Recession-Proof Your HR Career: 7 Steps You Can Take Right Now

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Recession-Proof Your HR Career: 7 Steps You Can Take Right Now

As the job market becomes increasingly competitive and unpredictable, it is more important than ever for HR professionals to recession-proof their careers. 

This means developing (future) skills required now to stay ahead of the game and thrive in any economic climate. This article will discuss what skills HR will need and the steps you can take to develop them.

Remaining competitive in a recession
Advantages of upskilling for HR professionals 
The risks of not upskilling during a recession
15 Top future skills HR needs to develop 
Steps to take to recession-proof your HR career
How HR can approach their managers to motivate L&D spending

Remaining competitive in a recession

Recent economic downturns have made many leaders in organizations skittish. Economic downturns can lead to a potential recession, and the concern has led to some companies pre-emptively reducing staff or further tightening their belts. Even 61% of economists predicted a likelihood of a recession in 2023.

Although we’re not in a recession yet, and cannot predict with 100% certainty that there will be one, it’s important as HR professionals to understand the potential implications, challenges, and opportunities presented when there is economic uncertainty.  

Let’s examine the implications of economic downturns. During these periods, businesses may experience decreased demand for their products or services and increased cost pressures. This makes organizations make tough decisions, particularly when cutting expenses, reducing staff, or issuing hiring freezes. 

Additionally, businesses may look for innovative, cost-effective ways to streamline operations, such as implementing automation.

These decisions will directly impact HR, as HR professionals play an essential role in managing the workforce and ensuring the organization has the talent and skills needed to meet its goals. 

In a recession, HR professionals may need to navigate complex situations, such as layoffs, developing severance packages, and other legal considerations, but they will also need to assist the business in adopting new business models in response to the changing market climate.

And the HR profession itself will face new pressures to demonstrate the value they bring to the organization during economic uncertainty. This calls for a proactive approach to developing future skills and competencies to assist the business in weathering the storm and position itself as a valuable HR business partner. 

Those HR professionals who invest in their upskilling pre-recession will be better equipped to withstand the potential challenges and be better positioned to provide value to the business. 

Let’s further unpack the benefits of proactively developing your future skills now.

Advantages of upskilling for HR professionals 

There are several compelling reasons why HR professionals should be looking to position themselves as indispensable partners in the business by upskilling. These benefits include:

  • Improved job security. 79% of HR professionals don’t have the skills to tackle the people challenges they will face over the next five years. As a People practitioner, equipping yourself with relevant skills and competencies will help illustrate your continued value for the business.
  • Increased earning potential. An HR professional who has the skills and competencies organizations need to remain competitive will be in a better position to negotiate – and obtain – a higher salary.
  • Enhanced career progression opportunities. Taking your development seriously, for instance, by staying on top of your skills and competencies, will open up more opportunities for career progression. 
  • Ability to take on new and emerging roles within HR. Upskilling is also about acquiring competencies needed in the (near) future. As such, HR professionals who upskill themselves increase their ability to take on new and emerging roles within HR. 
  • Increased ability to drive innovation and change within the organization. Upskilling is also about having a growth mindset, about being curious and willing to learn. As such, it increases people’s ability to drive organizational innovation and change.  
  • Become a valued HR business partner. Organizations with efficient HR business partners have enhanced employee performance, revenue, and profits by 22%, 7%, and 9%, respectively. 

Dr. Dieter Veldsman, Chief Scientist HR and OD at AIHR, on the importance of re- and upskilling for HR professionals: 

“The future for HR careers has never been brighter, and we are continuously listed as one of the fastest-growing professions for the future. To capitalize on these opportunities will require HR professionals to gain self-insight into their skills and an active effort to reskill and upskill aligned to the future of work requirement.

The risks of not upskilling during a recession

HR professionals may be viewed as an expendable cost rather than a strategic asset if they do not demonstrate value to the organization through their skills and activities. On an individual level, there are also career risks that an HR professional could face: 

  • Stagnation in career growth and development. You must develop new skills and competencies to maintain your career growth at some point. 
  • Increased vulnerability to redundancy and job loss. Just as companies look to cut IT departments, the HR department will not be immune, particularly if your job is seen as dispensable or even replaceable through HR automation. As HR technology expands, companies will continue to automate more HR tasks – even more so during a recession. Depending on your role, there might be a risk that your job will be (partially) automated. Upskilling could enable you to switch roles easier and avoid losing your job. 
  • Reduced earning potential and future career prospects. Especially in an economic downturn, standard annual salary increases become less common. Employees might have to bring something extra to the table to ‘earn’ a raise, like newly acquired skills that help the organization to remain competitive.   

