Priorities for Talent and HR Leaders in 2021

Jamie Sharp

Writer & Blogger

Now that 2020 is firmly in the rear-view mirror and we can focus on the exciting possibilities that 2021 will offer once the vaccination rollout helps return life to some semblance of normal. We’ve had a look at what the priorities for Talent Acquisition and HR leaders might be for the coming year.

A recent survey of more than 800 HR leaders by Gartner showed that cost optimisation is featuring widely as well as growth and improving operational excellence. To achieve this, 68% of the HR leaders surveyed said they would focus on building critical skills and competencies.

Mark Whittle, VP Advisory at Gartner says

‘As organisations move from their initial pandemic response to more sustainable operations, they’re trying to build resilience into everything, from strategy to work design, so as to enable the organisation, its leadership and employees to sense and respond to change, repeatedly.’

Other areas the survey highlighted as being essential to HR leaders were – organisational design and change management (46%), current and future leadership bench (44%), the future of work (32%) and employee experience (28%).

Even though infection rates of Covid-19 are still high, the prospect of the situation improving over the coming weeks and months has meant that HR leaders are moving away from crisis management and focusing on activities that will make their organisations strong by building the skills and competencies necessary to grow their businesses today and in the future.

What are some of the priorities for Talent and HR leaders in 2021?

The Gartner survey identified several priorities that talent acquisition and HR leaders need to prioritise throughout 2021.

Taking a new approach to reskilling

Businesses need to look at how they reskill and redeploy talent within their organisation. By working closely with stakeholders, they’ll be able to identify shifting skill needs and find ways to develop the skills when they’re required.

Currently, 36% of the HR leaders who took the survey aren’t aware of the skill gaps their current employees have, 33% don’t effectively integrate learning into employee workflows, and 31% can’t create skill development solutions fast enough.

A dynamic approach to reskilling will let HR leaders identify the required skills more rapidly, and subsequently, 75% of those skills will be applied by employees.

Driving Employee Experience

The Covid-19 pandemic has made driving employee experience more complicated and challenging as hybrid working has become the norm. However, 31% of HR leaders consider employee experience to be a priority as do 46% of heads of diversity, equity and inclusion.

Identifying the future of work trends

62% of HR leaders say that their organisations do not have an explicit future of work strategy, though 33% do consider it to be a top priority.

As with many other areas of work, the Coronavirus pandemic had a lasting effect on the future of work. Certain areas will be accelerated, such as remote working and increased use of employee data.

It will also create new impacts; for instance, an organisation could distinguish itself as an exceptional employee brand by virtue of its crisis response.

Mark Whittle, VP Advisory at Gartner comments,

‘The lens through which HR leaders must understand the relevance, impact and opportunity of each future of work trend for the business is critical to strategic planning and scenario planning.’

As well as priorities for 2021, HR leaders have some challenges to deal with over the coming months. Change management is one such issue as 37% of managers aren’t equipped to lead change, and additionally, 36% of employees are fatigued by the constant change.

One final area is costs. 50% of HR leaders have said that they plan on focusing on optimising costs this year an increase of 13% over last year.

Talent Acquisition trends in 2021

The challenges resulting from the pandemic and multiple lockdowns and lessons learnt have resulted in some recruiting trends that look set to continue into 2021.

Virtual recruiting – this trend dominated out of necessity, forcing many businesses to adopt virtual hiring practices. Employers have also benefitted from reduced costs, time saved and improved candidate experiences.

Candidate Experience – According to Brian White, Executive Director of Human Resources & Operations, Auburn-Washburn Unified School District 437, ‘The number one trend in talent acquisition in 2021 will be candidate experience. Coming out of the pandemic, job seekers will be looking for new careers, new positions, and new companies. Those that have lost their jobs will be anxious to find new ones. Those that did not leave a job for fear of not finding another will be selective in their search. The experiences they have will greatly impact their decisions, as well as what they tell others in their inner circles.’

Recruiting at “team level” for diversity – The goal for 2021 will be well-rounded, diverse teams. Organisations will analyse who they need on a team by team basis rather than on a company-wide basis and recruit accordingly.

Showcasing great remote working practices – A driving trend in 2021 will be around employers who can show a great remote working experience, in terms of culture and support for employees (parental etc.) and not change the compensation based on employee location.

Employer Branding – According to Nate Guggia, co-founder, Before You Apply, ‘Employer branding, with an emphasis creating lower volume, higher quality recruiting outcomes, will be the top TA trend of 2021. In short, embracing ‘attract and repel’ as a fundamental recruiting strategy, driven by authentic content at scale.’

Key takeaways

The coronavirus pandemic, a subject I’m sure you’re are all familiar with, has affected every aspect of business from how you work to how you can recruit and whether your business succeeds or fails.

The changes caused by the pandemic last year and the prospect of resolution due to the Covid-19 vaccine have changed the key priorities of Talent Acquisition and HR Leaders. Though cost optimisation is still a priority, many HR and Talent Acquisition professionals want to focus on growth and build critical skills and competencies to allow their organisations to recover and grow.

Employee experience has become more important as has equipping management with the skills they need to manage and lead the changes required to facilitate future prosperity.

Talent Acquisition has also seen significant change during 2020 from moving to virtual recruiting to the need to focus on candidate experience both for employed job seekers looking to move on, and for those who lost their roles due to downsizing.

2021 will be a challenging year, but with a vaccine shaped light at the end of the tunnel, the continuing challenges of 2020 will hopefully be short-term.

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