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The skills jigsaw puzzle


How can you identify skills and skill gaps in your organisation? George Blair shows us how with this handy 'can do' chart. 

When it comes filling competency gaps and recruiting the right people it's all about planning ahead, rather than just by throwing money at the problem. This is achieved by focusing on implementation, as all strategy and no action is a slow and certain death. And what better way to achieve this than through using the right through tools and techniques? In fact, workforce planning, done properly, is the picture on the jigsaw puzzle box that helps you build your organisation’s future on firm foundations.

Why tools and techniques?

If this is where you usually tune out, think again. Tools and techniques are the means to turn strategy into reality and provide a means of achieving consistency through the organisation – meaning you can monitor performance across departments. 

Is the right training taking place in teams?
It is very easy for organisations to be fad driven and training is no exception. There is a huge clamour to go on the programmes that are thought to unlock the next promotion. Also, staff can have a sense of entitlement; if others have been on a course, they want to go on it, too. This can be very expensive for the organisation, particularly when it results in neglecting training for scarce skills.

The Can-Do chart is the ideal solution. It identifies skills gaps in teams, which assists in identifying training needs. The approach was popularised by Motorola for Sigma Six, a continuous improvement programme. The approach is also popular in the public sector and the Employers’ Organisation for local government recommends it in their draft guidance on skills audit.

It highlights where teams are over dependent on individuals with a wide range of skills, and whose loss could be very damaging.  This approach can also be used to support Investors In People, by linking training needs to business objectives. It also enables managers to point out to their staff that they need to take into account the organisational needs when planning their training. 

The Can-Do chart covers the most important eight to ten competencies for a team and then ranks each team member against them. Martial arts enthusiasts will instantly recognise the colour coding of judo belts, namely:

  • novice (white
  • able (yellow),
  • proficient (green)
  • expert (black). 

There is a limit to how many black or green belts a team needs in a specific area of competence and you can decide what this should be, along with team manager.

The standards expected at each level are underpinned by a brief description of what is required. A simplified example from a human resources department is shown in the chart below.


The above chart shows that:

  • Sue can benefit from more training, as she is only a yellow belt - she is probably new to the unit. 
  • Health and Safety might be a problem area, as only one person has any competence in it.
  • What is worrying for the team is that its most experienced member, Kate, is only two years from retirement. 

Unless, other members are trained up before she goes, the team will experience a skills deficit.

Are redundancies draining money and morale?

Planning rundowns saves money and avoids the damaging morale of compulsory redundancies. This can be achieved by analysing your organisation by job type, showing the establishment and staff-in-post, along with future demand and attrition. This gives you the number of staff you will have, say in a year’s time, if you cut back on recruitment.  It also shows where you might be expanding, which automatically poses the question whether retraining and redeployment would be a better option. 

This approach is equally valuable in times of expansion, as it enables you to forecast the number of staff you need to recruit. This enables you to plan ahead and save money by having a coordinated campaign, rather than a series of disparate job advertisements, desperately trying to fill gaps after staff have left. 

The final part of the jigsaw puzzle is a grid of job types showing where you recruited staff from and a second identical grid showing where you intend to recruit from next year. This would reflect your recruitment strategy, which may include new pathways into and through your organisation.

Again, the link for an example and a more in depth explanation is available here.


George Blair is Chairman of the HR Society and a workforce planning expert.  He runs courses in workforce planning for the HR Society, which focuses on the business edge of HR and L&D.

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