Fortunately, there are strategic steps that HR professionals can take to avoid these risks and to help ensure that they continue to provide value to the business.

The following 2 sections will unpack what future skills HR must focus on and how to start developing these today.

15 Future-Proof HR Skills Checklist

15 Top future skills HR needs to develop 

At AIHR, we’ve identified 4 core competencies that HR professionals need to develop:

  • People advocacy 
  • Business acumen
  • Data literacy 
  • Digital dexterity

These competencies should be developed in addition to specific functional competencies (such as Comp & Ben or L&D). 

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While the skills most relevant to you will depend on factors such as your HR career aspirations and current role, more general skills are required for all HR practitioners. 

AIHR has identified 15 future HR skills you should focus on developing: 

Technical skills: 

  1. Project management
  2. Change management
  3. People analytics
  4. Strategic deals management
  5. Organizational design

Problem-solving skills:

  1. Critical thinking
  2. System thinking

Soft skills:

  1. Negotiation
  2. Collaboration
  3. Stakeholder management
  4. Cultural differences integration

Future-looking skills:

  1. Resilience
  2. Self-care
  3. Risk management
  4. Ethics & data privacy

Many of these skills are part of the broader HR competencies mentioned at the beginning of this section that helps you become a T-shaped HR professional. T-shaped HR professionals have a more comprehensive set of skills beyond their specialization, which enables them to lead the organization through different challenges and times of change – like a recession.

How to Recession Proof Your HR Career

Steps to take to recession-proof your HR career

There are various ways to recession-proof your HR career. Things you can proactively do yourself to take control of your career development, build skills, and feel more confident about your position. 

1. Map your HR career path 

Start by mapping out your HR career path. This will enable you to determine the direction you want to progress based on your HR career goals and capabilities. 

Your career pathing plan will provide you with valuable insights into: 

  • Your skills and competencies
  • The potential vertical and horizontal development opportunities within and outside of your organization
  • Existing skills gaps that you need to address to progress in your career
  • The resources you can use to fill in your skills gaps.  

Let’s say you currently work as an HR Administrator but want to become a Compensation & Benefits Manager. To succeed in this role, you need to have (among other things) the following:

  • Data literacy 
  • Digital dexterity
  • Project management skills and;  
  • Knowledge of compensation and benefits.

While you may already have developed the first two skills and competencies within your HR Administrator role, the last 2 may need to be developed to help you advance into the position.

To give you an idea of what your career path in HR could look like, you can use our HR Career Path Tool

Dr. Dieter Veldsman, Chief Scientist HR and OD at AIHR, on modern-day HR careers: 

“We must acknowledge that no two HR careers will look the same. We are starting to see new HR patterns emerge, and this provides opportunities for HR professionals to craft their own career journeys.”

2. Audit your current skills 

Once you’ve mapped your career path and know where you want to go, it’s time to take stock of your current skills and competencies. There are two main reasons to do a personal skills audit:

  • It will help you better understand how you bring value to the organization;
  • It will show you where potential skills gaps lie that you can start addressing.

For example, while assessing your current skills, you notice you’re doing very well regarding ethics and data privacy, critical and systems thinking, and negotiation skills. However, areas that need developing include organizational design and change management. 

Depending on your time (and financial) resources, you can either start working on one or both skills simultaneously. You may need to approach your manager to ask for the company to sponsor an online course. In the last section, we provide helpful tips and an email template to help you approach your manager.  

How to conduct a simple personal skills audit in 3 steps

  • Make a list of your current skills and the skills you need to develop to progress according to your HR career path. Use a scoring system like the one below to rate yourself on these skills.
    • 4 = Excellent experience and expertise
    • 3 = Good knowledge and experience 
    • 2 = A little knowledge and experience 
    • 1 = Interested in learning and knowing more 
    • 0 = No knowledge or experience 
  • As it might be hard to rate your experience and expertise regarding specific skills, it is always good to have someone you trust to conduct a similar audit of your skills, such as a line manager, mentor, or one of your peers.  
  • Compare the results and discuss them with your manager to see if they accurately reflect your current skills and competencies. Next, you can create an action plan to bridge your skills gap. 

