Prepare for the Workforce of the Future, Start Skill Stacking Employees Today

Discover how to take advantage of a shifting workforce utilizing the skill stack method.

May 4, 2022

Employees are leaving positions because they don’t feel like they have opportunities to learn and grow. They’d rather take a chance on a new job than keep punching in for a company they feel doesn’t appreciate them.

Adding to the bad news, recent data from the National Student Clearinghouse Research Center reveals that college enrollment has declined 6.6% (more than one million students) since the fall of 2019. While educational institutions scramble to show their value, business leaders have a massive opportunity to take advantage of this shifting workforce with skill stacking.

Skill Stack - What the Heck Is It?

Vera Wang was a journalist and figure skater before becoming one of the world’s premier fashion designers. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson was a WWF performer before crossing over to movies and television. Ava DuVernay worked in public relations before becoming a renowned filmmaker. It’s safe to say these powerhouses didn’t learn each new skill sequentially – instead, they were built upon each other.

Ava DuVernay tweet about skill stacking

This is what we call skill stacking – strategically building and layering skills to work together to do cool, unique, and valuable things. A skill stack may start with a root skill, such as writing, and branch out to related skills like content marketing, social media management, or graphic design. An even more advanced skill stack includes multiple roots, each with its own associated proficiencies. All of the entrepreneurs listed above possess multiple root skills.  

Skill Stack: I vs. T. vs. M

To better depict what we mean, let’s look at what a skill stack is and isn’t represented by alphabetical metaphors. Take a look at the graphic below:

ITM chart

I Shape: I-shaped employees are specialists. Specialist roles were hot pre-automation and advanced technology. I-shaped employees, unfortunately, have limited career flexibility, and these roles are almost all but obsolete.

T Shape: T-shaped employees are experts in one area but have knowledge in others, either in related or unrelated fields. These are the employees that can fill in gaps when necessary.

M Shape: M-shaped employees are the gold standard. They are experts in multiple specialties and have proficiency in other areas. They are agile, valuable workers with cross-functional knowledge.  

Needless to say, employees don’t magically become m-shaped on their own. Learning and developing new root skills requires a fusion of experience in a learning environment and on-the-job training. Do you see where we’re going with this?

Skill Stack: Enter Apprenticeships

College curriculum alone cannot skill stack an employee. Why? Unless the student is enrolled in multiple degree programs at once, their learning will be characteristically linear. Of course, some employees opt to learn new skills in their own free time. But what if there was a way to incentivize them to learn new skills tailored to your organization’s needs?

It’s the build-your-own unicorn concept we’ve mentioned before. Instead of searching endlessly for the perfect applicant, identify the skills needed for an open position and the internal candidate who is eager to learn them. With skill stacking, you can take an I-shaped employee to a T-shaped employee, or even a T-shaped employee to an M-shaped employee. 

build your own unicorn by building internal talent

Not only will you save money in the long run by eliminating a lengthy recruiting process, but you’ll send a message to employees that you’re invested in their growth. This is especially significant for entry-level employees who may have decided to skip college but are hungry for learning opportunities that lead to tangible career advancement. 

The benefit to employees is the significant opportunity to transform their career progression from a lengthy, time-consuming process with excessive red tape and risk down into a much shorter, more reasonable time period without requiring expensive degrees or much risk at all. Talk about a powerful recruiting tool!

Stack Skills with Apprentix

So you’ve identified the skills you want your employees to build. What’s next? If you head over to Apprentix, you’ll see options for creating custom apprenticeship programs. While you have the ability to start from scratch, we’ve entered more than 50,000 jobs into our system to help you get started. All of these apprenticeships can be edited for your exact needs. Check out our step-by-step guide to build your apprenticeship here.

Employers who seize the moment of an evolving workforce will not just reap benefits now but will prepare themselves for the workforce of the future. While it’s too soon to tell whether college enrollment will continue to trend downward, there is mounting evidence that degree inflation is causing tremendous damage to the economy. Skill-stacking employees through apprenticeships is a remarkably uncomplicated solution that works not just for businesses but for the greater good.

Like the article? Spread the word