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CIPD Festival of Work 2024: Day two round-up

Employers need to enable better 'teaming' skills, argued one of the panellists of CIPD's skills debate yesterday

The final day of this year’s CIPD Festival of Work took place at London’s Excel centre yesterday (13 June). Here are our highlights.

‘Teaming’ trumps AI skills

Technical AI skills will account for less than 1% of the skills our future workforce will need, explained Claire Tunley, chief executive of the Financial Services Skills Commission. Instead, one of the key skills that financial services CEOs will need – described as “the next skills megatrend” – will be ‘teaming’: the ability to help people work together as a team.

“Though tech and AI are a huge disruptor, and the financial services sector in particular will need people with deep AI technical skills, around 15% of our workforce will need the skills to connect AI expertise into our existing systems,” said Tunley. “The majority of our workforce, over 80%, will be AI users, and the skills they will need will be things like critical thinking and relationship management.”

Tom Ravenscroft, CEO of the charity Skills Builder Partnership, agreed that essential skills including communication and problem-solving skills will be key for the future workforce. Fostering these essential or transferrable skills will enable a skills evolution, rather than a revolution, Ravenscroft argued, referring to the National Foundation for Educational Research’s findings of worsening skills gaps by the year 2030.

So what are the building blocks for enabling better teaming skills? Tunley explained that as well as relationship management, agility and adaptability, teaming requires confidence: “You’ve got to have resilience and confidence that you can just go into a team and work, and create an environment where everyone knows what they’re doing.”

People are less confident in using digital skills than we might think, said Liz Williams, CEO of the digital skills advocacy group FutureDotNow, referencing a comment made by CIPD’s CEO Peter Cheese, who once described himself as “a digitally dangerous director”. HR needs to normalise digital learning, Williams continued, especially as there seems to be a low appetite for digital upskilling: just four in 10 people currently plan to bolster their digital skills, she explained.

Read more: CIPD Festival of Work 2024: Day one round-up

EDI progress requires realism, and smart goals

To combat fatigue around equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI), HR leaders must be realistic about the goals their organisation sets, to ensure progress is achievable and gains momentum. EDI specialist Bola Adesina advised people leaders to ensure that there is strategic alignment between business objectives and realistic EDI goals, and that the business’ infrastructure supports those goals.

“Ask yourself how you are doing: are you taking actions internally that reflect what you’re saying externally?” said Adesina.

Suki Kaur, director of people for Avask Accounting and Business, agreed that smart objectives are key to progress in the EDI sphere. She also highlighted the importance of leaders: “We need leaders that truly understand EDI’s importance, why people are resistant to change, and how to enable people to feel like they belong,” she said. “We need to educate the C suite, and all leaders, to ensure that EDI doesn’t become a tick box exercise. But we also need to understand that progress doesn’t happen overnight. Take small steps and set smart objectives.”

Natasha Whitehurst, global inclusion lead for Rolls-Royce, said: “There will always be pushback around EDI but the key is to recognise the good work that has come before, make clear how EDI fits into the business strategy, and use your data.” Accountability is also important, Whitehurst explained, giving the example of how, at Rolls-Royce, every leader has to report their progress on EDI during quarterly business review meetings.

On the topic of reporting EDI progress, Asrif Yusoff, head of leadership academy for Petronas Leadership Centre, explained that analysing and translating EDI data is a bigger challenge than securing the data in the first place. “It’s easy to make generalisations about the data, but HR leaders must contextualise and localise the findings,” he said, advocating for leaders to go back to their people and find out what’s going on, behind what the data seems to show. This will allow for a clear and strategic EDI strategy, he argued.

Middle managers in particular require clarity, and clear communication, according to Adesina. For middle management leaders, “take it back to basics,” she advised. “Stop using complex language. Make EDI real, for them.”


Communication: Less is more, and relevancy is key

In a panel discussion that focused on how HR and internal communications teams can collaborate, Leanne Tsang, internal communications campaign manager for the telecommunications business BT Group, urged professionals to reign in the temptation to constantly message employees, whether by email or other means. “The biggest mistake a communicator can make is to communicate too much,” she explained. Focus on the right messaging at strategic points, so that employees don’t feel spammed, and disengage.

Rachel Miller, founder of the consultancy All Things IC, added: “Because of the volume of content being sent, and because HR and internal comms aren’t the only people who are communicating within an organisation, the cut through becomes a lot harder. The task of making sure that the right people are hearing the right information and the right time, to help them do their jobs has become immeasurably harder.

“The key question is always around relevancy: why should they care? What’s in it for me?”

Addressing the shared goals of communications and HR teams, Tsang argued that the two should collaborate to become trusted organisational advisers. “We need to work together to help our people make good choices, as well as making sure that we focus on the work that needs to happen in our organisations,” she said.

“But we must do so in a way that brings people with us. We need to communicate with our people, and for our people, not to them and at them – there’s a real difference."


