Half of HR professionals needed to upskill in response to Covid, CIPD poll finds

Digital transformation was the top driver of organisational change last year and more people in the industry reported finding meaning in their work

Nearly two-thirds of UK HR professionals had to upskill or reskill because of the coronavirus pandemic, a survey from the CIPD has found.

In its People Profession 2021 report, conducted alongside Workday, the CIPD revealed that 50 per cent extended skills last year because of their organisation’s response to Covid-19, widening their existing HR skills in their existing line of work.

An additional 11 per cent had to reskill in response to the crisis, learning entirely new HR skills in a different area of work. In total, 61 per cent of UK respondents had to upskill or reskill.

Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, said that people professionals have had to quickly adapt to the changing circumstances in order to effectively support their teams.

“The difficult external circumstances put great demand on all of us, and people professionals have been at the forefront of the organisational response, supporting people, implementing rapid changes, and adapting and learning.”

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He added: “It’s great to see so many colleagues recognising the need to strengthen their skills and ensure they have the right expertise to guide and make an impact in their organisations in an ever-changing world of work.”

The survey polled over 1,500 people in HR, including both in-house and independent professionals.

Digital transformation was reported as the top driver of change in organisations over the last year, cited by 65 per cent of respondents as the thing that created the most internal change, followed by the rise in demand for flexible working (41 per cent).

The survey noted that larger organisations with more than 250 employees were more likely to consider digital transformation as a driver of change than smaller firms (43 per cent and 25 per cent respectively across both the UK and Ireland). 

However, Marine Fournier, international head of HR at Powell Software, said smaller businesses were increasingly recognising digital as a tool to create change.

Smaller businesses with fewer resources “are using the demand for home and hybrid working as an opportunity to attract and retain the top talent who are motivated by flexibility over finances”, she said, adding that the pandemic had seen an advancement in digital HR solutions including for onboarding remotely and communicating with staff.

The coronavirus pandemic also had a positive impact on how many HR professionals saw their own work, the poll found. Nearly nine out of 10 UK people professionals (86 per cent) said they found their work to be meaningful, compared to just 80 per cent in 2020.

The proportion of those who reported that their work made them happy also increased to 63 per cent among UK-only respondents, up from 59 per cent in 2020 (across both UK and Ireland). Similarly, 76 per cent of UK respondents said they found personal meaning through their work, up from 71 per cent in 2020 (for both UK and Ireland).

Martin Tiplady OBE, director of Chameleon People Solutions, said that the HR landscape has seen dramatic changes since the last report was carried out. 

“We need to consider how technology, systems, attitudes and priorities impact our organisations as a result of what we have adapted to during the pandemic.

“This report sets out an agenda and we could all do with using it as a basis to consider what we need to think about, action to take and when, in order to keep pace with how [the] industry is changing,” Tiplady said, adding that “HR has a role like no other time”.