Mercer: HR analytics helps tackling workforce tsunami

12 February 2015

In a recently released discussion from HR Directors Business Summit in Birmingham, Mercer’s HR Principal Julia Howes discusses comments made by her colleague Charlotte Harding at the World Economic Forum. She notes that HR data analytics will be extremely useful in mapping out a firm’s future labour demands and oversee the deep uncertainties approaching from an aging population and the rise of robots.  

In September last year reported on BCG’s long term analysis of the labour market in Europe and around the world. The findings varied across regions; however, the UK shows a single digit surplus in 2020 of between 6% and 8%, and a labour force that balances between a slight surplus and a slight shortage by 2030. Brazil is especially expected to face challenges, with IT staffing issues already on the horizon.

Labour Supply Versus Demand

Workforce tsunami
The problems associated with a disjointed workforce, with under- and over-supply may indicate, according to experts from HR consulting firm Mercer, that “a workforce tsunami is approaching.” To prevent supply issues from inundating businesses and to prepare them for a changing and potentially radically different labour future labour market, Julia Howes, a Principal at Mercer, cites the firm’s own researcher Principal Charlotte Harding, that an emphasis on HR analytics will need to play a key role in determining the future of work. “We know that the future workforce will be highly fragmented, but we don’t know what capacity this workforce will work in, or in what direction organisations will go,” according to Harding.

Julia Howes and Charlotte Harding - Mercer

HR analytics
As it stands employers are engaging a combination of channels to fill role requirements, with 64% of firms currently employing agency workers for “short term access to key strategic skills,” over employing or training their own talent to fill the shortcoming. To best decide how to engage talent, the insights that HR analytics give, may be able to provide strategic solutions for talent bottlenecks within the organisation – so that firms can act confidently and efficiently between expanding their own talent or buying in talent for specific levels of an organisation. Another benefit from an analytic approach, according to Howes, is to map out the future strategic needs of an organisation, helping employers identify what kinds of roles and skills will be needed so that HR can act proactively rather than reactively on training or headhunting the required talent. Further benefits includes identifying the movement of workers within the organisation, to gain an understanding of how people move into and out of positions to potentially identify poor management and other factors influencing people to stay or go.

To gain a good grasp of the workforce in a way that performance and costs were understood throughout and that staff development and productivity could be prioritised in key areas, the current HR information systems (HRIS) need to be overhauled for a system of analytics that does capture the “total workforce.” With the information gleaned from analytics made available to the key decision makers within an organisation, a better decision making process can be put in place for executives to understand the whole organisational development. “It is vital that HR is aligned with company growth,” Howes adds.


IT shortages
The environment in which businesses are operating is rapidly changing, with 90% of the world’s information created in the past two years, 88% of employers are already reporting IT shortages – which means that organisations are already not equipped to deal with the changing market conditions. “A lot of it boils down to us not be ready for the shift,” explains Howes. The changes in the future around automation may have a massive effect on the UK labour market, with one report citing that up to 1/3 of currently work is under threat. These changes, according to Mercers’ Harding, call up deep social questions, saying “It is no secret that many jobs could be replaced by robots – termed ‘robo-sourcing’ – but we as a society are not yet ready to have robot surgeons operating on us.”



Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

17 April 2019

Soft skills matter in the workplace just as much as technical expertise, writes Samantha Caine, Managing Director of Business Linked Teams.

For too long technical expertise has been seen as the marker of a strong candidate for development into a sales or leadership position. Sales and leadership candidates are tasked with demonstrating a diverse and wide-ranging set of technical skills, yet their aptitude in these technical skills or ‘hard skills’ cannot signify great leadership potential. This is why a healthy balance of soft skills and technical ability is required. 

So what exactly is the difference between technical skills and soft skills? In engineering, it’s crucial to demonstrate knowledge of physics as well as a strong grasp on mathematical equations. Yet, in any industry, it’s important for leaders to be able to interact with other people effectively with soft skills like communication, empathy and adaptability. 

Business Linked Team’s 2018 study into internal leadership development revealed that 69% of large organisations are prioritising the identification and development of future leaders from within the workforce. As more and more organisations begin to invest in sales or leadership development within their existing workforces, more focus needs to be placed on ensuring the right soft skills are in place. 

With those soft skills in place throughout the workforce, the business will benefit from a wider pool of potential leaders developing under their noses, and it should be the same where sales candidates are concerned. 

It’s not just about easier access to ideal candidates for these positions without the rigmarole of recruiting from outside of the organisation. The leadership development study also found that 89% of HR decision makers say succession planning has become a top priority. Those currently serving in leadership positions can’t lead forever and the same goes for those generating sales for the business.

Why leaders must balance technical expertise with soft skills

From people leaving for new opportunities or retirement, to people simply stepping aside to focus on other areas of the business, successful leaders and salespeople require experienced and capable successors that will be ready and able to confidently step into their shoes and pick up the mantle without the business experiencing any lapse in performance.

Soft skills make stronger candidates

When it comes to the soft skills required, a strong leader must be able to manage through clear communication and effective time management, coaching and goal setting. They must be able to demonstrate empathy and empower their teams to be successful, productive and fully engaged. And beyond simply giving direction, they must also be able to take direction from those above them and cascade the business strategy down through their teams. 

A strong sales candidate must possess the ability to communicate value to the customer, negotiate well and protect margin or the ability to increase the scope of a particular sales opportunity. 

With the relevant soft skills in place, the business will benefit from increased productivity, greater agility against changing market conditions and greater transparency. In turn, this will provide visibility on issues and inefficiencies while removing opportunity for miscommunication. All of this can transform the culture of a department, improving employee satisfaction and reducing staff turnover. 

Ultimately, developing leadership or sales candidates will require the business to strike the right balance between technical skills and soft skills, and this requires an effective and sustained learning journey.

A balanced learning journey

Facilitating and supporting the development of leadership and sales is best achieved by establishing training groups. By cultivating training groups, businesses are creating talent pools that will inspire and support each other on the learning journey. However, personal goals and learning objectives must be defined for each individual based on their own existing skillsets and the skills that each individual needs to develop. 

With the emergence of e-learning, businesses recognise the value of online-based learning activities, yet many make the mistake of opting for one-size-fits-all solutions which are solely focused on self-study. A development solution will only deliver true return on investment if it combines e-learning activities with group learning activities that provide opportunity for shared experiences and support.

A blended learning solution that combines self-study and face-to-face group learning activities will aid strong development of the talent pool through shared experiences. Through these shared experiences, those undergoing the training will organically develop a support network that supports the development of the group as much as it supports the development of each individual. 

The blended learning approach is supported by one of the seven principles of human learning that socially supported interactions aid the individual development of expertise, metacognitive skills, and formation of the learner’s sense of self. The strongest opportunities for development can be unlocked by blending workshops with online activities such as virtual sessions, peer coaching, self-study, online games and business simulations. But it’s crucial to provide a blend of one-to-one and group sessions too.

Beyond delivering a better learning outcome for the employee, the blended learning approach allows organisations to adapt their training quickly and easily to shifting business demands in an ever-changing landscape.