The War Of The Skills Clouds

I’ve been writing about the explosion of Skills Ontologies from Workday, Degreed, EdCast, Gloat, Fuel 50, and others.  Well today Cornerstone, the largest provider of Learning Management Systems, just entered the war through the acquisition of Clustree.

What’s really going on?

It’s pretty simple. In today’s world of work, jobs are changing so quickly that the old-fashioned idea of building a competency model and formal job description is not keeping up. Companies need systems that can continuously identify the skills that drive success, organize and arrange these skills so people can find them, and systems that help individuals and managers develop themselves for the skills of the future.

Consider the topic of data analytics, for example, which was recently featured in Harvard Business Review. Ten years ago a data analyst had to know SQL, ETL (integration technologies), statistics, and tools like Excel. Today they need to know programming languages like R, they need to understand data visualization, and they need to be good at consulting, story-telling, and explaining the actions that come from data findings. (We detail this in the Josh Bersin Academy program on People Analytics.)

In other words, the skills for high performance keep changing.

I spent many years in marketing, where I learned about the four P’s (Product, Price, Place, Promotion), strategic positioning, competitive marketing, and other high-level topics. Today if you don’t understand SEO, CRM, social media advertising, influencer marketing, and new technologies in adtech and customer segmentation you can’t possibly succeed in marketing. And this type of shift is taking place in every other job on the planet.

As I discuss in the article about the Workday Skills Cloud, in the old world we used consultants and HR staff to figure out what these skills were. Then we put them into job descriptions, built assessments, and developed training and certification programs to teach these skills. Today these skills are “emerging” through tools like Burning Glass and EMSI and LinkedIn (who essentially crowdsource new skills by looking at millions of jobs posted every day) and a new breed of internal tools now called “skills clouds.”

What’s really new is this: the new breed of tools, like the ones I’ll mention below, are not “skills repositories” they’re “skills ontology builders.”

In other words, they identify the trending skills in your company by looking at lots of data among your employees. They “infer” skills by looking at job experiences, performance reviews, learning patterns, and the resumes of high performers. So they are, in a sense, the internal “Google Search Engine” for skills within your own company.

The big players in this market are as follows, and I think this is going to be a new “War for Skills Clouds” in the year ahead.

Workday Skills Clouddiscussed in this article, designed to curate all the skills within Workday for large companies.

EdCast – an open skills cloud and ontology-builder that embraces O*Net and a variety of models with more than 5 million content objects and millions of users’ profiles

Degreed – skills assessment engine and search engine analytics that show Degreed customers what other companies are searching for and using for training, recently acquired Adepto to expand into job mobility

Gloat and Fuel 50 – skills inference by looking at internal positions in the company and also using models like IBM’s Talent Frameworks

Eightfold.AI – skills inference, ontology builder, and skills search engine used for recruiting that looks at millions of candidates and leverages their job histories, like the Google for Candidates

LinkedIn – enormous skills cloud of skills tagged by your peers and new skills data from the LinkedIn skills assessments, and hundreds of millions of skills from all the jobs and resumes on LinkedIn

Indeed – crowdsourcing and analyzing skills in job descriptions among millions of new jobs every year

Magpie (by – a search engine optimized for learning that infers skills through a “skills signature” designed to find the best content

Burning Glass and EMSI – data companies that aggregate skills from job boards around the world to give us global skills data and trends in new jobs and new roles being developed every day

Cornerstone – now entering the private skills cloud market through the acquisition of Clustree.  

A few important new stories.

First, CornerstoneOnDemand, which has the largest user base of any learning company, is now going into this market with a vengeance. Clustree is an AI company that can match the 13 million skills Cornerstone has already identified to jobs in multiple languages. And because the company has deep and detailed data on millions of learning offerings, they will be among the first vendors to match skills to content and jobs in an integrated way.

Second, EdCast has built a very powerful skills Ontology-builder. Through their work with Nasscom (the largest IT network in India), the country of France, and other large government networks, they have one of the largest databases of skills information and have an AI-based engine that can bring informal skills models (O*Net, IBM Talent Frameworks, company-developed models) and map them to global skills.

Third, we can’t count out LinkedIn. While LinkedIn’s skills model today is based on tags and recommendations, under the covers LinkedIn (and Microsoft) have real-time data on the jobs of the future, because every time you add a job to LinkedIn the company sees what skills you’re looking for. And the company’s new skills assessments make it even more powerful.

A New War for Learning Tech

In many ways, this is a new front on the multi-billion dollar war for learning and HR technology. The Skills Cloud is the new core of a human capital system, because it tells you how to hire, it tells employees what they need to learn, it tells managers how to coach and improve performance, and it tells the company where the organization is strong, weak, or falling behind.

Think about a merger or acquisition. If you could match your company’s Skills Cloud to the target company, you could immediately see the places of value add. When you do a reorganization you could see how much reskilling is needed. And as you look for new leaders and high performers, you could see what skills they have and then point others to this model to help the company grow.

This is a fascinating and hugely important trend in business, technology and HR.

Stay tuned for more. I will keep you up to speed on this whole market and we will be launching a whole program on Jobs and Careers in the Future of Work in the Josh Bersin Academy in a few months.