Will more firms upskill employees to become HR professionals?

Training staff from operational backgrounds to be people managers is ‘nothing new’ but cash-strapped organisations may increasingly consider developing their own talent

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A recent report by ILX has revealed that businesses could save up to a staggering 76 per cent on the cost of hiring a new HR manager if they upskill an incumbent employee.

According to the study, the average cost – which includes recruitment fees, spending on induction and training, and any welcome bonuses – of replacing an HR manager is £13,079.

Upskilling, on the other hand, is much cheaper, at £3,107.

For HR leaders, the difference is even larger, with the average cost of a replacement being £35,565, compared to £6,458 for training existing employees, which equates to an 82 per cent saving.

Idris Arshad, people and inclusion partner at St Christopher’s Hospice, explains that upskilling managers to HR will be a real possibility for any business facing recruitment and retention challenges. “I think [upskilling] is an idea for all to consider, even if it is just for succession planning, as the pool of managers in any organisation is always more than the numbers in an HR department,” says Arshad. 

He adds that while he thinks it is a “good idea”, organisations “need to have the right approach to recruitment, development and succession planning for it to work”.

Meanwhile, a separate survey by BIE Executive found that while upskilling might be cheaper, L&D departments may not be able to take on the challenge, thanks to a lack of funds. The study of more than 200 HR leaders found the majority (86 per cent) viewed the function as ‘vital’, while more than two thirds (68 per cent) preferred to fill senior posts internally.

So if organisations start upskilling their managers and incumbent employees to become HR professionals, what could that do for senior HR professionals?

Martin Tiplady, managing director of Chameleon People Solutions, is in support of upskilling, and says some of the best HR practitioners he has worked with have commercial and operational experience. “It is a golden experience, frankly, that has proved really helpful on so many levels, and gives credibility to a function that can sometimes be considered remote and unfamiliar with the stresses of business,” says Tiplady. He adds that individuals who have come up through a traditional HR route are also brilliant at their job, but he has “always encouraged” them to secure additional operational experience.

The pandemic created an immediate business need to upskill and placed greater value on L&D departments, and the cost of living crisis combined with the war for talent has further increased the need. Research by Remote found that employers are offering training to upskill their employers in light of current hiring challenges, and the ‘Great Resignation’.

Pat Ashworth, learning director at AdviserPlus, says that with demand for HR skills exceeding supply, finding transferable talent inside an organisation and upskilling is a must for many firms looking to close the HR talent gap. She adds that it is also an effective strategy for lowering attrition. “Notwithstanding the cost of recruiting externally, the knowledge and understanding of the business that goes out of the organisation when an experienced employee leaves is a huge detriment, so being able to offer new opportunities to those who may otherwise be disengaging with their role would be hugely beneficial all round,” she explains.

Ashworth says upskilling workers without a background in HR isn't new, but the role of HR is shifting and people professionals must be more strategic than ever to install people-first cultures that promote organisational health. This means that “it’s important to identify people with the right personality fit as that is something that can’t be taught”, she says.

Many businesses are currently reassessing their objectives in light of the current economic situation and following a turbulent couple of years. According to Kim-adele Randall, chief executive of Authentic Achievements, one of the challenges at hand is whether or not to train employees to become HR managers.

Sarah Gilchriest, president of Circus Street, says businesses are considering how to position themselves and how to modify their staff to face the challenge of the economic downturn, and explains that upskilling can be a cost-effective approach to supplying a highly trained team with cutting-edge skills needed for the modern economy.

Jon Ingham, director of Strategic HR Academy, says reducing the gap between HR and the rest of the business, and assisting people in understanding what HR does and why, are two advantages of upskilling managers to conduct HR jobs. “It also helps produce better managers, as we know that the quality of line managers is the main weakness of today’s HR model in many organisations, and this is one good way to improve this,” says Ingham.

Meanwhile, Liz Sebag-Montefiore, director and co-founder of 10Eighty, says upskilling is beneficial, but “cutting corners in HR is not”. She adds that organisations should upskill everyone they can, including the staff in HR, accounts, sales, administration, security and production. “If they are eager to reskill or upskill, then assist them,” she says.