How a Job Architecture Can Help Streamline Workforce Transformation

August 10, 2023 | Reskilling Your Workforce | 10 min read

Job architectures can take the guesswork out of workforce planning and development, and these tips can help you make the most of your architecture.

With 83 percent of organizations facing skills gaps today, workforce transformation is a nearly universal imperative. Yet it’s not always clear how to make a workforce transformation happen.

The process seems straightforward at the big-picture, broad-strokes level: Identify the skills your organization needs and then train employees to develop those skills. It’s the finer details that often elude us. How exactly do you pinpoint the specific skills you should cultivate to transform your workforce into the one you need?

It’s easy to determine whether a company needs data scientists. It’s much more challenging to find the employees whose skill sets overlap with data scientists, identify the hard and soft skills they’re missing, and connect them with the proper training to build those skills. But a successful workforce transformation requires such a roadmap.

The good news is there is a way to simplify the process of planning — and executing — a workforce transformation. You just have to leverage your organization’s job architecture.

What Is a Job Architecture, and How Can It Drive Workforce Development?

A job architecture is a systematic way of categorizing jobs in an organization.

  • At a high level, roles are grouped according to functional areas, like HR, finance, and legal.
  • Below that, they’re categorized by sub-function. In the finance function, for example, sub-functions might include tax, accounting, and payroll.
  • Finally, roles are sorted into distinct jobs within a sub-function. For example, in the tax sub-function, roles may be sorted into tax analyst, senior tax analyst, and tax manager. Each job would have an accompanying entry in the architecture, outlining the job’s unique title, skill set, and responsibilities.

A job architecture provides a scalable, globally relevant, market-aligned framework for all the jobs in an organization. This framework is useful for workforce transformation efforts because it allows organizational leaders to quickly understand exactly what skills a role requires and how different roles relate to each other.

Let’s go back to the example of a company that needs data scientists. If this organization has a job architecture in place, talent leaders can use it to craft a workforce transformation strategy like so:

  1. Talent leaders look at the data scientist job description to identify the skills the role requires.
  2. Talent leaders compare the skill sets of other roles to the skill set of the data scientist role, looking for jobs that require many of the same skills.
  3. Talent leaders see the company’s software engineers already have most of the skills necessary for the data scientist job.
  4. Talent leaders identify the specific skills the software engineers are missing — for example, statistical modeling and working with large data architectures.
  5. Talent leaders create a learning pathway that focuses on these missing skills, and they offer it to software engineers. The interested engineers use the pathway to become data scientists, closing the organization’s skills gap.

In short, talent leaders can use a job architecture to turn their high-level workforce transformation strategies into practical role-based learning programs that help close skills gaps. Role-based learning — defined as an employee development program that automatically connects learners with content that is relevant to their current roles and the roles they aspire to hold — takes the guesswork out of employee development. You know what roles you need to fill, which employees are closest to filling those roles, and what learning content to serve them.

Role-based learning can also help improve training program adoption rates. In a role-based learning scheme, employees can easily find content that’s relevant to their careers. The more relevant the training content is, the more learners will use it. Increased learner engagement means better results from learning programs.

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6 Tips for Applying Your Job Architecture to Employee Development

1. Start Small

Like any significant organizational change, it may not be feasible — or even desirable — to get the entire company on board with job architectures and role-based learning programs all at once.

Instead, start with a smaller subgroup: a single team, business unit, or department. Look for a group where building a robust job architecture would make a quick, positive impact. Typically, that will be a group that has already identified a clear goal and is thinking about the workforce transformation it needs to reach that goal. Help this pilot group define a job architecture. Then, use the architecture to build a role-based learning program that targets the skills gaps keeping this group from its goal.

Starting small has a few advantages. You’ll need fewer resources and face fewer roadblocks to get the program off the ground. You can also use the small wins you rack up as proof of concept, which will help earn the buy-in you’ll need to expand role-based learning to other parts of the organization. Plus, you can use the lessons you learn from your first initiative to improve future iterations.

2. Get Executive Support

In addition to starting small, it’s important to get some early executive champions on your side. The goal is to eventually scale the job architecture and role-based learning programs to the entire organization, and that isn’t something a purely grassroots effort can achieve.

Getting support from executive leaders offers a couple of critical benefits. First, executive leaders can help clear bureaucratic red tape and other obstacles standing in your way, allowing your initiative to move more quickly.

Second, executive champions can act as role models for the rest of the organization, inspiring other leaders and managers to follow their example. People will find the benefits of role-based learning more credible and compelling if a trusted executive is the one touting them.

3. Ensure Your Job Architecture Is Reliable Before Moving to Role-Based Learning

Many organizations already have job architectures, so you may not be starting from scratch. However, these job architectures are not always as thorough as they could be. An incomplete architecture isn’t terribly useful for workforce development, as it won’t have the information you need to map clear learning paths.

