Is talent hiding in plain sight?

Today’s CEOs face a daunting dilemma: too many open jobs, and not enough of the right workers to fill them. In this episode, hosts Lizzie and Ayesha are joined by LinkedIn VP Aneesh Raman and PwC’s Global Workforce Leader, Peter Brown, who suggest an innovative solution to workforce gaps: skills-first hiring. By focusing on skills in addition to employment history and academic credentials, Aneesh and Peter reveal a game-changing approach for businesses of all sizes to identify and utilize their untapped talent—plus practical starting points for implementation.

Aneesh Raman: Skills is really hard. It’s really early. It’s really messy. But it is better than any other way to judge potential and applicants if you’re trying to build a business that will succeed with agility in the age of AI.

Pete Brown: Consistently, CEOs tell us that the skills that are in most demand are those innately human skills: problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, networking, leadership. They’re really hard to train, and they’re really hard to find.

Aneesh: I would encourage everyone not to see skills as the change that they have to react to, but skills as the tool with which they can react to all these changes that are playing out right now.

Ayesha Hazarika: From PwC’s management publication, strategy and business, this is Take on Tomorrow, the podcast that brings together experts from around the globe to figure out what business could and should be doing to tackle some of the biggest issues facing the world. I’m Ayesha Hazarika, a broadcaster and writer in London…

Lizzie O’Leary: …and I’m Lizzie O’Leary, a podcaster and journalist in New York. Today, we’re talking all about the workforce, and in particular: what workers need to be able to do to succeed in the future.

Ayesha: Can traditional ways of hiring find the right workers to get the job done? Or are businesses missing out on talent that is out there and leaving workers behind in the process? What kind of change is needed to find the right talent?

Lizzie: To find out more, we’ll be talking to Aneesh Raman, LinkedIn vice president and a powerful advocate for skills-based hiring. He sees the benefits for workforce and business. But first, we’re joined by Pete Brown, PwC’s Global Workforce Leader. Pete, welcome back to the show. It’s great to have you.

Pete: Thank you for inviting me.

Ayesha: Now, Pete, let’s start by digging into what your clients are telling you. What are CEOs’ top concerns right now when it comes to their workforce?

Pete: Well, we survey CEOs every year in the PwC CEO Survey. Some 40% of CEOs are saying that, actually, unless they transform, they will not be economically viable in ten years’ time. So I think focus on getting the right talent, the right skilled people into an organization, is key. Because at the end of the day, organizations undergoing transformation require a motivated, empowered workforce to deliver against that strategy. And right now, we know that over half of CEOs state that finding that talent and that skilled workforce is in their top three priorities.

Lizzie: It’s been such a turbulent few years. We’ve had the covid-19 pandemic. The economy is incredibly uncertain at the moment. What would you say are the biggest concerns facing the workforce right now?

Pete: Now it goes without saying, and it’s very consistent that workers want fair pay. But there’s a whole number of other things that’s on their minds. They want to work for an organization that gives them meaningful work, an organization that’s investing in their skilling, not just as somebody in an organization, but actually as a human being in society, such that they remain relevant in the world of work. They want leaders that listen to their point of view, embrace their ideas. They want to work for an organization that has a clear purpose beyond just generating a financial return, that’s inclusive and diverse. And I think that’s a real challenge for employers, because they’ve got to get all those things right. Because if they don’t, then workers will look to somewhere where those variables, if you like, are addressed.

Lizzie: Pete, we’ll come back to you to explore that in more detail. But first, Ayesha, you interviewed Aneesh Raman. He’s VP at LinkedIn.

Ayesha: Yeah. Aneesh is also head of an initiative at LinkedIn called the Opportunity Project, which has some really ambitious aims. But a key strategy within that is to develop and enable skills-based hiring. Here’s how he described their approach.