Mentoring can help women with convictions return to work

Women who leave prison are twice as likely to be reconvicted than men. This is because of the unique barriers women face when leaving prison and re-entering society, explained Lorna Jones, social mobility manager and chair of the employment advisory board at Co-op and HMP Styal. 

Speaking on a panel at the EDI stage, she said: “There are women who have so many skills and really want to get back into work, but what’s missing is their confidence and self-belief.

“Men can leave prison on a Friday and start work on Monday because the support will likely be there at home to allow them to do that. 

“For women, the priority is to get their families back. Employers have to understand that there’s a transitionary period.”

Jones noticed this gap and worked with the CIPD Trust to set up a mentoring programme for HR professionals, to help women with convictions at HMP Styal re-enter the workplace.

She continued: “I could see there was a gap for HR professionals to help women overcome this. Having someone with the skills to help them is really important.

“If women don’t believe they can do that job and stay in that job, you're missing a trick in helping them have that sustainable outcome after prison.”

Mindy Sanghera, head of EDI at St Giles Trust, an employment charity for people with disadvantages, was previously convicted.

HR has the ability to show women that employers will want to hire them, Sanghera explained.

She commented: “It's about showing women that employers are open to this, the benefit you can bring to that business but also the benefit you can bring to society as a whole.

“Businesses will reap the rewards of having a diverse pool of talent in your organisation.”

Read more: Hiring ex-offenders: new guidance published by CIPD Trust

Enable managers to manage stress

As the state of the world is constantly changing thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic fallout, the rise of AI and conflict around the world, employees have a lot on their minds.

“This is having a big impact on our wellbeing and how we’re feeling at work,” said Emma White, psychologist at wellbeing platform OpenUp. “All of these changes are happening at such an increased pace; this is causing employees to feel constantly overwhelmed.”

When this overwhelm isn’t addressed it can cause exhaustion, White added, and will impact business outcomes. 

Managers are responsible for offering employees support through stress, White suggested: “Managers can have a big impact, and can create psychological safety in the team they're working in. This leads to a high trust environment, which leads to better decision-making and outcomes for the company as a whole.”

However managers are also experiencing overwhelm, White argues, quoting that 54% of managers suffer from work-induced stress. HR has a responsibility to equip managers with the skills to be able to manage employees’, and their own, stress, said White.

White advised: “Encourage managers to build internal and external peer groups and consider foundational policies.

“Equip managers with support tools. The most important thing is having mental wellbeing solutions that are accessible for everybody.”


Reframe the psychological contract

“The psychological contract has changed a lot,” said Ivy Kodjovi, global DEI partnerships and strategy senior manager at Burberry, speaking on a panel at the wellbeing stage. Employees are now more likely to be vocal about what they expect from their company and what they want from their role.

“For companies with so many generations in your organisations, think about how those generations feel and how that impacts how they show up to work and accept psychological safety.”

Psychological safety should be about enabling employees to speak up, show up for work in ways that work for them in the moment and feeling as though work is more than transactional, Kodjovi explained.

She commented: “As HR, think about how we put the human and the heart into HR. We know there's policies, legislation and resources, but when you consider how you can take that and make it work for the individual, we create a psychologically safe environment.”

Employers should communicate the psychological safety of their organisation from recruitment onwards, said Daniel Chan, senior wellbeing and employee experience manager at insurance group QBE.

He said: “The biggest impact we can have on psychological safety is from day zero, when people are applying to a job.”

Leaders should set the example for psychological safety from the top, Chan added. But HR is responsible for empowering the organisation to create a psychologically safe environment.

He continued: “The phrase ‘psychological safety’ does put people off, so use language that is effective for your organisation. Think about how you’re going to empower your teams to make them thrive, but also when you go to leaders, explain what it means and what it means to their teams.”


Make onboarding memorable

As employers are increasingly looking to retain employees, successful onboarding could make a difference to the employee lifecycle.

“Your recruitment journey starts with the moment you have your first contact with your candidate,” said Kelly O’Callaghan, recruitment and sourcing manager UK and IE for the retail business Ikea. “When people make an impact on you, you will always remember it.”

Employers should identify how they can inject human connection through the onboarding experience, she suggested.

She said: “Within Ikea, we recruit around 3,500 new recruits per year. It's about identifying in your process how digital can support you, and what touchpoints make a difference when it comes to people.”

“We introduce buddies to meet their coworkers as they join on their first day. That human connection makes a difference when it comes to your experience." 

Munir Faiz, HR business partner at petroleum supplier Petronas Dagangan Berhad, suggested the values demonstrated during onboarding should be reflected in the company once employees arrive.

He said: “Role modelling is important. As much as we talk about onboarding, it's also about making sure the echo system within the organisation is reflective of what we promised employees, so when employees come in they see that the organisation walks the talk.

“Think about the experience you want to create because the experience creates a belief and the belief shapes a result."