Taxonomies for Human Resources

HR Technology conference opening

I just attended the HR Technology Conference this week, my first time at an industry or functional specialty conference, so it was interesting to learn how taxonomies could be positioned within this specialized sector. I usually speak or write about taxonomies as useful in general knowledge and information management, with the only specialization discussed in ecommerce. Human resources technology is a broad category, which includes software for such functions as benefits, compensation, engagement and recognition, learning management, onboarding, payroll, recruitment, screening, time and attendance, wellness, etc. Taxonomies are not particularly relevant for most of these areas, but are for some, such as talent management systems, job boards, and intranets. Performance management and training management may also benefit from taxonomies. 

In the conference opening keynote “HR Technology Reinvented: The Big Shift Towards Work Tech” presented by Josh Bersin, I was pleased to hear that this HR technology industry analyst had as #3 among his industry trends: “Skills taxonomies are the next big thing,” and he had a slide illustrating how a “taxonomy is more complex than you think.” Reasons Bersin gave for the complexity: a skill is not well defined, skills differ even in the same industry, and companies cannot trust black box skills.   Taxonomies may also be implemented as part of a knowledge graph solution that links data in multiple applications, systems, and repositories, which is a typical scenario for HR technology, despite the existence of some degree of integration of functions within HR management systems (HRMS) or human capital management (HCM) software.

Another point that Bersin made was that the talent marketplace has become a category. It’s become more important to recruit and hire internally, so an internal marketplace for employees and jobs can be created. I find this also an interesting application for taxonomies. Taxonomies in business and industry are well established and known for ecommerce, which is B2C, but more recently taxonomies have been implemented in B2B and C2C marketplaces, such as Etsy. In an employee-job marketplace, taxonomies can be used to tag employee skills, interests, and locations, along with the job openings.

The talent marketplace was also discussed by the second day’s keynote spaker Ravin Jesuthan, who additionally explained how the internal talent marketplace can connect workers to projects, assignments, and tasks, rather than simply job openings.  He also referred to a market relationship and to matchmaking. On the subject of matchmaking, I found a vendor of a platform to match employees to coaches or mentors an interesting use case for a taxonomy. 

Another trend is that employee learning or training has a more important role in the flow of people to work. There is also a potential for taxonomies to support this endeavor. Depending on the volume, the findability of training materials could benefit by being tagged with terms from a taxonomy. A taxonomy can also support the recommendation of appropriate training courses to employees.

Finally, there is a lot of emphasis placed on employee experience, which was the number one trend in Bersin’s keynote.  One way to improve the employee experience, which was not mentioned in the keynote, is to have a single user-interface that, with a single, consistent taxonomy, links content and data in different systems. So, the users have only a single place to go to find answers to all of their employment-related questions. 

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