Modern organizations are having to reassess the way they define employee skills. In the past, the discussion centered around hard vs soft skills, but the evolving nature of work requires another layer of delineation.
Enter perishable and durable skills.
This new terminology gives more context to hard and soft skills, especially as it relates to what companies are looking for today.
In this article, we’ll dive deep into the meaning of perishable and durable skills and development and share how to integrate these emerging concepts as part of your L&D strategy.
Understanding durable and perishable skills
What is a durable skill?
Durable skills encompass traits or abilities that can work across all industries and jobs, including skills such as collaboration, adaptability, creativity, taking initiative, strategic communication, critical thinking and problem-solving.
You may recognize these as soft skills — and you’re exactly right. By virtue, all soft skills are durable skills. The terminology shift to “durable skills” is not just semantics. It speaks to one of the strongest values of soft skills: their ability to stay relevant long term.
The topic or context may shift over time, but the need for durable skills is there regardless of industry changes or technological advancements.
You can easily see how flexible durable skills are throughout an organization. For example, whether you’re an individual contributor or part of leadership, in IT or Customer Success, the need for durable skills like collaboration, communication and complex problem-solving stays consistent.
How does a perishable skill differ from a durable skill?
While all soft skills are durable skills, not all hard skills are perishable skills. It’s a bit more nuanced than that. Hard skills usually refer to very specific, often technical skills such as software engineering, data analytics, specialized writing, methodologies like Six Sigma or software proficiency.
So are these hard skills perishable? In some ways yes; in others no. It depends on their lifecycle and the skill’s transferability within a broader skill set.
Overarching hard skills, such as software engineering, require a general knowledge base. They’re not universal like traditional durable or soft skills that bring value to companies across the board, but they’re more consistent than perishable skills and have a longer life cycle. This is an example of a hard skill that’s semi-durable and can be of value across a large part of an individual’s career.
While these semi-durable skills bring a broad base of experience to any assignment, they require specific tools to complete. For instance, an employee might need a hard, perishable skill like knowledge of HTML for web design, AI for specialized writing or Tableau for analytics.
The values of strong design, writing and statistics don’t change over the years, but the production tools do. In a world where technology advances daily, these specific tools can cycle in and out of use. The more quickly they do, the more perishable they are — leaving your employees with skills gaps and difficulty keeping up.
The challenges with perishable and durable skills
The problem isn’t the fact that perishable skills exist. Even with their often short life cycle, perishable skills are just as vital to company health and growth. Businesses rely on these types of skills to continuously evolve and innovate. All the soft skills in the world won’t matter if someone doesn’t have the actual hard skills to do the work.
The problem is that those perishable skills quickly become obsolete and many organizations don’t have the proper employee learning and development strategy in place to keep up with the rate of change.
What role does learning and development play?
Skills gaps arise when there’s a mismatch between the education available and what employees actually need. This problem is widespread, with 87% of companies reporting skills gaps currently.
When coupled with an ultra-competitive job market and a global shortage of skilled workers, there’s a growing need for companies to prioritize developing talent from within, rather than solely relying on hiring to fill job openings. That’s why the role of learning and development is so critical. Without the proper training and education opportunities, employees lack the tools needed to continuously update their skill sets, maintain productivity and advance into new jobs that need filling.
Evolving L&D for durable and perishable skills
Organizations need to adopt a proactive approach to skills development — one that takes into account the nuances and timeline of durable, semi-durable and perishable skills so you can anticipate skill gaps before they hit. This builds a more agile workforce that’s continuously improving and is braced for change (instead of reactive to it).
To make this a reality, take the time to develop a skills taxonomy so you can form a common language for skills within the organization. Additionally, conduct regular skills gap analyses to identify what the greatest skills needs are among your workforce.
Armed with this information, you’re equipped to build out an L&D strategy that’s comprehensive enough to keep pace with durable skills, perishable skills and everything in between.