Research carried out as part of Skillnet Ireland’s Industry Insights series highlights how global talent shortages are forcing HR policies to lean towards skills first adoption. 

The Skills-First: An emerging approach to managing human resources for the new world of work report was commissioned by L&D Skillnet in collaboration with Skillnet Ireland and Learning & Development Institute (L&DI) with research carried out by Professor David Collings and Dr John McMackin.

Currently three in four EU companies have difficulty in sourcing workers with the skills the organisation needs, which is leading to prolonged and chronic shortages of the skills required to deliver on the organisation’s strategic objectives.

Crucially, structural labour market changes combined with demographic changes mean that these challenges are likely to grow in the future.

Data from Professor David Collings and Dr John McMackin’s recent research on skills in the workplace suggests that most organisations are poorly prepared for bridging the skills-needs gap. Their findings suggest that there is a need to shift the focus of HR from jobs to skills, or Skills-First HR. Transitioning to Skills-First HR is not without challenge and will require some reorientation of HR teams.

The researchers have developed a roadmap for the implementation of Skills-First HR based on four building blocks identified in their research. These are skills taxonomies, skills audits, demand analysis and streamlining of job architectures.

The skills landscape is changing quickly, and the half-life of skills continues to fall. This means that building employee skills and capabilities should be the number one priority for HR leaders.


Sinead Heneghan, CEO of L&DI, said: “This research offers valuable insights into how HR departments can proactively address the skills gap and equip their organisations with the necessary tools for success in the future by adopting a ‘Skills First’ approach to managing human resources and future proofing learning and development.

“This research finds that high performing organisations are leading the way in building skills databases and leveraging that information to deploy internal talent and opportunity marketplaces.”

Tracey Donnery, Director of Policy & Communications, Skillnet Ireland, said: “Skillnet Ireland is pleased to launch this research from L&DI Skillnet in partnership with DCU Business School and Trinity Business School. This research examines the rapidly changing future skills needs of organisations and offers key industry insights into the emerging area of skills-first human resources. The report’s findings provide a practical roadmap for business leaders and HR professionals to effectively map current employee skills profiles to emerging skill demands, to support the development of a world class talent pool for business leaders across all sectors in Ireland.”

Researchers Professor David Collings and Dr John McMackin said: “2023 has been designated European Year of Skills by the EU Commission, which reflects the challenges organisations now face in meeting current skills needs and future challenges in meeting emerging skills needs. Our research shows that many organisations are redesigning their people management processes to respond more dynamically to and plan for skills demand, which in turn will enable organisations to adapt to changes in their environment with greater agility. We label these responses skills-first HR and our report outlines the key enablers of these approaches well as identifying the steps an organisation should follow in moving towards skill-first HR”.


Joe Finegan (085 1481447 –

L&DI Communications Manager