As the economy moves further towards a knowledge-based economy, this will have an impact on the type of HR skills needed with increased demand for a specific number of skillsets, according to an expert in the area.
In addition to the more traditional people and communication-focused mindsets, HR will need analytical and data focused mindsets in the future.
“They will need the ability to produce tools that are easily accessible by leaders to provide them with strategic and predictive analysis on their team and instant access to this information,” said Eliza Kirkby, regional director of Hays Human Resources.
“Unlike traditional HR professionals who are often degree qualified in HR, business or psychology, HR analytics and data candidates are commonly degree qualified in mathematics and statistics, computer science and engineering.”
These graduates have strong mathematics skills, the ability to think analytically and are usually able to pick up new systems easily.
Strong ability in Excel (such as macros, dashboards and pivot tables) is expected, with more advanced graduates and candidates having experience using a variety of data analytics programs such as SPSS and Success Factors.
Coding ability is also a constantly growing necessity for any data specialist, Kirkby added.
“Businesses are beginning to look to HR to produce easily accessible tools that provide their people managers with strategic and predictive analysis on their team,” she said.
“This will allow managers to identify potential issues earlier and subsequently have a better chance of resolving them or being better prepared for their eventuality.
“They will also need to utilise analytics to identify areas where they can improve productivity.”
This could be anything from tracking patterns in sick leave to patterns in turnover within specific teams, according to Kirkby, who said the provision of data needs to be “smart” and to be able to provide triggers to managers to support them with reminders of key people lifecycle services, such as completion of performance reviews.
“Businesses are beginning to look to HR to produce easily accessible tools that provide their people managers with strategic and predictive analysis on their team”
Commercial acumen and the ability to align strategic requirements with budget and workforce priorities will also be critical HR skills in the future, said Kirkby, who observed that not all HR professionals gain commercial acumen – or are interested in thinking about internal and external environments and drivers.
“It’s important to become a good business person so that the HR functions you deliver will drive the business to achieving organisational goals and priorities,” she said.
A recent Hays Human Resources survey of 461 HR leaders across the ANZ region found that 53 per cent said stakeholder engagement is the most important skill for a HR leader to possess, followed by commercial acumen (52 per cent) and strategic planning (48 per cent).
A further 57 per cent said up-and-coming HR leaders need to be commercially aware and good business people.
These ranked well ahead of people management (32 per cent), change management (31 per cent), communication (22 per cent), and operational effectiveness (10 per cent).
“I think HR will remain the people experts, but will become more commercially aware and able to translate HR initiatives into commercial terms,” said Kirkby.
“In this way, HR will be seen as a commercial role, which will be a big change. Again, commercial acumen is key.”
Future HR leaders will need to understand their business from the ground up and understand the drivers that make them successful, and Kirkby said exposure to operational functions is crucial to this.
As such, HR needs to be designed as a true business partnering value adding function as opposed to a support function.
The survey also found that more than two-thirds of HR leaders have not always worked in HR, and many argue this wider business experience gives them the commercial acumen they need to succeed once they do enter HR.
They then typically gain additional HR qualifications, and are focused on their ongoing learning and development, said Kirkby.
“When talking to HRDs we found that there are two distinct sides when it comes to how an HR professional can best gain commercial acumen,” she said.
Some HRDs have worked outside HR and say that’s the best way to gain real business understanding, while Kirkby said others have worked in HR for their entire career and say that you can still be sensitive to commercial issues and talk business language.
“So one practical step is to take a sideways move at one point into a commercial role in order to gain real commercial experience and learn the language of business,” she said.
“Another practical step is to watch and talk to the leaders in each department and learn from them.
“You can then come to understand the business through their eyes so you can relate HR strategies back to the big picture in other departments.”
“One practical step is to take a sideways move at one point into a commercial role in order to gain real commercial experience and learn the language of business”
They will also be a continuing trend around innovation, engagement, retention and understanding people’s drivers, said Kirkby, who pointed to increase demand for HR skills in psychology and behavioural science as a result.
“For the first time there will be more Gen Y in the workforce than there will be baby boomers and so the expectations of benefits, ethics and values will be different,” she said.
“HR functions will need to adapt and become more innovative and creative to manage this.”
Similarly, the research found that 59 per cent of HR leaders said designing and managing organisational change will become a bigger part of the HR role over the next five years, while 56 per cent said the identification and retention of key talent and succession planning will become more important.
HR leaders also shared their biggest business challenges, which included aligning strategic requirements with the operational budget and workforce (54 per cent), company culture (50 per cent) and employee engagement (46 per cent).
HR leaders said their biggest professional challenges included achieving company objectives (20 per cent), demonstrating ROI from the HR department (13 per cent) and achieving buy-in and support from the board or executive level to implement HR strategy (12 per cent).
However, HR needs to influence leaders in the business to recognise that when having strategic conversations in the first place, HR has unique insights to share and needs to sit at the table, said Kirkby.
“In our survey, only 11 per cent of HRDs said they sit on their organisation’s board, so in an overwhelming majority of cases the person who understands the link between staff engagement, productivity and achieving business outcomes is missing,” she said.
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