The current state of HR competencies: Only 2 in 10 HR professionals have future-proof skills

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The current state of HR competencies: Only 2 in 10 HR professionals have future-proof skills
  • According to our research, only 21 percent of HR professionals have sufficient knowledge in the core HR competencies to become future-ready
  • Almost 60 percent of HR professionals are falling behind more tech-savvy colleagues in terms of efficiency and impact
  • Only 41 percent of them are able to leverage technology and read and apply data to increase efficiency and drive business value
  • We assessed 5,648 HR practitioners to see how prepared they are for the post-pandemic economy

The added value of being future-proof

The stakes for HR departments have never been higher. While the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed the importance of HR to any organization’s survival, the post-pandemic economy will require that HR also play a proactive role in helping businesses thrive. 

According to the CEO Leadership Report 2021, companies with HR departments that are more strategic and data-driven are three times more likely to be capable of hiring the right people, 1.4 times better at reacting to change, and twice as likely to be in the top 10 percent of high-performing organizations than their peers. 

More complex challenges require more complex solutions

The challenges we’re currently facing are increasingly complex. The shift towards hybrid work, the need for individualized workplaces, automation and AI, the need for data-driven decisions, and building purpose-driven organizations will all put additional pressure on HR professionals to expand their skills.

After training thousands of HR professionals and working with companies ranging from Fortune 500 businesses to small and middle-sized enterprises, we have identified four core competencies that HR professionals need in order to become future-proof:

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

HR professionals who possess these four core competencies on top of their specialized competencies (e.g. their expertise in rewards, talent acquisition, etc.) are known as “T-shaped”. They have expertise in both general (horizontal) competencies, as well as specialized (vertical) ones.

T shaped HR infographic

Assessment Results: How future-proof and T-shaped are HR professionals?

#1. Most HR professionals are not future-ready

Of the 5,648 HR professionals who have completed our T-shaped HR Assessment that determines how future-ready HR professionals are, only 21 percent have shown sufficient knowledge in all four core competencies (i.e. data literacy, business acumen, digital dexterity, people advocacy). 

That means that four-fifths of HR professionals are insufficiently prepared to tackle the current and future challenges.

hr competencies chart 1

#2. Tech and digital skills are the least common 

Only 41 percent of HR professionals are able to improve efficiency and drive business value through skilled use of technology and data. Being data-driven and having digital proficiency are essential skills to being able to anticipate challenges, not only react to them.

This means that almost 60 percent of HR professionals are falling behind more tech-savvy colleagues in terms of efficiency and impact.

Of all four core competencies, data literacy and digital proficiency show the highest levels of insufficient knowledge and have thus the greatest potential for improvement. 

hr competencies chart 2

#3. Half of HR professionals are not aligned with their business’ objectives

Furthermore, less than half (45 percent) of HR professionals have a solid understanding of their business, its customers, and the greater economic context which would enable them to help the company achieve its mission and goals. 

More than half of HR departments thus bring limited business value and are, to a large extent, decoupled from what the business is trying to achieve.

hr competencies chart 3

#4.  HR professionals are good people advocates 

On the flip side, two-thirds of HR professionals (63.8 percent) have shown strong competency in being people’s advocates, which means they are able to create a strong internal culture, get the best out of their people, and act as a trusted champion and communications expert. It is also the competency in which HR professionals exhibit the highest level of expertise (with an average of 15 percent more professionals with sufficient skill level and 4 percent more experts than in the other competencies).  

Given the nature of the HR function, this competency is indispensable for HR professionals. In addition, mastery of people skills is certainly useful when helping organizations adjust to the new era of work.   

hr competencies chart 4


Our HR competency barometer indicates that very few HR professionals are currently future-proof and ready for the post-pandemic era of work. 

Those who have the largest potential to upskill and become future-proof are HR generalists, specialists, and managers – with 70 percent of them having only a maximum of two core competencies – as opposed to the more senior professionals such as HR directors, VPs, SVPs, and CHROs – where this is only 42 percent.

The level of proficiency in all four core competencies is thus a good indicator of how far HR professionals progress in their careers. As is evident from our data, fully T-shaped HR practitioners are far more likely to rise through the ranks of their company, not least because they drive more business value thanks to their competencies. 

hr competencies chart 5

But becoming T-shaped is not only beneficial for one’s career. It is also necessary for HR departments to continue to play a strategic role (keeping in mind that only about half of C-suite leaders still expect the strategic role to continue beyond the pandemic).

Yet, HR needs to become more strategic, proactive, and anticipatory not just for the sake of gaining influence but for the sake of the business it serves as well. Only then will it be able to help organizations deal with the increasingly complex challenges that they are facing.

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