Digital skills key to HR’s future success, says CIPD research

New report urges people professionals to think ‘beyond the current crisis’ about how they will harness advances in technology

People professionals will have to understand how to put people at the ‘heart’ of digital transformation in 2030 and beyond in order to thrive, according to a new CIPD report.

The report, People Profession 2030: a collective view of future trends, called on the profession to harness digital automation to improve processes and general insights, such as using data and analytics to inform strategy decisions.

It added that while digital working had increased to facilitate home working throughout the pandemic, it would be “difficult to predict” how advances in technology over the next decade would influence workplaces.

Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, said that while 2020 had been a “monumental” year, the profession must look past the pandemic and to the future.

“There are a number of urgent priorities for HR teams in the short term, not least the many adaptations to working practices, wellbeing, skills and inclusion and diversity, but we must still be thinking beyond the current crisis,” he said.

The report warned that, instead of the promise of job creation and more efficient working practices, failing to manage digital transformation in a strategic way could lead to job losses, and that addressing the “many nuances associated with digital transformation and its impact on people” was the responsibility of people professionals.

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It suggested that HR became equipped to address skills gaps within organisations, while recognising that competencies and confidence wouldn’t be the same across the workforce. 

“Recognising and managing these inequalities will be a challenge that will fall to the profession to lead on – specifically, how to address ethical considerations for people when introducing new technology and automation,” the report said, warning that if inequalities are allowed to persist it could create tension between workers.

Addressing how coronavirus had affected the workplace, the report said the pandemic had accelerated the need for agile and adaptable business models. Changing demographics and a clear focus on I&D was also a key trend, the report said, as people professionals will be instrumental in this as they are “important drivers of change” and will help to improve equality, inclusion and diversity in their organisations.

Kate Marchant, consultant at Running HR, said the crisis had changed the world of work, but that digital transformation was not going away. “It is vital that HR builds on existing skills to better support the workforce of the future. This is also a massive opportunity for HR to up its game and build credibility,” she said, adding that newly available analytics would provide valuable insights on workforce trends and future skill requirements.

Earlier this year, research from the CIPD highlighted the use of people data and analytics within businesses as an area for development. It found just under two-fifths (37 per cent) of in-house HR professionals admitted their organisation collected ‘very basic’ HR data, with fewer than one in 10 (6 per cent) drawing on more advanced techniques.