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Skills shortages impede HR's progress

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HRDs believe skills shortages are likely to hold their function back from adding value to their organisation, according to a DAC Beachcroft and HR magazine report

Skills shortages in key strategic areas is the number one problem impeding HR’s progress, according to a report from law firm DAC Beachcroft and HR magazine.

The survey of 150 HR directors found that 61% believe skills shortages are likely to hold their function back from adding value to their organisation, beating a lack of buy-in from senior management (40%), lack of HR capability (39%), and headcount shortages (23%).

Jenni Chambers, head of talent at 2 Sisters Food Group, told HR magazine that companies should try to cultivate talent from within the business, rather than looking externally. “One thing we recognise as an issue is that our skills requirement is always changing,” she said. “So we need to find new ways of accessing talent and keeping it.

“There is a lot of talent within the organisation, but the employees with the potential you need might not have ever had the opportunity, or been recognised to have the ability, to shine.”

As a result, 2 Sisters Food Group is offering apprenticeships to those already in the organisation who may be considering a career change. “There is a perception that apprenticeships are just for school leavers,” Chambers explained. “However, we need to look at growing talent in different ways as there is a shrinking pool of people with the right skills externally.”

The second largest area of concern for HR leaders was found to be budget constraints, cited by 57% of those polled. Alex Lock, a partner in the employment and pensions group at DAC Beachcroft, described the lack of funding as “odd”.

“When you ask a CEO what their biggest business challenge is they will say they need new talent and they need to retain the talent they already have,” he said. “But isn’t that what HR [does]? There’s still an attitude that HR is there for disciplinaries, grievances and recruitment, and that it doesn’t have much to offer in terms
of strategy.”

Lock described the vicious cycle that forms when HR teams cannot deliver because they do not have the budget, then cannot argue for a higher budget because of a lack of tangible results. “Most of what businesses deal with is all about people and that should absolutely be HR’s space, and yet we see this lack of investment in HR,” he said.

“HR people might then not have the confidence to stand up and discuss strategy because of this apparent lack of buy-in.”

The report also found that HR suffers from a lack of time to future-gaze and plan ahead. Nearly six out of 10 (57%) respondents agreed that this factor was impeding their potential progress.

“It’s definitely easier to work with what you see right in front of you, rather than trying to look forwards,” said Chambers. “However, it is the long term that is really important. Your workplace is changing all the time, with needs that must be filled right now rather than in three years’ time. We should ask what we will need our people to be able to do as we evolve.

“We must be able to think more proactively about the future, but it is a challenge. It’s time we started thinking differently about what lies ahead.”

Lock concluded that it is up to HR to find ways to look beyond the issues holding it back. “In an ideal world the senior management team would recognise what the HR function is capable of, and offer the support so it can deliver,” he said. “But in the real world you can’t expect senior managers to have an epiphany – HR must demonstrate the value
it adds to the business.”

HR magazine’s supplement on the future of HR, in partnership with DAC Beachcroft, is published with our May issue