HR Indaba hears that organisations need to equip their workforce with new skills

The workforce of the future needs to be agile to survive, said panellists in an HR Indaba Online Impact Session.

With the HR Indaba Online off to a roaring start, South Africa’s HR professionals gathered for the second Impact Session of the day, which looked at the future of HR.

“If one thing has become clear after 2020, it is that absolutely nothing is certain,” CHRO South Africa MD Joël Roerig said after welcoming attendees. “In this context, the way organisations engage their people is going to be crucial for future success, and HR leaders have an essential role to play to prepare their companies for a future that is yet unknown.”

Country managing director Zuko Mdwaba highlighted the six key trends that Workday, which sponsored the session, has seen in the HR space over the last year:

  1. Emergency response
  2. Diversity and belonging
  3. Future-proofing talent
  4. Workforce agility
  5. Employee support
  6. Preserving company culture

Emergency response
Zuko said that not only did HR have to step up and coordinate their organisations’ response to the pandemic during 2020, they’ve had to shift their focus to the different strategies around employees returning to the workforce.

Motus Corporation chief people officer Michele Seroke explained that HR currently needs to prioritise and focus on returning employees safely to the workplace. “However, we know it’s not just about opening the doors and going back. It requires critical decisions around workplace design for safety and productivity, as well as creating a culture of cohesiveness and connectedness when everyone is dispersed.”

She added that HR also needs to make managers enablers of all this by providing them with practical guidelines on safety protocols, managing employees and looking out for their employees’ wellbeing.

Diversity and belonging
HR has taken the lead in driving programmes to create equal opportunities for everyone in the workforce. “We’ve realised that simply focusing on diversity is no longer enough,” Zuko said. “We have to elevate that focus to belonging.”

Michele said that while diversity and belonging are important, it’s also crucial that organisations drive new focus around inclusion. “We need to create an atmosphere where everyone can engage and feel they can contribute to business objectives.”

Preserving company culture
As the world of work changes and people start working remotely, company culture can become an afterthought. “HR needs to make sure that company culture is preserved, especially during times like these,” said Zuko.

Group organisational development and human capital executive Caryn Baird then shared FirstRand Bank’s recent transformation journey, which saw the organisation creating new, important cultural dynamics to withstand challenges in the workforce.

“First, we needed to be clear on our understanding of the company’s bigger strategy, which includes transforming the nature of the business to be able to move forward in the new world of work, to optimise the new opportunities that have come out of the crisis, and to grow,” she said. “We try to anchor human capital in those three principles and make sure our people engage with an element of care and compassion.”

However, Caryn explained that, as the world is changing, FirstRand realised that the way they operate also has to change. “We wanted to keep what made us successful, which is a combination of hiring the right people and the environment we put them in, but we also had to get rid of the things that are no longer appropriate in the changing world.”

After asking all employees to describe their idea of the FirstRand of the future, they came up with new promises to drive the business, including building trust and staying curious when it comes to innovation.

The final step was bringing all of the work they had done together and for human capital to then start enabling this new strategy.

Workforce agility
Zuko explained that future-proofing talent had already become topical before Covid-19 and that it has now been accelerated. “As organisations respond to the impact of the pandemic and the demand for technology increases, we need to reskill the talent in our companies,” he said. “Organisations need well-thought-out strategies to identify skills they need for the future.”

Michele said that as AI and technology become an integral part of the workplace of the future, it’s important that leaders introduce technology ethically and sensibly. At Motus, Michele has reworked the talent management process to help determine the reskilling needs of the organisation by going back to the business strategy and identifying the critical skills and roles that will drive the organisation.

“We’ve decided to pilot a programme with the HR team around digital dexterity and how to increase their knowledge of the new digital world so they can work effectively on a daily basis,” she added.

Future-proofing talent
FirstRand is focusing on recruiting the right skills for the changing roles and requirements of the new world of work, including big data specialists, transformation specialists and fintech engineers. “HR has to start thinking about more emerging skills, like emotional intelligence, as well as organisational agility and speed,” Caryn said. “The combination of a pro-technology agenda and deeper connections is critical for the future. We encourage our colleagues to think about technical skills, but not to lose sight of organisational skills.”

Michele added that Motus’s approach is to look at expected business outcomes and then articulate what it needs, whether from a skills or role perspective, to drive those outcomes.

“The changing world of work requires organisations to run at new speeds. We need to reshape our workforce to meet the increasing and new demands in order to remain successful going forward,” Zuko concluded.