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Upskilling; connecting values and commerciality at Nationwide


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Digital disruption has resulted in transformational change for many organisations. New skillsets have emerged and others declined, leading to structural change and a realignment of jobs and careers.

Strategic alignment is one of the six dimensions of our Career Strategy and Support model. In this roundtable we explored what this means in practice, by hearing how Nationwide is connecting its purpose and values with strategic workforce planning, skill development and career building.

Mark Jackson, Strategic Workforce Planning Lead at Nationwide Building Society, was our provocateur. Operating in the fast-changing Financial Services market, Mark is at the interface of Nationwide’s future capability needs, sourcing strategy, and talent management. He described the vital role that insights from data analysis play in his work.


Strategic workforce planning has been a somewhat neglected HR discipline in recent years. We began by inviting participants to use a 1-10 rating scale to assess how good their organisation is at understanding the future skills needs of their workforce. The responses ranged from 2-9, with an average of 5.

‘It’s tricky when there are so many unknowns in your external environment’

Explanations of their assessments included:

  • We’re clearer about our leadership skill requirements than our technical functions
  • We’re on a journey from being a job-based to a skills-based organisation
  • We’ve just started to focus on business-wide consistency in our skills strategy
  • Our strategic workforce planning capability has been under-developed
  • We lack a common skills language
  • We think we’re good, but we’re really building things as we go

‘It’s one thing to know what skills you need, but another to attract or build them’


Mark started by telling us that UK-based Nationwide is the largest building society in the world. As a Mutual it’s guided by its social purpose; ‘a commitment to making positive impacts for our members, their communities and the environment’.

Two major changes in Nationwide’s business environment have been a catalyst for their new approach to workforce planning, ways of working and resourcing:

  • The transition to digital communication has led to a major investment in the technical skills needed to work on systems security, data and analytics, and the provision of digital customer services. In common with many organisations, it’s not possible to recruit everybody you need in this area. Their resourcing strategy has instead emphasised capability-building and upskilling.
  • The Covid pandemic required customer-facing individuals to switch from face to face to online support – in the process learning new skills – and member interactions increasing from 500 per week, to 1100 a day. The business had to get much better at moving people around, and this highlighted the need to recognise adjacent skillsets.

‘The pandemic required us to lift and shift core parts of our workforce’

The combined impact of these changes provided the impetus to invest in the strategic workforce planning function and the technology platform needed to support it.

Mark referenced Mercer’s talent practice maturity model to describe the journey Nationwide is on. They are building a future-focused strategy; one that provides more flexible ways of connecting talent to work, and a more personalised career experience with increased opportunities for cross-functional moves. Two key enablers of Nationwide’s approach have been:

  • Introducing an AI-driven Talent Marketplace, in their case Gloat
  • Underpinning this new technology with a consistently applied skills taxonomy

‘We use an external skills taxonomy as our standard’

Mark described the importance of being able to understand and label workforce skills, and then to influence others by demonstrating the value-adding ways that skills data can be used to enhance organisational performance.

He turned to the challenge of engaging employees in the activity of sharing their skills data. Nationwide asks its people to share: what they can do; what they’ve worked on; latent skills they’re not currently using, and those they want to develop. Winning people’s trust is key.

Mark said that transparency about Nationwide’s skills strategy and making available to everyone a clear and relevant skills dashboard is critical. Since the talent marketplace was launched earlier this year, a third of the workforce has logged in providing Nationwide with 45,000 skills data points.

Winning the support and active involvement of leaders is another challenge. Mark holds quarterly review meetings with business leaders. In these he’s able to identify skills risks associated with new organisational design, and facilitate discussions about how to work on these. The data also allows him to demonstrate ‘skills adjacency’; highlighting pools of people who could be moved and developed because they have an existing skill closely related to those needed in the future.

‘The decision about whether to buy, build or borrow sits with the business’

Mark shared this advice:

  • Invest your time and energy working with early adopters who are committed to internal capability-building. He said ‘watering the green shoots’ provides the basis for promoting the benefits of reduced recruitment costs, higher retention and increased engagement to others
  • Deliver a ‘consumer grade’ user experience to employees. In addition, show them what you’re doing, and what they can do with the skills data that’s been collected
  • Go ‘all in’ on the skills framework. Your chosen taxonomy should encompass the role of existing competencies, and must be universally adopted
  • Push back on people who question the skills taxonomy by referencing the value of an external skills framework (they use Lightcast) that identifies emerging skills and updates every two weeks
  • Keep working with leaders who need more support to introduce the talent marketplace to their team members


Nationwide’s approach offered attendees a window into the future of employee resourcing, deployment and career development. It aims to deliver a range of benefits for the organisation focused on improved skill utilisation, productivity and performance.

A talent marketplace-based approach to skills forecasting also has the potential to empower employees. Easy access to information about emerging skills, available roles and development options directly supports career skills like ‘spotting opportunities’ and ‘stretching yourself’. As a result, upskilling is driven by the individual, and not done to them by the organisation.

‘In highly competitive labour markets careers are our big sell’

We invited people to share the ideas they were taking from the roundtable:

  • We have a lot of work to do on the skills taxonomy
  • We need to keep things simple for users, even if it’s complex behind the scenes
  • It’s an exciting journey
  • Understanding latent skills is really useful when resourcing gigs
  • Getting senior leaders on side is key
  • We need to equip HR business partners to be advocates for this work
  • There’s a clear link with the wellbeing conversation in the organisation
  • I’ve just revised my original assessment of our skills forecasting capability!

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