Skills Passports – the practical side of skills management

You wait for hot skills stories and then two come along at once. Personnel Today recently ran stories on two skills passports, for rural and for retail employers. Skills passports are the practical end of skills and human capital management – helping employers with some of the hygiene factors of employment of often transitory workforces. But what they can do is only half the story ….

Both the passports run on software provided by PurplePassport who while obviously good at software could use some PR help (how about spreading out those stories guys?).  What they offer is something at the cost of human capital level of HCM reporting – who has what certifications, what relevant skills, and some other demographic basics. The trick is to capture this data in industries with highly itinerant workforces, that don’t always have English as a first language, and yet where there is growing compliance regulation.

To take a typical example industry: food processing. The seasonal nature of employment demand means a casual labour force. Yet they have to be trained in food hygiene and other matters. How do you know which of the workers on a particular new gang has the right qualifications? Answer – you get them to carry a trustworthy card that has the information recorded on it. (If this sounds a little too glowing, no, I don’t have a financial relationship with Purple Passport).

At this stage the tool is useful, but not a sophisticated Human Capital Management reporting device. However, it does begin the process – completely lacking in most organisations – of collecting skills data. Although the focus is at the individual level, there’s no reason why the data cannot be aggregated centrally.

Once you start down that line of thought, some interesting things become possible. Suppose that your system is offered on a hosted model (dare I say SaaS). If it is introduced in conjunction with a Sector Skills Councils (as Purple Passport’s are), then  the SSC can begin to collate and compare skills data not just within organisations, but across them. It becomes possible to gather some of big picture comparative data: which employers are training the most, which have the greatest skills pools, etc.

Suppose you then begin to expand the range of questions asked of the employee – moving beyond certifications and diplomas, perhaps to generic skills information such as language skills or behaviours. Suppose you add the capacity not just to measure a person’s individual skills, but begin to compare it with the requirements of their job … okay, now you’re cooking, and if you combine this with the ability to aggregate the data, then you can start to pull off some very exciting reports. Which industries suffer the greatest skills gaps? Are there geographical differences? Is there really (in the UK) a north/south divide?

I don’t know if this is part of Purple Passport’s plan, but I think it shows this: that a piece of plastic with an individual record is more than just that. Potentially it’s a change agent, a way to begin really understanding people’s wider skills and start the process of proper human capital management reporting.

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