At an HR careers event I attended recently, there was some uncomfortable shifting in seats when the speaker asked how many of the audience had a career development plan or knew what the most sought-after HR skills of the future would be.

Truth is, practitioners are often so busy looking after other people’s career development that they have a tendency to overlook their own.

Latest soundings from the recruitment industry suggest that prospects for HR careers are pretty healthy at the moment. According to the Robert Walters UK Job Index, the number of HR roles increased by 25% in the first quarter of 2017, compared to the same time last year.

That’s good news for HR, but regardless of whether you are looking for a new job or are happy staying put where you are, now is not the time to rest on your laurels! Demographic, technological and regulatory changes are already having a huge impact on the way organisations manage their people. HR practitioners simply cannot afford to stand still if they want to do the best job for the business or for themselves.

What will your career as an HR professional look like in five years’ time? What skills and qualities will you need to develop to ensure you stay current and marketable to prospective employers?

Future HR skills

Probably the biggest area where HR people need to move their skills up a notch is around the whole area of technology. Digital transformation has become the norm, and as technology continues to advance, it is increasingly important for HR people to figure out where they fit in.

Business nous in the context of change is now a given. HR folk are increasingly expected to map the commercial and financial imperatives of the organisations they work for to HR initiatives – especially in relation to building a more agile and productive workforce. This can mean embracing new methods of recruitment or e-learning technology; using HR software to automate processes or taking an employee-led experience to how HR services are delivered.

It is widely predicted that a new cadre of HR data specialists will emerge over the coming years, but all practitioners need to equip themselves with the skills to interpret data and turn the story it is telling them into practical initiatives that will improve productivity, reduce absence, increase retention and generally inform key business decisions.

The soft skills that the HR profession has always placed emphasis on are also subtly shifting.  In its recently revamped HR profession map, the CIPD emphasises qualities such as curiosity, collaboration, decisiveness, the ability to influence and courage to challenge.

These evolving skill requirements are in response to a wider recognition that the whole way we work is changing.  In Deloitte’s 2017 Global Human Capital Trends Report, for example, 90% of HR and business leaders cited a need to re-engineer their entire organisational model.  “This means rethinking leadership, management, careers and jobs,” says HR guru Josh Bersin, adding that organisations of the future will need to “create a work experience that fosters innovation and sharing, productivity, well-being and a sense of purpose.”


 Key questions to ask

A tall order for HR folk then.  So as an HR practitioner, how well does your current skill set match up? Here are the some of the key questions you should be asking yourself, to ensure you are fit for the demands of the future profession:


  • Do I have a clear plan for my career going forward?
  • How confident am I that my current skills and qualities match what the profession will be looking for in five years’ time?
  • What training do I need to do to plug any skills gaps?
  • What informal learning opportunities can I plug into to supplement my formal development?
  • Am I tapping into the latest HR thought leadership by reading widely and attending conferences and events?
  • How well networked am I, both within the profession and outside?
  • Is my commercial knowledge up-to-date?  If not, would a sideways move, secondment or mentoring help me improve?
  • How strong is my internal network?  Am I close enough to what’s really happening in the business?
  • Am I a technology enthusiast or a technophobe?  What can I do to improve my understanding of how technology is impacting both the HR professional and the organisation I work for?
  • If I was made redundant tomorrow, how confident am I that my current experience and skill-set would stand me in good stead?
Erika Lucas author image

Erika Lucas

Writer and Communications Consultant

Erika Lucas is a writer and communications consultant with a special interest in HR, leadership, management and personal development. Her career has spanned journalism and PR, with previous roles in regional press, BBC Radio, PR consultancy, charities and business schools.