Aneesh: The vision of LinkedIn is to create economic opportunity for every member of the global workforce—every member, not some, every. So to do that, we think a lot about how to create more dynamism, more transparency, more equity in the system around economic opportunity, which is the labor market. To me, the labor market has always been broken, if you judge it by how effectively it has matched talent and opportunity. For most of human history, people inherited work from their parents—what your parents did you did, almost like the genes that determined your height. That’s not efficient. That’s not equal. Only for a couple of hundred years, we’ve had industrial revolutions that have created all these new ways of work. And over time, we’ve assigned higher education the task of creating mobility, so that no matter where you started in life, through the right education, you could access all of these new opportunities. That model is facing a lot of challenges, not least of which is the speed with which work is changing because of technological advances and the limits that places on curriculum development to deliver curriculum that leads to employable skills. In some countries, you also have this added pressure of the cost of getting a degree, and whether that cost is gonna pan out in terms of the earnings you’ll get with that degree. So that’s where skills-based hiring comes in. I would think about skills-based hiring as transparency. What is a transparent way for me to know if I have the skills that this employer needs or for the employer to know if I have the skills that this job needs?

Ayesha: How do you think both employers and employees are reacting to this new idea of a skills-based approach?

Aneesh: Employees are really the driving force of change in two ways. One, members on LinkedIn are starting to define themselves by their skills. Because it gives them more agency and more control over their story itself. So we’re seeing hundreds of millions of skills added, year over year, on LinkedIn on members’ profiles, where they are contextualizing skills. They’re not just saying, “I’m good at x or y.” They’re saying, “In this job, these are the skills that I used, and these are the deliverables that came about as a result.” You also have gen Z rising into the global labor market—I think a third of the labor market by end of the decade. And they are looking not just for stability and pay and pensions; they’re looking more for flexibility and the ability to move across jobs and functions. That is only possible with a skills-first mindset. So between those two sort of driving forces, employers are recognizing: this is something that we’ve gotta do to meet employees where they’re at. And really now the question is, Well, how do I implement this? A lot of employers are realizing there are two choices: do the hard work now for it to be easy later, or stick with the easy ways now and it’s gonna get hard later. Skills is really hard. It’s really early. It’s really messy. But it is better than any other way to judge potential and applicants if you’re trying to build a business that will succeed with agility in the age of AI.

Ayesha: Yeah. And we know that talent is everywhere, but opportunity is not.

Aneesh: And I think the key thing there is when you use degrees as a filter, which again, degrees have value. They signal certain skills. But that is a fixed number. As we know, both because of the cost and issues around access, in the US, communities of color, the majority do not have a degree for all sorts of reasons. And so, part of that recognition—that talent is everywhere and opportunity is not—is that the ways that we have been mining for talent have self-selected out large, if not, majorities of communities from accessing opportunity.

Ayesha: Now, Aneesh, looking back on your own really illustrious career, you know, you have studied government at Harvard; you’ve moved in these incredible circles. You’ve worked, you know, for Barack Obama at the White House; you’ve been in the upper echelons of CNN. Many people would kind of think, you know, having Harvard on your resume like you do means you don’t have to worry about specific skills. It’s your calling card. What makes you so passionate about this skills-first approach and wanting to spread it out to people?

Aneesh: As you mentioned, I do have these sort of good, brand, interesting experiences on my resume. So as I got further and further in my career, I could always get a call with someone as I was looking for new opportunities, because they were, like, “This is interesting.” But over time, I grew more and more insecure about how I would explain all of those experiences in a clear and concise way, in terms of what value I could bring to an organization. And this is where “skills first” reset everything. Now what I say about who I am is: I’m someone who, across my entire career, has developed a core skill around explanatory storytelling. That was true when I was a reporter, when I was a speechwriter, in all my growth roles, in all my campaign roles. I’ve added to that over time this skill set around coalition building, taking that story and being able to engage others so that they’re spreading that story ultimately to change beliefs and behaviors at scale. And in the past decade, I have assigned that skill set an issue, an area of expertise, which is economic opportunity. So now it all makes sense. And it’s all real easy for me to explain and for others to get.

Ayesha: Let’s move on to looking at employers in the skills-first approach. Can you have both a skills-based approach as well as considering someone’s degree, past job titles, et cetera?

Aneesh: I think you can and you must. It isn’t degree versus skills. What employers need is a way to have those skills credentialed. Work experience is a way; certificates that people are getting for different courses they’re taking is a way. And then it’ll depend on the employer, both in terms of sector and size, to weight the credentials and to weight what they think is the more efficient signal of skills. And in some cases, it’ll be degrees. In some cases, it’ll be certificates. In some cases, it’ll be work experience—apprenticeships is an example. And skills lives underneath credentials. And in the credential level, degrees are the most established. But the push for employers is: don’t let them be the only gateway.