Whether your subgroup is defining a brand new architecture or working with one that already exists, make sure that job architecture is accurate and robust before building a role-based learning program on top of it.

The architecture doesn’t have to be perfect, nor does it have to capture every single role in the organization — those are longer-term goals. But the job architecture any group uses for role-based learning should have the following features at a minimum:

  • The architecture captures every job in the team, unit, or department.
  • Each job is identified by a clear title.
  • Each job is accompanied by an entry in the architecture that captures the most critical skills and responsibilities required for the role.
  • Job descriptions are consistent across the entire team, unit, or department.
  • Jobs are grouped logically based on shared functions, responsibilities, skill sets, or other criteria.

If your architecture needs more fleshing out, resources like O*NET and the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA) offer databases of skills and job descriptions you can use for guidance.

Once you have a strong job architecture, you can craft a role-based learning program. There are multiple ways to approach this, such as:

  • Creating training paths to help employees attain specific roles (e.g., creating a path for non-finance employees to become entry-level financial analysts)
  • Creating training paths for employees to improve in their current roles or functions (e.g., creating an “HR fundamentals” course for all new hires in HR)
  • Creating training paths for specific job levels (e.g., creating a path to help all managers improve their communication and feedback skills)

4. Build Role-Based Learning Paths Around Formal Job Descriptions

Employees’ responsibilities can drift from their formal job descriptions over time, especially when skills gaps or talent shortages force them to take on tasks that wouldn’t typically fall under their purviews. This job function drift can muddy the waters when creating role-based learning paths.

For example, a lack of cybersecurity personnel may mean that system administrators are handling key security duties in addition to their regular tasks. This means the organization needs to establish a clear cybersecurity training pathway to fill its skills gaps.

Remember, job architectures should result in clear job descriptions that outline the concrete skills each role requires. Build role-based learning around these job descriptions, not the ad-hoc and informal responsibilities employees may have picked up over the years.

5. Keep Job Descriptions Consistent

One of the most important functions of a job architecture is that it acts as a universal, scalable framework. The job descriptions it produces should be used and understood throughout the organization. Put another way: Instead of every team having its own flavor of inside sales rep, every inside sales rep role should use the same job description and the same set of core skills.

This standardization of roles is critical for workforce planning and development purposes, but it may receive pushback from teams that have grown attached to their unique spins on roles. One way to handle this problem is to let teams use whatever titles they want as long as they adopt the corresponding job description. If one team wants to refer to inside sales reps as “customer outreach specialists,” let them — with the understanding that those customer outreach specialists will need the same skills as any inside sales rep sitting elsewhere in the organization.

6. Embrace the Full Spectrum of Job Architecture Use Cases

Up to now, we’ve primarily focused on using job architectures to drive workforce transformation by strategically closing skills gaps. But job architectures can also support other kinds of learning and development efforts. Examples include:

  • Coaching: When preparing high performers for leadership roles, job architectures can help you identify the specific skills they need to cultivate before they advance through the ranks.
  • Performance management: Performance management conversations can often be fraught experiences for employees, who may perceive their “opportunities for improvement” as personal flaws. Managers can make these conversations less emotionally charged by grounding performance management in job architectures. The manager can point to the architecture as an objective measure of the skills the employee has mastered and the skills they could sharpen to reach the next level. In this way, the manager reframes the conversation — it’s no longer about the employee falling short but about how they can go further.
  • Career pathing and internal mobility: Job architectures offer employees practical maps for how they can progress in their careers. This allows them to take career mobility into their own hands, as they can see how to leverage their existing skills to move into new roles.
  • Employee retention: When top performers feel like they’ve peaked in their roles, they often grow disengaged and start looking for new jobs. Managers can use job architectures to keep them from jumping ship. A manager can sit down with their employee and use the architecture to identify new opportunities in the company. That way, top performers don’t have to leave the organization to find their next challenge.

Inspire Learners - and Transform Your Workforce - With Role-Based Learning

Job architectures can bring a new level of clarity to workforce planning efforts. By concretely defining roles and highlighting the relationships between them, a job architecture makes it easier for organizations to strategically develop employees and close their most pressing skills gaps.

Of course, building a job architecture and a role-based learning program from scratch is a tall order — but you don’t have to start at zero. Skillsoft is introducing role-based learning in its AI-driven, online skilling platform. Learners can choose from more than 100 predefined roles, and Skillsoft will automatically deliver relevant content to their personalized home pages.

Role-based learning inspires people to develop skills by offering meaningful development opportunities aligned with their career goals. Elevate your workforce by making it easier for learners to discover transformative learning experiences. Learn more about how the Skillsoft platform can help propel your workforce transformation strategy.