We look at how the working world has been changing in 2018, from the impact of the political climate to changes in attitudes towards HR technology

In part one of our 2018 review, we explored the legislative, compliance and regulatory changes that affected the UK HR profession over the past 12 months.

Here in part two, we assess wider macro factors and trends within the profession itself, including the political climate, the launch of the CIPD’s new profession map, changes in how HR teams are deploying technology and the continuing challenge of how to engage employees.

The political view of the working world

First, let’s have a quick political overview of the working world in 2018. At the beginning of the year, prime minister Theresa May pledged the government’s commitment to secure “the jobs of tomorrow” during a speech at the World Economic Forum in Switzerland. She reiterated plans to create a national retraining scheme to help employees develop new skills to equip “people with the skills they need – and the skills business needs – to be successful in a changing global economy”.

In some cases, the cold hard truth of the ‘changing global economy’ is that certain jobs are dwindling because of automation. In April, an online multi-brand retailer, Shop Direct, announced it was moving its packing and distribution facilities in Manchester to a purpose-built automated site in east Midlands, with a requirement for less than a third of its original workforce.

Meanwhile, 10 months on, the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), released a white paper warning the public sector faces up to seven years of skills shortages. Tom Hadley, REC’s director of policy, said: “The shortage is acute across both the private and public sector – particularly in social care and the NHS, where ensuring safe staffing levels is an absolute must.”

Adding to this public debate in December, the incoming Healthcare People Management Association president, Dean Royles, told People Management that the modernisation of the NHS needs to put HR “right at the centre”.

Also in December, the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), the world’s oldest independent think tank on international defence and security, said the British Army’s ‘recruitment crisis’ was not just an IT failure, but demonstrated how taking the human element out of an induction process can be the precursor to poor engagement and a short working relationship.

The transformation of HR’s role

Driving the HR profession forward to deal with this responsibility is the CIPD, which launched its new HR profession map in November.

At the time, Peter Cheese, chief executive of the CIPD, said HR professionals need to be experts in people and experts in work, organisations and change. “Our profession is in this pivotal moment, where we really can help create better lives, better work, better organisations. We can be the moral compass, and we can help to encourage the right things in this very fast-changing world.”

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) also said this year that HR professionals should be nurturing employees. In its January trend review, it said that “Employees are no longer only people whose data or transactional requirements are to be managed by HR. They are the most powerful advantage any organisation has over its competitors.”

So, with the new profession map at its core, the mantra for HR professionals going into 2019 and beyond is to be principles-led, evidence-based and outcomes-driven.

Using technology to find the right candidate

For years, technology has acted as a tool to help with day-to-day tasks, but the focus in 2018 has been to use technology as a way of life in the workplace.

Headhunters, for example, no longer have to rely on simply sifting through resumes on a career website. Forbes reported in its ‘HR trends to keep on your radar’ article that “the advent of social media has made getting in touch with candidates easier than ever before. Similarly, talent pools can now be identified simply by searching hashtags, sub-forums or other online communication methods. By engaging these types of candidates — either in groups or individually depending on the platform — recruiters can get a sense of what they’re looking for and if they’d be willing to make a change in their careers.”

The traditional ways of advertising opportunities or accepting paper CVs are changing too. Speaking at the CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition, Rebecca Martin-Cortez, head of resourcing at home improvement retailer Travis Perkins, said the company knew it needed to change how it communicated with potential candidates, but it was not prepared to invest in new technology without careful consideration.

Instead, its HR team looked at the tools they were already using, the types of candidates they were looking to recruit, and how these people interacted on the internet as consumers. Travis Perkins then focused on developing its website to become an innovative part of the hiring process, encouraging more two-way interactions with job seekers. This focus was a real change from the company’s previous strategy of using a recruitment agency to source talent. The result? Application rates increased significantly from 1,000 to 15,000 per month.

Also at the conference, Simon Halkyard, talent acquisition partner for data intelligence at Shop Direct, home of Very and Littlewoods, shared his experience of recruiting software developers for the company’s HQ in Liverpool – far away from the traditional tech hub of central London. His strategy involved “creating a digital process for a digital business”, which comprised hosting technology-focused events and using video interviews and a new CRM system to encourage HR to take a more proactive approach to candidate engagement.

The concept of ‘belonging’ – the feeling of psychological safety, which allows employees to be their best selves at work – was cited a key focus by 57% of organisations surveyed for LinkedIn’s Global Recruiting Trends 2018 report. Even at the most diverse of organisations, employees will disengage and leave if they don’t feel included and accepted.

Enabling the workforce

Learning opportunities are among the most significant drivers of employee engagement and healthy workplace culture. Consultancy firm Deloitte reported that “organisations are shifting toward a model that empowers individuals to acquire valuable experiences, explore new roles, and continually reinvent themselves. Improvement in this area is essential to attracting critical talent, especially as technology shifts the skills landscape.”

Meanwhile, big four rival PwC said that, although business leaders understand that many workers will need to reskill themselves as more repetitive tasks become automated, workers will lose confidence in an organisation if leaders are not clear about their vision and strategy. “HR departments must lead the way in growing and building the capabilities the workforce of tomorrow will require,” said Alastair Woods, a partner at PwC. “The impact of automation and robotics throughout the next decade will mean some tasks disappear, but new activities will emerge that rely on uniquely human skills like judgement, empathy, innovation.”

He added: “To prepare for this change, HR teams must develop a thorough understanding of future needs and put in place the learning and development programmes and other tools, like performance management, to help and underpin this transition.”

Pearson Education, Nesta and the Oxford Martin School explored the future of work beyond automation this year in their new report, The future of employment skills in 2030, which looked in depth at the factors that have the power to fundamentally influence the employment and skills of today. The researchers created an algorithm to predict demand for work and skills in the US and UK economies in 2030, based on trends that have the potential to impact the world of work such as political uncertainty, urbanisation, equality, environmental sustainability, demographic change, globalisation and technological change. The report also looked at the occupations of the future, the skills that will be needed, and what new occupations might emerge in response to the market changes considered in the research.

Speaking at the CIPD Annual Conference, Nathan Martin, director of global thought leadership at Pearson, said of the research: “We did [it] to move the conversation past automation and focus on the future of work as humans, not as machines.”

Fellow panellist Debbie Alder, HR director general, Department of Work and Pensions, said the UK needed a workforce that was “flexible, dynamic and continuously learning, particularly when these days there are five generations of people in the world of work.” She added that future-proofing employees means identifying the staff who are willing to embrace skills such as management and problem solving, which often require human, not robotic, solutions.

Rajeeb Dey, founder and CEO of Learnerbly, also noted: “It’s not about tech versus humans. It’s is about how we integrate technology to better support humans with active and dynamic learning in the workplace.”

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