Ayesha: When it comes to looking at this from from the other end with workers, what kind of workers, what kind of human beings will benefit from this new approach?

Aneesh: Everyone who in this moment of just persistent, relentless, upending change wants to feel more control over their life—they will benefit from this. Because they will not be defined by other things. They will be defined on their terms by the skills they have. Especially as we enter the age of AI and the importance of people skills rising—everyone who is a person has people skills to build from. One level outside of that, it goes back to kind of the history of work. And I think it will really benefit communities who have been historically marginalized, because again, there are so many ways to think about skills and to credential skills. I’ll give you one example. On LinkedIn, we have taken dyslexia and turned it into a skill. It is literally a skill that hirers can filter for, because we have told the story of dyslexics as one where they have these unique skills and traits that are incredibly valuable in certain roles.

Ayesha: Now, some smaller business leaders may be listening to our conversation and thinking, This all sounds great, but it sounds like something for big corporations, big organizations with specific dedicated HR departments, HR budgets. Can this approach apply across all sizes of businesses?

Aneesh: What’s interesting is I think it is easiest to get going the smaller you are. A, you have tremendous urgency to hire well. When I was at a startup, the amount of attention and diligence we did on hiring was extreme, because the smaller you are, the more one employee can affect where you go. And then a lot of of what companies need to do is easier to do at smaller scale. You’ve gotta make this a C-suite priority, a leadership priority. You’ve gotta start somewhere. Like, you’ve just gotta zero in on one department, on one practice, and just begin thinking differently about how you hire, how you train. So it’s actually the bigger companies where this is hardest, because they are now having to think about changing beliefs and behaviors at scale, at once.

Ayesha: And when you look across different sectors or different countries, can you identify and give us some sort of suggestions [for] who do you think is gonna really take advantage of this in the future?

Aneesh: India is an example of a country that is fully incentivized to do this, because India is home now to the world’s biggest population. It’s home now to the world’s biggest gen Z population. It’s now the fifth-largest economy in the world and wants to keep rising. But in order to keep rising, it needs to build inclusive growth. If India doesn’t have inclusive growth, it will likely fall back down. So then, what that does is it creates a lot of energy around public–private partnerships, governments and employers talking to each other, really getting specific about: what are you hiring for, what skills do you need? How do we make sure that people have access to education that will get them those skills? Skills is an everyday conversation there, because if you remember, too, in India, when that outsourcing boom happened, no colleges were teaching customer support. So employers had to get out there and create curriculum to fill those jobs that were suddenly appearing in India. So there is a history, too, of employer-as-educator, an employer working with state governments and city governments to build pipelines into employment. It’s happening in, you know, Brazil and all the developing countries, the countries that are looking to rise. This is becoming more critical to how they do that. And then I think that you’re seeing movement in countries like the US, as well.

Ayesha: And is there any danger of this creating a two-tier system where for some jobs, it’s a skills-first approach? And for other jobs, perhaps more senior jobs, the sort of strategic-thinking, C-suite–level jobs, they’ll still rely on the old way of doing things and that there will still be this inequality, but the “skills first” will just exist in a sort of separate space?

Aneesh: Everything about all of this right now comes to intent—intent at a systems-building level. Are we all thinking about this with a view towards reducing inequities in the labor market and with a focus on not exacerbating inequities? What’s interesting about AI is that it is not what automation was seen as, which is something that was coming explicitly for first-line workers, entry-level work, something that could really exacerbate inequity. It’s going to hit all facets of work. And I was just in India at a conference where we talked about the potential for AI to actually take low-wage work, which we often incorrectly describe as low-skill work, and create an environment where suddenly we’re able to better appreciate the high skills required for that work and for low-wage workers to be able to be more compensated and more valued for the work they do. The home healthcare work in the US is a good example of a high-skill job that is often low-wage. But in a world of work where people-to-people skills, people-to-people engagement, healthcare, anchoring on that matters more, that math can start to change for employers. So I can see, structurally, the opportunities with AI to democratize access to economic opportunity, but it all will be decided now by the intent that we bring. I really think this is sort of a deciding decade as we look out at the next century, because this is when the foundations get built. And once they’re sort of built and somewhat locked, they ripple out in ways that are harder to adjust over time.

