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What you may have missed from day one at CIPD ACE 2021

The HR magazine team headed to Manchester for the CIPD’s annual conference this week. 

The hybrid event, which allowed delegates to tune in virtually or attend in person, featured plenty of forward-thinking from the people profession across the country.  

Here’s what else we learned on day one.  


Skills challenges are still a priority  

CIPD chief executive Peter Cheese kicked off this year’s conference by outlining the skills challenges facing HR professionals.  

He said: “During the pandemic migrant workers went home plus Brexit to some extent has added to the skills challenges we are facing. There was also sector shifts with some workers having been furloughed leaving their sector 

“The skills challenges are certainly affecting organisations in different ways and forcing us to think strategically about the skills we need for the future of work.” 


HR needs to take hold of change  

Professor at London Business School Lynda Gratton took up the opening keynote via video link to encourage HR professionals to seize the moment and drive change in their organisations. 

After great periods of change, she said, companies seek to ‘re-freeze’  and consolidate any changes they have made before confirming their new normal 

“I have never seen so many companies refreezing at the same time. This is the only time you’re really going to have to bring flexibility into your organisation.” 

However she warned that leaders will revert to old ways if HR’s changes do not deliver on their promises. 

She added: “If what you’re doing now doesn’t increase productivity, it will be pulled out from under you.” 


People analytics needs to be part of decision making 

Bartek Sibiliski, head of HR and analytics at JLL Singapore, shared a case study with delegates on how the real estate agency has been able to integrate people analytics into its decision making. 

When seeking to achieve leadership buy-in, Sibiliski advised HR to start small. 

He said: “We started with a pilot focusing on Singapore with a view to scale up quickly, I know that if we started the other way around and HR would push proposals to the board it would have been much harder.” 

Engaging with other stakeholders and working to build trust with senior management was also critical to their approach. 

He added: “I already had relationships with the leaders and managers to build some trust, so I think that helps the engagement with the business. I teamed up with our future of work lead in the consulting side of our business and we joined together over to deliver the proposition.” 

Read our cover story on people analytics here:

Putting people on the analytics map, part one

Putting people on the analytics map, part two


There’s a variety of hybrid models out there  

For any model of hybrid working that includes some locational flexibility, Andrew Mawson, founder and managing director of Advanced Workplace Associates, said: “The game has completely changed. You can no longer calculate how much space you need beforehand.” 

For flexible working, he argued, companies will increasingly need flexible spaces. This could be through desk-booking apps or smart-desk systems, where each team’s position changes depending on their requirements and in-office presence that day.  

Gemma Dale, lecturer at Liverpool John Moore’s University, added: “If all we think about is locational flexibility, we’ve failed. 

“A successful hybrid workplace will connect people wherever they are. It will have a focus on contribution, and not the hours people work.” 


Decrease in older workers and students  

Sharing some of the CIPD’s latest Labour Market Outlook data senior policy advisor Gerwyn Davies, said though the causes of labours shortages are numerous, there has been a notable fall in the economic activity of older workers and students. 

Though there are no clear reasons why this is happening, one of the predominant trends is that people have been reassessing their options. 

Recruitment difficulties are also being impacted by an over reliance on temporary workers, and employers tapping into a narrow range of recruitment channels. 

Davies said: “If we look at the last few decades, we've been very lucky in that an increase in immigration has offset labour participation in the UK and there's a big question mark now whether that will continue and what that means for us as employers to continue to develop that talent pipeline.” 


Empowering managers 

Many wellbeing issues – and with them retention, engagement, and productivity issues – can be solved by working better with managers, agreed the plenary panel on wellbeing. 

Aneela McKenna, diversity, inclusion, and wellbeing manager at the Scottish Parliament, said: “Line managers tend to get left behind.” 

“They’re on the front line. They can pick up on the early signs of when there’s an issue.” 

Shalini Bhateja, HR director APAC of Coca Cola Singapore, said: “The way to impact engagement, efficiency, performance, you name it – is through the line manager. 

Training is one answer, she said: “The way to impact it is to build line manager experience. 

Another is through mutual feedback: “A two-way dialogue between associate and line manager really helps.” 


HR magazine will be covering highlights of the CIPD Annual Conference and Exhibition all well. Subscribe to our newsletter to be the first with the latest news and updated.