Why Skills Matrices Are Driving HR Managers Crazy!

I was recently speaking to an HR manager about her challenges mapping and managing skills real-time at the medium-sized organization where she worked. She admitted that it was virtually impossible and extremely awkward to continue doing this manually. And she’s not alone. Many colleagues in her network are struggling with the same problem. Perhaps this explains the current popularity of videos about skills matrices on YouTube.

It’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep a proper tab on employees’ skills, especially within medium- to large-sized organizations utilizing a wide variety of skill sets and spread over multiple sites. We asked whether she’d be willing to share with us the challenges she encounters as an HR manager. What are the dilemmas you face and how do you attempt to resolve them?

Multiple Sites
Her organization is a medium-sized industrial company spread over multiple sites throughout the Netherlands. The human resources department is based at its headquarters where it manages its affairs for the entire company. It’s here that she aims to gain and provide clarity and insight into employees’ skill sets. The department is also responsible for scheduling training courses and workshops to teach new skills or maintain current levels. Many skills directly involve machinery operation and/or workplace safety, which is why responsibility rests on both the HR manager and the HSE manager to keep employees’ skills current and relevant at all times.

Skills Matrices
The company had been successfully managing its employees’ skills using matrices for some time. Such matrices are commonplace in technical companies throughout the manufacturing sector, e.g. the automotive, electrical, mechatronics, polymer and process engineering, and steel industries.

“A skills matrix is a powerful, visual tool to help you manage and monitor staff proficiency levels.”

Often created using a spreadsheet a skills matrix specifies the skills needed to perform a given task or job. It pinpoints both current and required levels for each skill, thereby highlighting any discrepancy between the two, otherwise referred to as the skills gap.
This is one reason why skills matrices are often printed and displayed on the shop floor – they allow line managers to plan more effectively based on his or her team’s operational strengths. They also provide answers to questions such as, “Do I have sufficient resources with the right skills to carry out the work at hand?” and “Do I have the right mix of skills in my team?”.

Skills matrices were being used very effectively at a local level across various departments and sites. However, widespread proliferation of these matrices was causing a major headache for the company’s human resources department:

  1. Lack of centralized control
  2. Susceptibility to errors – local versions individually maintained by different owners, each with his or her own version and/or methodology
  3. Time-consuming update procedures
  4. Poor compatibility with company’s HR software
  5. Lack of real-time insight for internal and external audits
  6. Inability to use data to generate KPIs for management purposes, e.g. drafting training policies, budgeting, and assessing skill mixes across departments and sites

I had two last questions for this company’s HR manager, “What would help you manage these skills matrices more effectively and efficiently?” and “In an ideal world, what would work best for you as an HR manager?”
Without any hesitation whatsoever, she fired off her personal must-haves:

  1. “No local documents. This data needs to be in the cloud. Period. Just like my HR application.”
  2. “Ideally, I’d want a solution that linked directly to my HR software. We manage our employees’ details centrally in our main database and our HR software would then take precedence.”
  3. “Different authorization levels for matrix users. For example, read-only rights for some users and owner rights for others. Using Excel, I’ve currently got zero control.”
  4. “I need to be able to generate employee skill level reports in real time at individual, team, and site levels. As things are right now, this is simply impossible, because we’d first have to gather data from all our sites.”

I must say this was an impressive wish list with which to end our conversation. It made me wonder whether you were experiencing the same or similar issues in your job or within your organization. I’d love to hear about any other insights or solutions in the comments below.

If these issues ring true for you or your organization, why not download our free white paper ‘The Numerous Benefits of Skills Matrices’? We’re certain you’ll find it an interesting read.


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