moments of Need:

  • Learning something for the first time
  • Learning more of something
  • Applying what you have learned
  • Adjusting to change
  • Reacting to failure

This approach puts a different lens on learning design; with the learner at the center, the focus is not on content, but on what knowledge, skills, or abilities the learner needs to perform a task.

Let’s take the example of a new system rollout. Traditionally, L&D would offer a web-based learning module with a knowledge check followed by a job aid. The web-based module would usually be released many weeks before anyone is ever in the system. By the time the learner needs to know how to navigate the system, they have forgotten how to do so. The job aid is vast and probably not easily searchable, so it isn’t of much help.

Let’s revise this new system rollout using the 5 Moments of Need model. Approximately two or three weeks before the system rollout, you’ll want to make a web-based module available to offer a high-level overview of the system. This is your first moment of learning need: Learn something for the first time. Don’t expect your learners to retain all the details at this stage. Think about it as managing expectations and creating excitement with the bonus of dripping some high-level content.


For the second moment of need (learning more of something), you might look at an actionable—and searchable—interactive job aid distributed one week before the system rollout. The job aid should show learners some of the common scenarios they will encounter once the system is released. This will spark more curiosity and some conversations about the system in the next team meeting. We continue to drip more content to ready our employees for the upcoming change.

The day of the system rollout is your third moment of learning need: Learners apply and refine what they have learned so far. You could make a wiki page available to your learners, which would allow them to retrieve information as they navigate through the new system and continuously build up their knowledge and skills.

Sometimes, our learners need to unlearn what they have learned and adjust to change, which brings us to the fourth moment of learning need. You might ask them to complete a new task that follows some of the steps they are familiar with but with one or two exceptions. Tool tips in the platform are an effective way to emphasize these differences. Coupled with the option to call a help desk, learners have at their disposal everything they need to complete the task at hand.

Employees will have to react to failure within the system at some point or another—your fifth learning need. This could be an error message in the system after learners followed all the right steps. Tie your wiki page and help desk back into this moment of need to empower your learners to find solutions to challenges on their own.

Put the Learner in Charge

The 5 Moments of Need approach is an extremely powerful model that not only puts the learner at the center but also supports spacing and repetition; it is an excellent change management tool. The key to using the 5 Moments of Need model is to rethink how much content you really need to build from scratch versus curating or flexing existing content from a software provider. Put the learner in charge and allow them to pull content when they need it, so they can focus on work and on the task at hand.

About the Author

Bianca Baumann is VP of learning solutions and innovation at Ardent Learning. Over time, she has developed processes and methodologies to help organizations meet their growth targets with the help of innovative L&D approaches, including workforce transformations, onboarding and reskilling programs. She has spearheaded multiple projects in the marketing, automotive, financial and events industries, creating award-winning programs along the way. She shares her expertise in her blog and at global conferences. She teaches Learning Experience Design at OISE and published the eBook, The Little Black Book of Marketing and L&D, a practical guide that helps integrate proven marketing techniques into L&D.

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