Digitalisation and employee training and development are HR’s keys to the future


Against the backdrop of an expected rise in redundancies and stagnating recruitment, HR professionals believe that digitalisation will play an even greater role in improving employability in the workforce.

This is the conclusion of the 'HR Trends 2020-2021' survey of almost 2,000 HR professionals in the Netherlands. They were asked to list the five key HR policy themes for their organisations for 2020 and 2021. The survey is an initiative of Performa publishers and was implemented by Berenschot with support from AFAS Software.

This year digital support for HR processes ranked number four on the priority list for HR professionals. In 2019 it was rated only number seven. With many employees continuing to work from home for the foreseeable future, the importance of this theme is expected to intensify since HR processes cannot stay in lockdown indefinitely. This year the theme of Training and Development topped the list, swapping places with last year’s leading theme, Recruitment and Selection which was nudged down to second. Absenteeism came in at number three. Moving forward through 2021, HR professionals expect little change in the top three priorities. The most rapid rise through the rankings was ‘Impact of robotisation’ which moved up four places on the HR priority list.

Digitalisation drives development

Digitalisation creates versatility in workforce deployment and helps to improve employee development. For Hans van der Spek, the senior management consultant at Berenschot who was responsible for the study, it’s clear that employee training and development are becoming increasingly important themes for HR professionals. “This year we’ve seen a shift away from recruiting new staff toward a greater emphasis on the continuous development of current employees. This trend is likely to intensify further as the predicted crisis materialises.”

Mr Van der Spek sees this as an extremely interesting theme in light of the second phase of the Dutch government’s temporary emergency bridging measures for employers (known as NOW 2.0) and the related government-funded retraining programmes for people whose jobs are displaced through the crisis. “Employers that apply for support from NOW 2.0 will be obliged to incentivise their staff to upskill and retrain, primarily through online channels. This will be an essential part of efforts to improve employability and employee engagement. In the past digitalisation was synonymous with job losses, but now it’s actually driving development for employees and organisations.”

Technological developments smooth the way to working from home

Recently many organisations have significantly accelerated their digital transformation as they were forced to adopt new ways of working during the intelligent lockdown. This is one reason why 82 percent of HR professionals in the Netherlands expect technological developments to trigger major changes in their organisation. Of the survey respondents, 34 percent describe these changes as reasonably big or very big, while 48 percent expect the changes to be small. Mr Van der Spek: “Remote working has meant the rapid adoption of new ways of working for communication and presentations. This means that many organisations have undergone a lightening-speed digital transformation within the space of just a few weeks, rather than over several years. Organisations will seize the opportunity for process digitalisation in this period. Which in turn creates space for employees to refocus, for instance with more emphasis on core activities than on processes.”

Need for strategic workforce planning

Another finding of the HR trend survey is that HR professionals are paying ever more attention to the theme of strategic workforce planning. Never before has the strategic perspective been so important, now that the future of work is at stake, say the respondents. Mr Van der Spek understands their interest in this theme. “In the past, organisations were compelled to take a long-term and well-defined approach to their HR processes to tackle the tight labour market. Now it’s the looming crisis that’s dictating their approach. The importance of a clear view on HR strategy also emerged from our earlier Strategy Trends Survey among senior managers and entrepreneurs.”

That survey shows that the key recurring topics on the boardroom agenda are digitalisation, innovation and the labour market. In terms of impact on the strategy, the top three ranking is slightly different: innovation tops the list with 36%, with digitalisation and labour market in a tie for second place with 32% each.

hr trends

About the research

The annual HR trend survey was conducted in 2020 among 1,959 HR professionals in the Netherlands. The study is an initiative of Performa Uitgeverij, carried out by organisational consultancy Berenschot, with the support of AFAS Software. HR Trends is the largest annual survey among HR professionals in the Netherlands.


Hans van der Spek_klein

Hans van der Spek

Senior managing consultant
+31 (0) 621 234 152
h.vanderspek@berenschot.com

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