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Defining the new rules of post-pandemic talent management

Dr. Paul Barth, Global Head of Data Literacy, Qlik


The Great Resignation is being billed as a defining moment in the evolution of the working world, where employees wake up to the post-pandemic possibilities available to them and find better roles that suit their individual circumstances more exactly.

The Great Resignation is being billed as a defining moment in the evolution of the working world, where employees wake up to the post-pandemic possibilities available to them and find better roles that suit their individual circumstances more exactly. It feels like almost every day there’s a new study showing how people are actively looking to leave their jobs, all while vacancies hit record levels

The latter trend wasn’t created by Covid-19; it’s more long-term than that. A 2018 report from Korn Ferry noted that “by 2030, demand for skilled workers will outstrip supply, resulting in a global talent shortage of more than 85.2 million people.” In some countries, that has actually stimulated the use of technology to plug the gap. The Korn Ferry report highlighted how “in countries with low unemployment and booming manufacturing production…a labor shortage has already accelerated automation and increased use of robotics—not to replace people, but because there aren’t enough of them to fill the factories.”

But not all jobs can, or should, be automated. So where does this turbulence leave the Chief People Officers and HR leads tasked with staffing an organization?

A war for talent, or skills?

The war for talent has long kept business leaders awake. This is less about attraction and retention, as it is about finding the right people. That is, people with the skills and capabilities to drive companies forward in a digital-first era. And those capabilities are changing fast. A McKinsey study noted that, by 2030, higher cognitive, social and emotional and technology skills are all going to be in in greater demand.

So, for those responsible for building a post-pandemic workforce with one eye on the future, recruitment must shift towards those more in-demand skills. The ability to understand data will be high on the list, as technology pervades almost every industry and creates a huge volume of data that increasingly informs business decisions. After all, data is no longer the preserve of IT teams but used by employees across every business function to make their jobs more efficient. Business leaders and IT teams will have no choice but to ensure that all staff can confidently work with the data available, which must feed into recruitment.

Beyond technical awareness, the pandemic has also taught us the value of employees with resilience and adaptability. While employees might have once been able to resist change, the need for organizations and their leaders to be agile means that staff must be willing and able to support changing roles and priorities. Beyond flexibility, employees’ ability to connect, to build relationships, to empathize with a diverse range of colleagues, peers and customers, and to build relationships remotely are going to be critical as virtual interaction will remain a core mode of collaboration.

This is all compounded by the fact that the very concept of work is evolving. Where and when will we be able to or mandated to work? While these debates rage on, ultimately it will come down to individual company needs, but that too has implications for the acquiring and retention of specific skillsets.

Because that’s what it’s really about – skills. And so perhaps the question isn’t how do we acquire workforces that can drive the business forward, but how do we build the skillsets we need?

Upskilling the unseen workforce

Although Chief People Officers and HR leads have different search parameters for new hires, their primary asset is tapping the potential of their existing employees. The war for talent is fiercer than ever, so upskilling the current workforce and empowering them with the aforementioned skills is crucial to success. This is especially challenging today: how do companies upskill staff in a world separated by a remote—or at best, hybrid—workforce?

Peer-to-peer learning, that effective and organic process in which colleagues learn from each other, has waned with the fading prominence of the physical office. To address this, more time must be devoted to structured training environments, whether in-person (making use of a person’s office time for learning and development) or virtually. We have found that 1-2 hours of online and live data literacy instruction per week for 2 months can effectively upskill workers, allowing companies to invest in their employees without disrupting operations.

Applying data and analytics into existing workflows is the next step, ensuring that new skills are reinforced and the benefits are realized. For example, teams that have historically requested specific data from other functions from centrally held databases should be enabled to source their own information and apply analytics to the issue at hand. In the beginning, data experts should be made available to support more complex queries and provide guidance and coaching on the best way to gather, analyze and use information. As data literacy levels rise, these mentors should be recognized for their contributions, and then be able to spend more time on the most complex, and potentially valuable, strategic insights for the company.

How data literate are employers themselves?

As the recruitment and churn of skilled workers accelerates, employers should also be mindful of how they are using data to find and evaluate candidates. While analytical skills are valuable, a candidate’s “soft” attributes—curiosity, creativity, communication, collaboration, and willingness to learn—are often better predictors of success in a data-driven organization. Schools, universities and professional certifications often do not capture these and other attributes required in the future workplace. Until they do, careful review of the candidate selection process, especially keyword filtering, is essential so candidates that can learn quickly are not dismissed without consideration.

Ensuring businesses have a workforce fit for the post-pandemic landscape is a challenge all businesses face, but many may bring legacy thinking and hiring methods into the new era. Such organizations will suffer from high levels of churn and poor replacement rates, superseded by forward-thinking competitors that pursue a skills-oriented approach to hiring. Covid-19 accelerated many trends that were already in motion and data literacy emerged as a critical skill for every new and current employee. Businesses that develop a data-literate workforce and culture will thrive today and well into the future.