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At Workday Rising, skills ontology feature for customers unveiled

Workday is creating a universal skills ontology, a feature made available in its most recent platform version update. Users opt in to share data for a 'skills cloud.'

People define their skill sets in different ways, and this dilemma makes it difficult for firms to sort, search...

and track employee abilities. Organizations that don't understand the skills of their employees may not know how prepared they are to compete in the marketplace. At its Workday Rising conference earlier this month, Workday detailed a new tool to create universal definitions for skills.

Workday plans to create a skills ontology for its customers. The underlying technology, a machine learning platform, was included in its just-released Workday 31 platform. This system attempts to harmonize and organize skills.

From Workday's perspective, a skills ontology is not just a nice-to-have feature; rather, its users need to have common skill definitions for workforce modeling, the company said. Workday is adding the capability to its platform as a result of its acquisition of Adaptive Insights, a financial modeling platform. This modeling is being extended to workforce data.

These skills definitions are needed, according to Workday Rising attendee Paul Foley, HRIS director at Babson College in Wellesley, Mass.

For instance, Foley said some people may list "Microsoft Word" as a skill on a resume, while others write "MS Word" or just "Word." These variations are repeated in skill after skill, he said. 

"Having a common dictionary that everyone is sharing gives us more standardization," Foley said. The capability can be used for recruiting and developing talent internally, and it will make it easier to search and track people, he said.

Skills analysis is a bundled HCM feature

Having a common dictionary that everyone is sharing gives us more standardization.
Paul FoleyHRIS director, Babson College

Although this capability is bundled in its human capital management (HCM) platform, Workday Rising attendees were told they must opt in to use the feature, because they will be sharing the data in a skills cloud.

The machine learning system underneath the skills ontology will make recommendations to users. For instance, a recruiter listing a skill in a job ad may be prompted to use a different term that more accurately reflects the desired proficiency.

Workday's extension of financial modeling to the workforce is one of the reasons why the firm is describing this capability as "foundational." Users who consult the modeling tool to plan a new product line, for instance, will also need to know what skills may be needed. It will tie this data in with budgeting.

Skills measure workforce capability

Understanding skills is increasingly important because of shifts in workforce management, said Cristina Goldt, vice president of HCM products at Workday, based in Pleasanton, Calif.

Skills have "become the currency in terms of how we evaluate people," more so than job titles or experience, Goldt said. But skills data is complex and chaotic, which makes it difficult for organizations to understand the skills that their people have or what they may need, she said.

However, some Workday users may not want to share skills information for analysis.

"Certain organizations have skills that they don't want to share, because they consider those their competitive advantage," Goldt said.

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