The COVID-19 context has dominated the world of work for the last two years, igniting widespread changes in workplaces, patterns and practices. Data from the CIPD People Profession surveys in 2020 and 2021 (in association with Workday) signals noticeable changes across the years.

Upskilling due to organisational responses to the pandemic is a conspicuous change for most of our survey respondents, as highlighted in our People Profession 2021 UK and Ireland survey report, in association with Workday. In our extra year-on-year analysis here, we compare this main 2021 finding to results from our two previous surveys (in 2020 and 2018), as well as across all eight countries encompassed in our 2021 survey.

Upskilling is necessary for new job duties

In a new question in our 2021 survey, we defined upskilling as ‘extending or deepening current HR skills’, and reskilling as ‘learning entirely new skills in a different area of HR work’. This is different from our previous surveys, where we asked our respondents in the UK and Ireland about their skills meeting current and more demanding duties:

Which statement best describes your skills level in your current role? (% of respondents) 2018 (1% 'don’t know') 2020
My present HR skills correspond well with my current duties 45 46
I have the skills to cope with more demanding duties 38 37
I lack some skills required in my current duties 16 17

In our 2021 survey, we asked instead about skills changes due to COVID-19, and found higher percentages needing to upskill or reskill. For example, in the UK, 50% of respondents reported that they had had to upskill, and 11% to reskill (totalling 61%).

In Ireland, 49% of respondents had had to upskill, and 18% to reskill (totalling 67%).

Also, in looking across the span of eight countries in our 2021 People Profession survey, upskilling and reskilling together is a distinctive feature internationally, as charted below. The inference is that, for high proportions of survey participants, COVID-19 necessitated unanticipated changes in their job duties.

Bar chart about individual countrys' skills changes in 2021 due to COVID-19 finding that the Phillipines had the highest number of respondents who had needed to upskill and reskill with 92%. Meanwhile, the UK had the lowest percentage, at 61%, with 50% needing to upskill and 11% having to reskill during this time frame.

Upskilling is wide-ranging and ongoing: case study

The Managing Director of Albany HR, Kathleen McAdams, has been closely involved in HR upskilling since the onset of pandemic restrictions. Her vantage point − in heading up an independent HR consultancy − is working with clients across all sectors, in organisations of all sizes from micro to global. Edinburgh-based, she has clients throughout the UK, some in companies with a global reach.

Kathleen comments: ‘Clients’ needs immediately changed with the first lockdown. The priority for many was what their management teams needed to do to operate their businesses in a work-from-home period of unknown duration. People practitioners had to learn very quickly how to support managers and employees in establishing home-environment equipment and digital work, health and safety in homeworking, wellbeing, managing remote workforces and the pandemic forces, and devising temporary homeworking policies, for example.'

As a people professional herself, she emphasises: ‘It’s a steep learning curve for me in my role still. My team and I are constantly upskilling to be able to do our jobs; for example, in consultancy business skills such as project management, proposal writing, using different communication platforms. To support our clients, we’re also now upskilling in:

Kathleen concludes: ‘We definitely, definitely now see an increased HR ability in our client organisations and an appetite to keep building people management capability among all managers in these organisations'. The signs are that people professionals have not only ramped up their skills since the onset of pandemic measures but they are also continuing to upskill going forward.

Further reading:

Iwa Kuchciak and Izabela Warwas (2021) Designing a Roadmap for HRM in the Banking 4.0Journal of Risk and Financial Management, 14(12), 615

The new possible: How HR can help build the organization of the future, McKinsey and Company

Just one in 20 workers think their employer prioritises upskilling, report findsPeople Management, 8 December 2021

The findings reported here are in addition to the main findings in the CIPD People Profession 2021 survey report in association with Workday.

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