Ayesha: Is there an anxiety, particularly amongst older workers about this new focus on skills, because they might feel that their wisdom, their experience, the fact they’ve been immersed in a particular industry or organization for a lot of time should be their calling card? They might feel quite anxious about not having really up-to-date skills. How does shiny new skills versus wisdom, experience, how does that sort of fit together?

Aneesh: Look, there’s anxiety for anyone any time change happens. Change leads to stress. But to me, skills isn’t the change. Skills is an answer to a world that is changing around us because of technological change, because of worker-expectation change, coming out of the pandemic. So to me, skills is the thing that decreases stress against the changes that are causing a lot of stress for people that are external. Because skills you can control. I would encourage everyone not to see skills as the change that they have to react to, but skills as the tool with which they can react to all these changes that are playing out right now.

Ayesha: Fast-forward into the future. Where do you think the balance will fall?

Aneesh: If you look back as far as you can, and look forward as far as feels plausible, you could see an arc of physical abilities that shift to cognitive abilities that shift to social abilities, and you can hope that that shift to social abilities has all sorts of good outcomes for us, societally, in terms of humanity coming more into our day-to-day.

Ayesha: Well, Aneesh, thank you so much for your time. What a fascinating conversation we’ve had. Thank you so much for joining us on Take on Tomorrow.

Aneesh: Thanks for having me.

Lizzie: We’re here once again with Pete Brown. Pete, there is so much to unpack there.

Ayesha: If business leaders want to try this, what are some of the practical ways they can enact a skills-first approach?

Pete: I think the first thing I’d start with is the culture of an organization. It goes without saying that for such a large change, it requires, you know, sponsorship at the highest level and commitment and demonstration of that from the board level. But I think there are a few, you know, sort of practical things that organizations can do. The first is around assessing the skills landscape and creating a strategic workforce plan, identifying the skills you need, but also then analyzing the skills you’ve got and working out the gaps. And how do you fill those gaps? Do you fill that by upskilling people within your own organization? Do you hire in gig workers? Do you hire in permanent workers? Where do you find that talent? And I think that’s where technology really comes in to help in terms of identifying those kind of locations.

Lizzie: When business leaders are thinking about a skills-first approach, is this something they think about when hiring or can this be done with employees who are already in the organization?

Pete: We actually did a study in conjunction with the World Economic Forum. And in that, we actually estimate that by looking at the people you have within your organization, breaking down the skills they have, and you release that into the workforce, there’s probably the equivalent of a hundred million workers’ worth of effort that you’re able to release, which is huge. And so I think, yes, both markets, the external market and the internal market, but I’d really focus us on the internal market first, because there’s so much untapped and willing potential there.

Lizzie: And what do you see as being the biggest barriers to this style of approach being adopted more widely?

Pete: I think, firstly, the cultural shift that’s required, you know, to foster an organizational environment where skills are trusted and recognized, replacing traditional biases that have always prioritized formal qualifications, if you like. I think secondly, in terms of, you know, assuming you have some form of standardized skill taxonomy, how do you verify those skills? And thirdly, I think, you know, developing that skills taxonomy, which maps to specific roles, that’s something that’s actually quite complex and hard to do, particularly in larger enterprises.

Ayesha: When it comes to employees tweaking their resumes to make it a bit more skills-first, do you have any tips for people? Any advice for people?

Pete: Challenge yourself. Break down some of the things you’ve been doing at work. Work out the skills you’ve been using, and describe those in context. I think that’s so much more useful actually for prospective employers, when they see the context in which those skills have been used and demonstrated—and the results. I think also embrace every and any opportunity to develop new skills, not just sort of classical technology, technical kind of skills, but actually people skills, human skills. Consistently, CEOs tell us that the skills that are in most demand are those innately human skills: problem solving, critical thinking, collaboration, networking, leadership. They’re really hard to train, and they’re really hard to find.

Lizzie: And Pete, you have talked a lot about the benefits of unlocking the talent that you already have in-house that you didn’t know was there. How do bosses tap into that internal talent pool?

