When There Aren’t Enough Heads, Count Competencies Instead: Strategies to Address the Skills Shortage

Published: 30th October 2023

By: Lasse Hamre

Norwegian competence-based companies are facing an increasingly urgent challenge: recruiting the necessary skills for the future when there is already a shortage of talented individuals. But before we start poaching employees from each other, it's time to consider alternative approaches – to think outside the box. Can AI be part of the solution to the skills shortage?

NAV’s corporate survey for 2023 shows that Norway is lacking nearly 53,000 employees. One in four businesses reports struggling to acquire the necessary workforce, with the greatest shortages in the healthcare and caregiving sectors. There is  an economic downturn, but it doesn’t seem to have had a significant impact on the labour market’s hunger for competence.

Luring employees away from competing companies may seem like a short-term solution, but  can also be a double-edged sword. Shuffling the workforce from one place to another is a zero-sum game that creates winners on one side and losers on the other. Certain industries are being drained of their essential competence. When companies compete for the same talents by offering ever-higher salaries, an unhealthy wage spiral is created, while the underlying problem, the shortage of competence, remains unresolved.

Politicians are shouting, “We need more hands here. We need more heads there.” But it doesn’t help if politicians outbid each other. The problem is that the population isn’t increasing rapidly enough, and most individuals of working age are already occupied in their current jobs. In other words, there aren’t enough people available to fulfil the politicians’ promises. We won’t get any closer to the vision of a better future as long as the underlying problem, the shortage of competence, remains unsolved.

Moreover, the number of heads is a highly imprecise measure of competence. World Economic Forum’s Future Skills Report for 2023 estimates that 44% of workers’ skills will be disrupted in the next five years. This means that workers who don’t keep up will still count as heads, but their skills will become less relevant.

Instead of counting heads, we should start counting competencies. By shifting the focus from heads to competencies, we open up constructive solutions that can help meet current and future competence needs. We must make use of the opportunities we have. Following are some suggestions where AI and other technologies can help

AI – The Savior That Arrived Just in Time

We should fear the shortage of competence more than AI taking our jobs. AI has only been widely available for about half a year; yet we are already seeing how it provides powerful assistance with the competence shortage. AI and automation provide us with tools for productivity enhancement. Employees can now focus on more competence-intensive work as repetitive tasks become automated. Robots can take over several physically demanding work operations, reducing the drawbacks associated with wear and tear.

Many people desire an assistant at work.  Now, the assistant is just a click away. Knowledgeable and sophisticated, AI provides excellent assistance with competence-intensive tasks. Many have had positive experiences using AI as an assistant at work. AI can assist with time management, information retrieval, planning, and text work. There are already numerous specialized AI plugins that provide invaluable help in various fields. One of my colleagues uses AI as an assistant to prepare extensive datasets and process them—a competence he previously had to seek overseas. AI-based analytical tools can quickly scan large datasets to identify trends, patterns, and anomalies that human analysts might overlook.

Predict the Future

One of the most critical competencies for the future is data analysis and interpretation. The increasing amount of available data is an invaluable resource for organisations, but this resource must be utilized correctly. AI now helps us understand and use data more effectively, providing us with the opportunity to make informed decisions based on facts and statistics.

AI-driven predictive analytics can help us anticipate future needs, whether it’s in customer behaviour, market development, or resource allocation. This gives organisations the opportunity to be proactive and gain a significant competitive advantage.

Other competencies highly valued for the future include digital competence, creativity and innovation, critical thinking and problem-solving, information security, sustainability, and diversity. Has your organisation started nurturing these competency areas?

Recruit Globally

Technology has revolutionized how we recruit competence. The digital age has opened doors to seeking talents globally without being confined by geographical boundaries.

Digital collaboration tools and virtual work environments have transformed the working landscape. We now collaborate across locations and time zones. This means that organisations are no longer bound to local recruitment. They can search for talent in different parts of the world and assemble global teams that bring diverse competencies to projects.

Online platforms and professional networks like LinkedIn make it easier than ever to find potential candidates with specific competencies, regardless of where they are located.

Competence Is Sustainability

We must continue to invest in competence development to secure a sustainable future for businesses. If companies take greater responsibility for competence development through innovative training programs, nurture talent internally, and collaborate with educational institutions, they can achieve a significant competitive advantage over companies that do not.

Conclusion: Plan for Future Competence Needs

The Norwegian labour market faces challenges in recruiting the necessary competence for the future. We now have a unique opportunity to redefine our approach to competence development and recruitment by utilizing innovative strategies and technological tools.

Let us continue to focus on developing our own employees, and use AI and automation to transform the way we address the competence shortage.

Today, we have the insights and tools needed to plan for future competence needs more accurately. By using data and advanced analysis, we can predict upcoming competence needs more precisely and prepare in advance.

Let us take this opportunity to create a sustainable future for our competence-based companies by focusing on competencies rather than heads.