Understanding and effectively using HR technology is now a critical part of any HR professional's job, although not all professionals possess the necessary competencies. To some extent, that's understandable because technology advances so rapidly that even recent graduates may not be well-versed in new and emerging tools.
Liana Passantino, a human resources research leader with Gartner, said the sheer proliferation of data brought about by technological advancements has made data literacy critical for HR staff today. HR professionals, she noted, are expected to be able to understand, analyze, interpret, and communicate data, even if they're not directly working with technology or coding.
But there are some significant gaps in the tech-related skills employees have and the ones they need. Passantino pointed to Gartner research that found that only 11 percent of learning and development staff believe employees have the skills they need for future roles, while 64 percent of managers don't think their employees can keep pace with future skills needs.
General data literacy is a competency that everyone in HR must possess today, said Bogdan Apostol, co-founder and CEO of people intelligence platform Nestor. "Being able to interpret and present data in an easy-to-understand way is no longer a skill limited to HR decision-makers and leaders," he said. Rather, data literacy is a must-have for virtually all employees.
The issue is top of mind for HR leaders, whether they are recruiting new staff or determining how to best reskill or upskill current staff.
HR Uses Generative AI, Social Media and More
HR professionals work with a wide range of technologies, from workforce analytics to talent management systems, learning management systems, generative AI tools and even social media.
While social media platforms may not seem to require technological acumen, they do—especially for HR professionals who use them strategically to find, connect with, and compel potential applicants to action. This often requires SEO and digital advertising competencies.
"Modern recruitment and branding efforts cannot be separated from social media platforms. Therefore, it's important for people aspiring for HR-related roles to be familiar with the features of such platforms," Apostol said.
Another technology-related competency that can sometimes be overlooked, said Passantino, is data privacy and security. This is particularly pertinent in HR, which deals with a wide range of employees' personal information.
Finding HR Employees with Tech Competencies
"We know that every job in HR has a technology component to it, and we evaluate all candidates with that in mind," said Tom Wilson, president at Frederickson, a Gallagher Company, a global insurance, risk management and consulting firm. "If a chief people officer candidate cannot articulate how tech enables their function—and the company overall—to perform better, that person will not be a top candidate for any role."
Wilson added that HR leaders need to be able to demonstrate a track record in successful HR tech implementation.
"Mistakes in this area can set a company back years," he said. "Getting it right the first time is both a time and cost saver. Measure twice, cut once."
When hiring HR staff, whether in leadership or entry-level roles, it's important to assess for the tech competencies necessary to drive the HR function, and your company, forward.
Skills assessments can be used during recruiting, Apostol said. But they need to avoid generalization or standard, overused scenarios and focus instead on actual work-related situations requiring candidates to "highlight how the use of certain tools helped them solve a problem, speed up a process or improve workflows."
Upskilling and Reskilling
One strategy organizations are using to address technology-related skills gaps, Passantino said, is to identify current employees with adjacent skills. "If you're looking for someone who is very skilled in Python, for example, someone who is skilled in natural language processing is likely to have Python skills," she explained.
Another current strategy involves enabling more cross-functional mobility. "We're seeing an increasing number of clients looking at internal talent marketplaces and really trying to make their organizations have more internal mobility opportunities," Passantino said.
However, she noted that not all HR functions will be at the same level of maturity in terms of their implementation of technology: "I've spoken to clients who have implemented chatbots and are doing millions of transactions using the chatbot every year, and then we have clients that are sharing Excel spreadsheets and using SharePoint drives to share data." They are at opposite ends of the technology maturity spectrum, she said, but all along the spectrum, there will be different needs for upskilling or reskilling.
That's why it's important to do "a really comprehensive evaluation of what your current technology is and what your realistic future state is going to be," Passantino said.
Ongoing training and development efforts need to be part of every organization's efforts to ensure technical competencies, not only among HR staff-but employees at large.
The most progressive organizations, Passantino said, are finding opportunities to upskill their employees. For instance, rather than seeing automation as something that will eliminate jobs, one Gartner client trained shared services employees in user experience and design, as well as project management. They were then deployed around the organization to facilitate projects. Other organizations, she said, are training employees to find ways to identify process automation criteria.
Meanwhile, Wilson said HR leaders should continue to experiment with new technologies while making sure they remain focused on critical priorities such as data privacy.
"HR organizations also need to channel resources into experiential cross-functional programs and learning and development initiatives that are impactful, relevant and immediately actionable," he said. For example, some companies "bring IT and engineering experts into HR for a rotation, while rotating HR leaders through tech groups."
But while technology is taking on a bigger and bigger role, Passantino pointed out that person-to-person connections remain important. "There are still so many aspects of HR that require a human touch, and employees are not comfortable with certain things being automated," she said. That means today's HR professionals must reflect the right blend of both high-tech and high-touch.
Lin Grensing-Pophal is a freelance writer in Chippewa Falls, Wis.