3. Set HR professional development goals 

HR professional development goals focus on improving an individual’s skills and competencies to feel more confident in their role and advance in their career. 

As soon as you’ve charted your HR career path and made an inventory of your current skills, you can set concrete development (upskilling) goals for yourself.  

For example, Your overarching goal is to improve your people analytics skills. 

You can then break this goal down into smaller increments that can look something like this: 

  • Gain a people analytics certification 
  • Improve your Excel skills 
  • Shadow or work with a people analytics or data analysis expert for a week to understand the roles and responsibilities.

We’ve written a practical 7-step guide to setting – and achieving – your HR professional development goals.

4. Access free company (and free training) opportunities to upskill 

Organizations are not the only ones feeling the pinch from the current economic uncertainty. There are additional ways to help you upskill that won’t cost much or depend on asking for approval. 

For example, say you want to develop your critical thinking skills. There are various inexpensive ways to achieve this, such as: 

5. Showcase your value to the organization

Despite HR’s prominent role during the pandemic, stakeholders and leadership continue to undervalue the HR department’s contribution to the business. 

This makes it all the more challenging for HR professionals to illustrate the value they bring to the business. This is why it is essential for HR to look for opportunities where they can add value to the company and communicate these initiatives and successes to the rest of the organization

For example, in the face of rapid technological advancements and evolving business models, organizations need to have an agile and adaptable workforce. HR can provide value by developing talent strategies that prioritize the (acquisition and) development of the skills and competencies needed in the future.

By analyzing the results from these talent strategies, translating them into money (i.e., costs saved, increased productivity, etc.), and then communicating the success, HR teams can showcase their value to the organization.  

6. Revive your (HR) network 

Many people don’t like to network. Or at least they think they don’t. Because networking doesn’t necessarily mean attending events and speaking to people you don’t know.

Reviving your network can be as simple (and low-key) as:

  • Sending a friendly message to that former colleague or manager who you got along with
  • Having a (virtual) coffee with someone from an external company or agency you enjoyed working with on a project
  • Or catching up with a recruiter that contacted you a couple of months ago.

Make a list of people you’ve been in touch with over the past year – both in and outside your organization – who might be able to give you ideas or information about potential job or side gig opportunities.

Even if nothing tangible comes out of these catch-ups right away, at least people know that you’re open to different options and ideas so that they are more likely to think of you when something does pop up.  

When reviving your network, don’t forget about the HR community you are a part of. Being part of a community of fellow people practitioners is invaluable, especially in times of (potentially) challenging times. 

It’s a great place to:

  • Share experiences 
  • Ask for input or advice
  • Find a peer coach or mentor
  • Hear about career opportunities, or; 
  • Just have a laugh with peers to brighten up your day. 

7. Prioritize resilience and total well-being

None of the steps mentioned above will be successful if you’re on the edge of burnout, physically suffering, or otherwise unwell. Therefore, one of the first things to do is to prioritize your total well-being

One way to do so is by becoming more resilient and a SAFE HR professional – Self-aware, Act, Forgive, and Educate. In practice, this means:

  • Self-awareness: Knowing and embracing your strengths and weaknesses, and being open and honest about them.
    Act: Speak up if you need help, something’s bothering you, etc. And if nobody listens, having the courage to make a brave decision. 
  • Forgive: Being kind to yourself. Don’t focus on the things that didn’t go as expected, focus on the things that did.
  • Educate: Take responsibility for your development. Have a growth mindset and keep learning new skills and competencies.  

How to approach your manager to motivate for L&D spending

Asking your manager if your company can sponsor your training can be a delicate conversation. This is why we’ve compiled a handy page with helpful tips and email templates to help you ask your manager. 

Here are a few additional tips to help you approach your manager for aid in sponsoring your upskilling: 

  • Identify the business case for upskilling
  • Make a compelling case for the return on investment (ROI) of L&D spending
  • Align your training goals with the organization’s strategic objectives
  • Provide evidence of the impact of upskilling on employee engagement and retention
  • Highlight the benefits of upskilling for the manager and the organization.

Key takeaway

Whether or not we will enter a recession, HR professionals have many ways to proactively take matters into their own hands and recession-proof their careers.

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