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7 skills every HR professional needs to succeed in the world of work - Part 1

In this two-part series, we outline the skills that will be required by present-day HR professionals - for now and into the future.
Jaen Beelders, Director and Head of Analytics Business Stream at 21st Century
Jaen Beelders, Director and Head of Analytics Business Stream at 21st Century

Skills required by all contemporary HR professionals

Due to the increasing automated and digitalised world in which HR professionals need to serve their stakeholders, as well as the added intricacy of a VUCA environment, all HR professionals will need to upskill and reskill themselves to meet the challenges of this Future World of Work.

This article discusses the seven skill sets required by all contemporary HR professionals.

Skill set 1 – Digital literacy

HR professionals must become more digitally inclined and analytical to deliver more value to all business stakeholders. As HR technology is becoming more specialised and entwined in HR processes, HR departments are taking control of their own technology strategy in partnership with ICT departments. For this reason, HR professionals need to understand how HR systems (eg. front-end, back-end, databases) work and how systems integrate with one another.

Additionally, as workplace demographics change from baby boomers and Gen X towards Gen Z and millennials, a wide range of HR processes and employee experiences are expected to be available online to accommodate the digital customer experience that younger workers tend to prefer. HR professionals need to be proficient in working with different systems being deployed on various platforms (laptop, tablet, smart phone).

Skill set 2 – Data analytics

HR departments already deal with excessive amounts of data. In a few years’ time, when all HR processes have been digitalised and artificial intelligence has entered mainstream HR, the volumes of data will only increase further. Therefore, HR professionals must become highly literate in data management and data hygiene, learning the necessary skills to process, produce, sanitise and leverage digital information.

More importantly, HR professionals also need to learn how to exploit data to support better decision making within the business. This requires advanced data analytics skills, including advanced Microsoft excel skills. Although advanced people analytics will be the responsibility of the HR data scientists, every HR professional will be required to create and interpret their own reports applicable to their role and department.

Skill set 3 – Commercial awareness

Future HR professionals must be able to directly contribute to the strategy and financial success of the organisation. They must have a clear understanding of their organisation’s business model and the challenges it faces. Beyond understanding profit and loss, HR professionals must understand the strategic direction and the economic and social environment in which the organisation operates.

By having an in-depth knowledge of the organisation’s intended strategic direction, the organisation creates value. HR professionals must have the skills to deploy the entire employee lifecycle to increase this value for both internal and external stakeholders.

Skill set 4 – Critical thinking

A study by the World Economic Forum report has found that business leaders believe that critical thinking is one of the most important skills for the Future of Work. Two applications of critical thinking are particularly important for HR professionals.

Firstly, they must have the necessary skill sets to objectively analyse and evaluate proposed business strategies and present new insights by making connections between employee behaviour and business success that other departments might have missed.

Secondly, as custodians of the organisation’s most important asset – people – HR professionals must employee design thinking to ensure that every business process is human-centred at its core. Through design thinking, HR professionals will be able to continuously improve HR processes, policies and procedures by focusing on the people for which all of this is created for.

Skill set 5 – Situational judgment and ethics

It is true that HR must always deal with the tricky situations that line management want to avoid. From dealing with inappropriate behaviour, such as sexual harassment or bullying in the workplace, to managing an increasingly diverse workforce made up of people from different cultures, religions and generations – HR professionals need the situational judgment and ethical skills required to meet these challenges successfully.

Skill set 6 - Stakeholder management

As the HR function is moving away from an administrative role into a strategic role, it requires HR professionals to strengthen the skills employed to influence decisions and manage stakeholders, such as:

  • Proposal writing
  • Report writing
  • Advanced PowerPoint
  • Presentation & facilitation skills
  • Managing online meetings

Skill set 7 – Marketing

Although this skill set is particularly relevant for HR professionals that are involved in talent acquisition and employee engagement, all HR professionals need these skills to successfully engage candidates and employees.

Understanding how to position the employer brand and Employer Value Proposition (EVP) in an attractive way is vital for anyone responsible for attracting new talent into the organisation. This involves understanding brand management principles and copywriting, as the responsibility involves writing content such as job advertisements. Additionally, marketing principles such as market segmentation (identifying the right candidate target market) and understanding how to use the various channels available to the University to get its message out to its target market (including job portals and social media) is a vital skill. HR professionals should have.

The HR professional will need to leverage the connection between Employee Experience (EX), Customer Experience (CX), and User Experience (UX) is another marketing skill that allows HR to successfully engage and retain talent within their organisations. Learning the skills necessary to ensure that every employee interaction, whether an email or a face-to-face meeting, contributes positively to the employer brand is of vital importance.

The second article in this series will present the skills required to capacitate HR staff to comfortably manage their HR analytics reporting.

About Jaen Beelders and Elmen Lamprecht

Jaen Beelders, Director and Head of Analytics Business Stream at 21st Century, and Elmen Lamprecht, Consultant at 21st Century

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