State of Talent and Learning in 2021

Interview Degreed Cover Picture

"Over the past few months, learning itself had to shift to support people suddenly working remotely", Dan Tesnjak, VP EMEA at Degreed, an upskilling platform that connects learning to opportunities.


Learn Assembly Papers recently published our 4th issue on new technologies, skills and talent for the months and year to come. In this context, we virtually met with Dan Tesnjak, VP EMEA at Degreed. This upskilling platform integrates everything people use to learn and build their careers and matches everyone to growth opportunities that fit their unique skills, roles and goals. In this interview, Dan shares with us his vision of talent and learning in the months and years to come.

What’s your vision of the learning and skill industry for the year to come?

There have been many changes over the past few months. Learning itself had to shift to support people suddenly working remotely. Many Degreed clients, for example, quickly set-up learning pathways on effective remote working, designing a home office, working in a distributed team, and mental health and resilience.

Learning is also coming to the forefront as a way for organizations to make the most of their existing talent, navigating change, and building agility and responsiveness into the workforce. Currently, 40% of European workers feel that their skills are underutilized. Learning has a critical role to play in this.

There will also be a shift towards more project, skill, and gig-based work instead of job and role-based. This ties closely with improving skills utilization and making the most of existing talent. Indeed, 40% of CHROs plan to reassign workers to other parts of their organization to meet critical business needs.

"The crisis has highlighted the need for greater agility and responsiveness in the workforce."

Of course, the pressure on HR leaders to upskill their workforces will continue, if not accelerate, due to the increase of digital transformation that occurred throughout the pandemic. Before COVID-19, 60% of HR leaders reported pressure from their CEO to ensure employees had the skills needed for the future – a number that has now likely increased. 

A final trend that may emerge is the link between upskilling and self-care. A recent Degreed report, the State of Skills, found that a lack of skills hinders workers’ productivity and has a knock-on impact on their levels of stress at work. Nearly half of French workers (49%) feel that work gets more stressful when they don’t feel confident in their skills. By upskilling their workforces, employers won’t just ensure their organization has the skills it needs to succeed in the future, but also protect their workforce’s mental health.

What are the current and future needs of companies and their employees to survive the global crisis?

The crisis has highlighted the need for greater agility and responsiveness in the workforce. Traditional ways of hiring, training, and retaining talent simply won’t work in the future. They are too slow and cannot quickly pivot to changing markets, business needs, or sudden events. 84% of business leaders view workforce agility are extremely important to the future success of their organization.

However, to make a workforce more agile, you also need greater skills visibility. The number one impediment to workforce transformation is the inability to identify needed skills in the organization.

"The crisis has emphasized the need for greater resilience and highlighted to business leaders how talent underpins this."

Naturally, this means upskilling will continue to be vital in the coming year. However, despite the numerous benefits of upskilling (greater agility, building business-critical skills, and higher employee engagement), many organizations have cut upskilling opportunities in 2020. 39% of employees say that their employers have reduced upskilling opportunities compared to pre-COVID levels according to Degreed’s State of Skills.

What are the necessary skills for learning companies (old & new) to develop in order to face the near future?

Degreed’s State of Skills report found that technology and human skills will be vital in the coming months across all industries and roles. Everyone will need a certain amount of digital literacy, as well as creative and social skills to facilitate effective teamwork and innovation. In HR specifically, the top 10 skills needed in 2021 according to the State of Skills report are:

  1. Advanced IT and programming
  2. Leadership and managing others
  3. Entrepreneurship and initiative-taking
  4. Advanced communication and negotiation
  5. Project management
  6. Teaching and training others
  7. Creativity
  8. Scientific research and development
  9. Advanced data analysis and mathematics
  10. Basic digital software skills

Some companies have been quite successful at facing the crisis while others have encountered more difficulties. What lessons should we learn from these “defeats” and “victories”?

The crisis has emphasized the need for greater resilience and highlighted to business leaders how talent underpins this. As we move into the recovery phases of the crisis and continue to navigate uncertainty, talent will once again prove critical to success. Equipping workers with the right skills will be essential, and HR leaders would do well to build more effective internal mobility processes to redeploy workers into projects and roles based on their skills, interests, career goals, and business needs.

How has Degreed faced the current situation? What technologies, tools, and resources have you implemented?

Degreed was fortunate in that many processes were already set-up for a remote-first work environment. Therefore, our operations could quickly accommodate the global lockdown and remote-work shift.

However, there were other challenges that arose because of the crisis – working parents suddenly having to homeschool, the fear of COVID-19 and loved ones becoming ill, and the numerous other stresses of the past few months. The Degreed leadership team recognized that this is a year like no other and that our people needed greater emotional support. Greater emphasis was placed on our team’s holistic needs and wellbeing, making sure people had time to recharge (with company-wide days off implemented), they could take time to care for loved ones, managers carried out regular mental health check-ins, and we even created a kids’ activity book to give working parents a much-needed break.

What’s your main focus for 2021? What are you betting on?

Degreed will continue to build on the growth achieved during 2020. In October 2020, we launched a new product, Degreed Career Mobility, to help organizations mobilize their workforces based on a worker’s skills and aspirations, and the business’ needs. 2021 will see Degreed grow both its Learning Platform and Career Mobility globally. We will also add another product to oursuite to help leaders analyze their workforce’s skills and skill gaps.

Learn Assembly est une learning compagnie dont la mission est d’aider les entreprises à développer l’employabilité de leurs salariés, de manière saine et durable. Architecte et bâtisseur d’expériences apprenantes, nous designons des solutions innovantes de learning pour plus de 200 clients. Learn Assembly c’est aussi Learning Boost, la première solution d’auto-positionnement entièrement personnalisable.

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