How Arcadis made the shift to skills-based work

Arcadis launched AI-powered talent intelligence to become a skills-based work organization with improved retention & employee career pathing.

How Arcadis made the shift to skills-based work

There’s a growing push and pull between tradition and innovation, between the old ways of working and new workforce models built for the modern era. Arcadis, a global leader in sustainable design, engineering, construction, and consultancy for natural and built assets, faced this crossroads.

While the company had long-standing talent practices that served it well, the fast-evolving business environment presented new challenges that previous practices couldn’t address, particularly when it came to providing career flexibility and stemming turnover.

Dive into this narrative to explore Arcadis’ challenges, strategic moves to gain stakeholder buy-in, and the impressive outcomes of their leadership’s brave new direction in modern workforce planning.

Related content: See Arcadis’ Amy Baxendale explain how the company started its skills-based transformation.

Embracing a new approach to work

As the Global Capability and Workforce Readiness Director for Arcadis, Amy Baxendale helps the company “purposely think about the skills we need in the future and having one [talent] strategy — whether we build that or buy that or whatever it might be.” 

A longtime employee at Arcadis, Baxendale has held many roles that have grown and changed with her career trajectory. She knows that similar career pathing is possible for other employees, and it’s an excellent way to retain talent. But with 36,000 employees in nearly 70 countries around the world, growing people’s careers presented an immense challenge — and opportunity — for the company to solve.

This was the start of Arcadis’ journey to become a skills-based organization. Momentum quickly grew as Arcadis evaluated its people data and listened to employees. “[Looking at] our quarterly engagement survey and exit interviews, that diversity of career paths and actually understanding career paths came through consistently in the messaging,” Baxendale said. “Thirty-five percent of our leavers consistently, for the last few years, stated it’s because of a lack of career paths.”

While shifting to a skills-based organization would help provide more flexible career pathways and targeted upskilling and reskilling, the initiative started from the business side as stemming attrition was an organizational priority. 

“Our leaders started to talk about how to retain talent, but really interestingly, they were starting to connect the realization that by being a traditional 135-year-old engineering business, we tend to have career paths that were very hierarchical, very static,” Baxendale said. “[Leadership started to recognize] that we need to start thinking more about how you move through growth and career-enhancing experience rather than just upward progression.”

While the skills-based approach was one major transition, digitization was another. “We’re starting to think about how we substitute, augment, and reinvent work in order to enable us to release people’s time to do things differently,” Baxendale continued. “Really important as well for (leadership) was being able to say to our people that we actually understand where we can offer you opportunities to reskill, upskill, cross-skill so that then it stops them from being resistant to that automation.” 

But it was going to take a lot of work to get the rest of the organization to adopt this new mindset and way of working.

Gaining buy-in: The quest for alignment and vision

The right talent intelligence solution would allow for a clear view of the skills available across the organization, support employee learning and growth opportunities, and give Arcadis the ability to do things differently. The emphasis was placed on helping Arcadis’ leaders and stakeholders grasp the broader picture — not just the “what” but also the “why.” It wasn’t just about introducing a new tool or changing a process, it was about shifting the core of how its leaders thought about their roles, the organization, and the future. 

“It was about listening a lot and not looking for the HR answer, but actually truly listening,” Baxendale said. “It’s about understanding and talking in the language of the business. So a big thing for me was staying in the problem space for a lot longer than we as HR professionals tend to do, instead of jumping straight to a solution.” 

Engaging team members from the start was critical, and company leaders and employees needed a voice in shaping the future. “[Gaining buy-in] was about getting those stakeholders on board really early and bringing everyone’s voice into the journey,” Baxendale said. “From the start, we very clearly talked about this being a human-centered change program, not a technology implementation, and that’s been critical for us.”

Baxendale said that the right technology was essential, but they also had to approach it as a fundamental and cultural change for the business.

“Once you started talking about one [pain point], the connectivity and the interrelationships with everything else meant that we couldn’t look at anything in isolation,” she said. “That’s where the kind of shift toward what we call a skills-paired organization came in, because we started to recognize if we do that on its own that actually won’t have impact. …So it started to pull us toward the realization that we needed that ultimate vision of skills underpinning all our people processes.”

“Our broad vision is very much around enabling us to attract, grow, and connect talent globally,” Baxendale said.

Charting a digital path

To choose the right talent intelligence platform for its needs, Arcadis closely researched talent intelligence vendors in the HR space. The goal was to find a solution that was powerful and could offer deeper insights into talent intelligence. That journey led them to Eightfold. 

“Eightfold really stood out in terms of the robustness, the quality, and the strength of the AI,” Baxendale said. “That was really critical to us, and the Equal Opportunity Algorithms and bias-focus just shown through beyond anything else — and the strength of the skills taxonomy.” 

Ultimately, it was our platform’s vast insights that became the differentiator. “As soon as the business saw the amount of talent intelligence and that ability to see emerging and declining skills, and actually start to make strategic-people decisions around those, that’s what won the business over,” Baxendale said.

Related content: Watch Arcadis’ Amy Baxendale explain how the company started its skills-based workforce transformation.

A measured approach to deploying talent intelligence 

Arcadis is taking a careful, tactical approach to deploying talent intelligence and changing the way its people work. This rollout approach gives Arcadis the ability to make sure certain milestones are met and everything is working properly before stepping into the next phase.

“Early on, it was very clear it needed to be a multi-year strategy with multiple horizons,” Baxendale said. “So actually placing myself in the shoes of the business and recognizing that if I just went out and said we’re gonna do all of this, we would never have the buy-in, so [I wanted to] give the business the confidence that we’re going to do it in a timely, measured way.” 

Arcadis also established several internal committees to guide the transition. And the company ensured that employees were included in early deployments and robust pilots. 

“Those pilots will be about both the technology but also the change processes and different ways of working,” Baxendale said. “We need to be operating as a business, testing that all together so that we’re not just turning on technology. We’re actually recognizing that we’ve changed the processes and ways of working that fit around it.”

As Arcadis ventured into uncharted territory, the integration of Eightfold signaled a pivotal shift from traditional operations. “One of the really early pieces of advice I was given is that there’s never a good time [to make the transition], and you’ll never be ready,” Baxendale said. “You just have to start.” 

As a result, Arcadis isn’t just preparing for the future — the company is building it hand in hand with their employees.

Watch the entire conversation on “Gaining business buy in: Harnessing skills to future-proof the business and your people,” now on demand.

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