Blog article

Are businesses making the most of their workforce's human skills?

Every company wants to make sure it uses its human skills as effectively as possible and most believe that will still be the case in the year ahead, but achieving this is another matter.

A survey by PwC revealed that 87 per cent of organisations regard human skills as critical for the future, suggesting that they are not all about to hand control over to an AI system just yet. But there will be adjustment and reskilling, and the survey has suggested that many firms do not have a clear plan in place to ensure this is achieved.

The PwC report, titled Preparing for Tomorrow's Workforce Today, quizzed 1,246 businesses and HR executives spread across 79 countries in a bid to establish the greatest internal threats to future business success. This was based on the percentage who identified an area of importance but acknowledged they were not taking action to address potential problems. 

It identified the greatest possible area as the making of data-driven decisions, which was cited by 41 per cent. This might suggest that a key issue is the dilemma over what extent decisions based on facts and figures should be interpreted according to computer algorithms as opposed to human intuition. 

Predicting proves challenging

Predicting and monitoring skills gaps came second on 34 per cent, which may encapsulate a key conundrum at the heart of managing change in a business; because the future is uncertain - and with it trends in technology use and its effect on human skill requirements - it can be very hard to stay on top of what ongoing needs there are, and thus harder still to work out what they might be in the future. 

Just behind this, also around 34 per cent, were 'using data analytics to remove bias from hiring and reward', 'HR’s understanding of technology' and 'engaging with flexible talent'. 

Planning flexibly in the use of time was another common concern, including 'giving the workforce manageable workloads that allowed them to make full use of holiday allowance' and 'using sophisticated workforce planning'. A question might be whether the flexibility and sophistication might get too complex and become harder to manage according to business priorities. 

Nonetheless, these are issues that must be addressed. The PwC report identified key priorities for employers as including creating competitive advantages through better employee engagement, making the most of talent through using workforce analytics and preparing people for change. 

These are major HR challenges, and HR departments themselves are seen as central, as they are seen as partners with business leaders in bringing about change, as well as needing to improve their own knowledge of technological change. 

At the same time, however,a  survey of employees found only 41 per cent felt their employer was equipping them with the skills they needed for the future, suggesting firms need to do much more. 

HR departments 'must lead the way'

Summarising the challenge that lies ahead, PwC partner Alastair Woods said: "HR departments must lead the way in growing and building the capabilities the workforce of tomorrow will require. The impact of automation and robotics over the course of the next decade will mean some tasks disappear, but new activities will emerge that rely on uniquely human skills like judgement, empathy, innovation.

“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.”