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Managing tomorrow’s workforce

Employers are utilising a wide range of strategies to meet the challenges presented by the changing nature of work

Working hours have increased in almost half (46 per cent) of organisations in the past two years.

Working hours have increased in almost half (46 per cent) of organisations in the past two years.


How the workforce of the future is to be best managed is a key question for human resources practitioners and management alike. With unemployment falling, skills gaps emerging and the war for talent set to intensify, getting the right recruitment and retention strategies in place is more important than ever, for both private and public sector organisations.

It’s an area into which the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development (CIPD) can provide deep insight, thanks to new research. A recent survey of more than 900 HR professionals finds more than three quarters (78 per cent) have experienced skills shortages in the past 12 months.

These shortages were across their business, with operations and IT topping the list. “With unemployment dropping and challenges associated with attracting and retaining talent, organisations will have to invest in creative ways to plan for, and address, emerging skills gaps into the future,” says CIPD Ireland director Mary Connaughton.

Exactly half of the respondents reported increased voluntary employee turnover over the past two years, in line with the improving labour market. Employee turnover was lowest in organisations with fewer than 50 employees, but 44 per cent of all organisations expected this increased turnover trend to continue over the next two years.

“Employee turnover is therefore likely to be a feature of the workplace for the foreseeable future,” Connaughton says. “This creates an increased need to build insights into the profile of job movers and the drivers of retention, and puts resourcing and retention strategies centre stage for HR teams.”

Job redesign, where jobs are reviewed and tasks reallocated to boost productivity and very often job satisfaction too, is a growing response to these challenges, with 57 per cent of respondents having engaged in it in the past two years.

Given increased employee turnover and the changing nature of work, this is no surprise, according to Connaughton. “A significant 70 per cent of HR professionals expect job redesign activity to continue to increase over the next two years.”

Working hours have increased

Again an indicator of labour market squeeze, working hours have increased in almost half (46 per cent) of organisations in the past two years.

Diversity has improved too, with 47 per cent of respondents reporting an increase in the level of workplace diversity over the past two years and more than half, 56 per cent, expecting this trend to continue. “It is critically important that organisations fully understand and support the value of diversity and inclusion in the workplace,” says Connaughton.

Priority issues for organisations identified by the survey include talent management. It was found to be the top priority for three out of five respondents, a reflection of the fact that about the same amount had experienced skills shortages.

Next up on the priority list is leadership development, while increasing the agility and flexibility of their workforce came in at number three.

Ensuring employee engagement, culture change, and performance management are other areas organisations are keen to get to grips with, followed by recruitment and resourcing, and coaching line managers.

Unfortunately, 60 per cent of HR practitioners say they are working on outdated and inflexible IT systems. “For many organisations, this lack of access to data analytics is problematic as it is key to providing insights which inform strategic decision-making, as well as to improving performance and productivity,” says Connaughton.

Investing in people is identified by almost a third as a top strategic priority for organisations, with employers spending 3.8 per cent of payroll on learning and development (L&D) last year.

This L&D activity includes training in relation to culture change as well as systems development, technical skills, coaching and mentoring and performance enhancement. More than two thirds of those surveyed had an employee wellbeing policy or programme in place, which may help to address challenges around work-life balance and the increased working hours also identified.

In terms of creating an attractive place to work, 64 per cent of organisations offer enhanced maternity benefits in the form of top-up payment during maternity leave. Some 42 per cent offer enhanced paternity leave benefits, while many also provide additional flexibilities to new parents.

In order to fill yawning skills gaps, greater emphasis is being put on growing talent pipelines. According to the survey, just under two thirds are engaged in upskilling their current workforce, with almost the same amount working to increase the number of development opportunities for employees.

“This represents a significant investment in people to ensure that skills are future-proofed and there is an adequate talent pipeline for the future,” Connaughton says.