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What’s skills obsolescence?

The half-life of skills is falling rapidly, mainly due to the rapid development of new technologies. In this article, we explore this trend and its causes – as well as the various ways a company can address it.



Skills obsolescence: what you need to know


Skills obsolescence is the “degree to which professionals lack the up-to-date knowledge or skills necessary to maintain effective performance in their current or future work roles” (source: CEDEFOP). This obsolescence’s main consequence is that it decreases a profile’s performance over the long term and that his/her development is – to some extent – obstructed. Skill obsolescence is a very topical issue, as the lifespan of skills is gradually shortening. This impacts workers’ attractiveness on the labour market and makes employers’ search for relevant profiles more difficult.


A skill’s average lifespan is now just five years, even less in industries where new technologies play the key role – such as IT. Why? Mainly because of many tasks’ partial or total automation within organisations (reporting, quality control, etc.), but also because of the faster pace of work as the project mode becomes the standard.


This pattern of obsolescence can be observed in many companies, across all industries. It should not be overlooked, even less so as the duration of careers is getting longer.


Related: What’s a skill?



→ A few figures:


  • In 1987, the average lifetime of a skill was 30 years (OECD).
  • The lifespan of a technical skill now only lasts between 12 and 18 months (OECD).
  • 85% of the occupations of 2030 do not yet exist (Dell, Institut du Futur, 2018).
  • 35% of the skills required to do a job will change significantly in the coming years (World Economic Forum, 2016).
  • 15 million jobs will be created thanks to digital technology by 2025 (Eurostat, 2018).



Mitigating skills obsolescence


Skills obsolescence is inevitable. It is a reality that companies and workers must consider. However, various avenues can be explored to address it.


Making the most of employees’ time within the company


People often move on to new jobs. Millennials, in particular, tend to change careers regularly. This helps them develop their skills and gain additional work experience.

It can also bring benefits to companies, if they are able to find inspiration in every employee and draw the appropriate conclusions from their passage in the organisation to improve their job repositories and keep up with the evolution of the professions. In fact, employees are likely to suggest relevant and useful changes. Companies should therefore create favourable conditions for potential changes to be identified and implemented.


Fostering softs skills


Technical knowledge is important for companies and will remain so. But it is no longer the only kind of knowledge that is keenly sought. Employers increasingly focus on behavioural skills, known as soft skills. Profiles that possess these skills often have excellent adaptability. This is highly valuable in a context where skills repositories are constantly evolving.


Important soft skills include the ability to learn quickly, creativity, analytical capability, as well as the ability to pass on knowledge and to work in a group.



Companies’ role in skills development


Companies play a key role in employee training. They need to establish a clear strategy (known as a skills development plan) and ensure that training time is part of day-to-day company life – so that employees can improve their skills and support the business’ development.


Managers may need, at times, to put aside their concerns regarding business continuity and learn to let their teams head off for training when necessary. They should also bear in mind that candidates, when choosing a future employer, may place a special emphasis on the organisation’s focus on training.


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Illustration credits: https://www.istockphoto.com/fr/portfolio/vectorknight