Pete: First, take a data-led approach. So, A, look at the data you already have. And many organizations have lots of data about their employees. Often, they don’t access it; they don’t use it. Secondly, ask your employees: make it easy for them to declare the skills they have, to share those. I think, also, create opportunities for people to move around the organization, and create that kind of empowered workforce, that environment where you spent a lot of money hiring talented people. Empower them.

Ayesha: And final question to you, Pete, what we’ve been discussing here today about this new skill-based approach. Is this something that lends itself to bigger organizations with big HR departments? How does this approach work for maybe smaller businesses?

Pete: Larger organizations, particularly some of the traditional ones, often they get in their own way because of the processes, the approvals. It can be quite clunky, in some examples. That said, I think the advantages the large, larger organizations have is back to that point around skills in front of your nose that you perhaps don’t realize are there. You have a larger population of workers, you have more skills there. Your ability then to identify those skills and move those into the point of need is easier than perhaps in a smaller organization.

Ayesha: Well, Pete, it’s been such a pleasure having you back on the podcast. Thank you for your time and for all your insight.

Pete: Thank you very much.

Lizzie: I found this so interesting, Ayesha, because, to be honest, I had not really thought about skills-based hiring and “skills first.” I, I think, grew up in a very linear way of thinking about professional development. And just the ideas both of, you know, leading with your skills and the way Aneesh described thinking about sort of one’s career over a time span, but then also developing in-house talent was really interesting to me. I think the sort of recognizing people for what they can do, even if they’re not already doing it, is fascinating.

Ayesha: Yeah. I totally agree. I mean, I think we’re so hardwired to think of good quality people being what school you went to or what qualifications. We’re kind of—our brains are trained to to think about a person if they’re good on paper, literally. But, actually, listening to Aneesh and Pete, this is about allowing people to tell the stories of what they could actually do for your company in a slightly different way. And I think this could be really exciting. I think it could unlock a lot of opportunities for women, for people from different backgrounds, that haven’t done that traditional route of education. I think it’s gonna be really interesting to see where this goes.

That’s it for this episode. Join us next week, when we’ll be asking: as business and society get caught up in the excitement of rapidly evolving AI technology, is enough being done to protect privacy? And what does business need to know as it navigates this new landscape?

Guest: The benefits of these technologies are going to be so overwhelming, their disruptive impact on so many aspects of people’s lives is gonna be so significant. We’re not going to stop the technology; forward progress is gonna continue. We’re going to need to approach it with humility.

Lizzie: Take on Tomorrow is brought to you by PwC’s strategy and business. PwC refers to the PwC network and/or one or more of its member firms, each of which is a separate legal entity. 

Back to top


Lizzie O'Leary

Lizzie O’Leary
Podcaster and journalist

Ayesha Hazarika

Ayesha Hazarika
Broadcaster and writer


Aneesh Raman Vice President, Head of the Opportunity Project, LinkedIn

Aneesh Raman
Vice President, Head of the Opportunity Project, LinkedIn

Peter Brown Global Workforce Leader, Partner, PwC UK

Peter Brown
Global Workforce Leader, Partner, PwC UK 

Explore further

Playback of this video is not currently available


How CHROs can lead on transformation

Three PwC workforce experts outline how chief human resources officers can harness the untapped power of their employees in the race to transform.

Watch now

PwC’s Global Workforce Hopes and Fears Survey

Our survey of 54,000 workers across 46 countries reveals key trends and insights that are shaping the future of work.

 Read more

Uniting a divided workforce

The latest issue of s+b explores how leaders and employees can scale new heights, together.

Check it out­

All episodes in the series

Required fields are marked with an asterisk(*)

By submitting your email address, you acknowledge that you have read the Privacy Statement and that you consent to our processing data in accordance with the Privacy Statement (including international transfers). If you change your mind at any time about wishing to receive the information from us, you can send us an email message using the Contact Us page.

Contact us

Matthew Wetmore

Matthew Wetmore

Global Industries & Sectors Leader and National Managing Partner, Clients & Markets, PwC Canada

Tel: +1 403 509 7483

Peter Brown

Peter Brown

Global Workforce Leader, Partner, PwC United Kingdom

Tel: +44 (0)7789 003712