Pandemic forced a third of HR professionals to upskill, report finds

CIPD survey found two-thirds of the profession has upskilled in the last year, and the pandemic improved the industry's standing

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A third (34 per cent) of people professionals have had to upskill in response to immediate business needs following the pandemic, a CIPD report has found.

The People Profession 2022 report found that approximately two thirds (61 per cent) had to either upskill or re-skill in the last year as a result of their organisation’s response to the pandemic. 

The survey of 1,496 UK people professionals earlier this year found that the vast majority (89 per cent) of HR professionals engaged in some form of L&D in the last year. One in five (22 per cent) said their development was focused on gaining longer-term skills. 

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Dr Elizabeth Houldsworth, associate professor of leadership, organisations and behaviour at Henley Business School, said the findings evidenced the professionalism of the HR function. “Whereas in the past it was possible and sometimes commonplace for individuals in the function to simply have good business sense, increasingly there is little space now for amateurs given the challenges facing the function and businesses more broadly,” she said. 

The report found that three-quarters (75 per cent) of those surveyed believed their people function worked collaboratively across the business to meet its needs, and a similar proportion (73 per cent) believed their function contributed to business performance in a strategic and valuable way. 

There was an increase in the number of those who engaged with data to inform decision making, increasing from 21 to 27 per cent of respondents. One third (38 per cent) of respondents said that technology and analytical systems were a barrier to applying people analytics data successfully, while over a quarter (29 per cent) said access to resources was a barrier.

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Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, said people professionals had “consistently stepped up”, both during the pandemic and now with the continued uncertainty around the labour market and cost-of-living crisis. “We should continue building on lessons from the pandemic to ensure the people profession is future fit, through consistent upskilling, and adapting to new technology and ways of working.” But, he emphasised, people professionals should take time to look after their own wellbeing, particularly when facing the current challenges.

Julie Grabham, founder at JG HR Solutions, said that during the pandemic, she had to react to the increase in challenges that different regulations brought to clients, and kept up to date with employment law and politics. “Upskilling with employment law is always essential for HR professionals, as is having a strong circle of other HR professionals to lean on,” she said. 

Edward Obi, director at HR Hub Plus, said that mental health training was essential as the topic became more important during the pandemic. “Now with the cost-of-living crisis, the learning really added value in terms of interacting with my staff and also supporting numerous clients to create an environment that people could thrive in,” he said.

The report, which also asked respondents about their mental and physical wellbeing, found that half (55 per cent) of practitioners said their mental health was good or very good. Around one-third said their mental and physical health was negatively impacted by their work (31 and 29 per cent respectively). 

Just over half (51 per cent) of those with less than five years’ experience in the business said their mental health was good, compared to 59 per cent of more experienced people professionals.

Michael Douroux, group vice president for Northern Europe and South Africa at Workday said HR professionals had been “thrust into the spotlight,” supporting workforces with all kinds of issues while dealing with a competitive labour market. “We have experienced a decade’s worth of changes in just two years,” he said.

The CIPD report comes shortly after latest ONS labour market data revealed that overall hiring intentions have decreased compared to earlier this year. However, anecdotal evidence from recruiters showed that the HR sector has bucked this trend, with many citing an increase in demand for specialist talent in all HR functions, including EDI and upskilling.