Tennis with Skills: Game, Set and Match?

Whilst being passionate about skills development in a global context, and 3 years on; I read a continuous stream of publications from ‘intelligent organisations’ and policy makers, about the lack of skills defined by employers, in the workplace. The global ‘skills crisis’.

Buzzwords galore, the issues are relatively similar wherever you go in the world apart from acknowledged labour market demographics – which is the key factor supporting skills development initiatives in context with country, policy, workforce dynamics, education management and economic returns.

Now to take the issues in context, with a game of tennis.

You have two players. Both ‘skilled’ and ready to perform for the match.

A. One player, has a finite budget yet dedicated local support, to develop as a professional. As with skills development, there are a limited number of individuals, only those trusted and preferred immediately available supporters of the player. Only those trusted, experienced individuals who can help grow the talent needed to win a match – not by name, experience or monetary request. Player A understands well the equipment he needs to use, for the surface and conditions he plays in.

B. The other player as a much bigger budget, better kit and vast network of professionals to gain tips and advice from. This player has sponsors that raises the personal brand, including their own.

Now from a spectator’s perspective, who is likely to win?

One would say, surely Player B. Player B is most likely to win because he has a bigger budget, better kit, greater brand, and would have benefited hugely, from the vast network of professionals and supporters offering abundance in advice and tips.


So, metaphorically if I replace the professionals and supporters with what is going on in the skills agenda globally, would this lead to a change in our thinking. i.e. these supporters and professionals are the numerous bodies that are involved in skills development. Each having a say and contributing to the skills agenda in confidence, but with a slightly different slant. They may even be rewarding players with additional supplementary resources, and special advice that should be extra supportive, but yet may also add a layer of complexity. Might even be conflicting in their approaches, respectively and independently. Each one has the best product or service in the market as ‘guardian coaches’. Each one maintains their reason to be the best in skills; defining talent and learning for a win. Some may even have outdated methods, but are fully convinced by their reasons, product and services to support this player to win. It is the power of influence that determines how much and who we trust with insider knowledge for 100% guaranteed win.

Player B might also have the disadvantage, that although externally he has access to greater resources to perform and up-skill on different surfaces, the landscape is complex – differing views by different professionals and bombarded with differing intentions, expectations, measures and complex environmental data. This will complicate understanding, focus and eventually demotivate intentions. Internalising learning becomes increasingly difficult.

Player A has a much simpler journey – less professionals, less resource but greater awareness, time for practice and internalising, evaluating the actual ‘play’. Honing these skills, to defined specification and a limited number of well-wishers and supporters; plus the determination, resilience, will and focus to win.

Those of you who have read the above and work in skills, education management and workforce strategy, will understand exactly the scenario presented in context with the skills dilemma today.

We all know that time waits for no-one. We know that it is becoming increasingly difficult to perform, innovate and deliver business promises – i.e. increasing dilemma of finding talent and the right skills immediately for the job at hand. We also know there are huge numbers of unemployed individuals we cannot employ; for the specifications we are drawing on might be too specific, or even outdated. We know the workforce demographics of our immediate location – employability concerns, technical ability, workforce statistics, labour intelligence, policy drivers, regulatory concerns, training and development complexities, cohort of sector specific anomalies – i.e. aged vs youth, diversity, gender balance … the list goes on.

If workforce planning truly was inclusive, we would be assessing and internalising workforce development practice; have structured and aligned HR processes with our business strategy; a watchful eye on labour market trends in our sector and area; building the right culture for workforce transformation; leveraging performance through inclusive and home-grown talent; and ensuring organisational development is holistic and engaging. Much like the Player A scenario. Focus, will, determination, and internalising learning to grow talent from within; ignoring the surplus noise from multiple stakeholder offerings; focusing on the now and outcome – skills to win and win consistently.

Senior Management Team don’t just act as an empire on the match, but also keeping tabs on the environment in which play is developing. Their constructive board input, should be enabling and fully included in the workforce transformation process – driving and supporting continuous change, building complementary talent pipelines, valuing input and celebrating successes. building a workforce plan that changes with business needs – that is resilient, progressive and continuous.

Take a moment or two on the scenario shared.

  • Is this the case in workforce practice?
  • What do we do to deliver complementary skills, products and services?
  • How do we win the match?
  • And, how do we consistently perform and outshine our competition?

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