Ramping up people professionals’ skills

Gill Maxwell, Research Advisor, CIPD. 

Organisational responses to COVID-19 have sparked people professionals’ upskilling

The COVID-19 context has dominated the world of work for the last two years, igniting widespread changes in workplaces, patterns and practices. Data from the CIPD People Profession surveys in 2020 and 2021 (in association with Workday) signals noticeable changes across the years.

Upskilling due to organisational responses to the pandemic is a conspicuous change for most of our survey respondents, as highlighted in our People Profession 2021 UK and Ireland survey report, in association with Workday. In our extra year-on-year analysis here, we compare this main 2021 finding to results from our two previous surveys (in 2020 and 2018), as well as across all eight countries encompassed in our 2021 survey.

Upskilling is necessary for new job duties

In a new question in our 2021 survey, we defined upskilling as ‘extending or deepening current HR skills’, and reskilling as ‘learning entirely new skills in a different area of HR work’. This is different from our previous surveys, where we asked our respondents in the UK and Ireland about their skills meeting current and more demanding duties:


Which statement best describes your skills level in your current role?

(% of respondents) 


(1% ‘don’t know’)





My present HR skills correspond well with my current duties



I have the skills to cope with more demanding duties



I lack some skills required in my current duties



 In our 2021 survey, we asked instead about skills changes due to COVID-19, and found higher percentages needing to upskill or reskill. For example, in the UK, 50% of respondents reported that they had had to upskill, and 11% to reskill (totalling 61%).

In Ireland, 49% of respondents had had to upskill, and 18% to reskill (totalling 67%).

Also, in looking across the span of eight countries in our 2021 People Profession survey, upskilling and reskilling together is a distinctive feature internationally, as charted below. The inference is that, for high proportions of survey participants, COVID-19 necessitated unanticipated changes in their job duties.

Upskilling is wide-ranging and ongoing: case study

The Managing Director of Albany HR, Kathleen McAdams, has been closely involved in HR upskilling since the onset of pandemic restrictions. Her vantage point − in heading up an independent HR consultancy − is working with clients across all sectors, in organisations of all sizes from micro to global. Edinburgh-based, she has clients throughout the UK, some in companies with a global reach.

Kathleen comments: ‘Clients’ needs immediately changed with the first lockdown. The priority for many was what their management teams needed to do to operate their businesses in a work-from-home period of unknown duration. People practitioners had to learn very quickly how to support managers and employees in establishing home-environment equipment and digital work, health and safety in homeworking, wellbeing, managing remote workforces and the pandemic forces, and devising temporary homeworking policies, for example.’

As a people professional herself, she emphasises: ‘It’s a steep learning curve for me in my role still. My team and I are constantly upskilling to be able to do our jobs; for example, in consultancy business skills such as project management, proposal writing, using different communication platforms. To support our clients, we’re also now upskilling in:

Kathleen concludes: ‘We definitely, definitely now see an increased HR ability in our client organisations and an appetite to keep building people management capability among all managers in these organisations’.

The signs are that people professionals have not only ramped up their skills since the onset of pandemic measures but they are also continuing to upskill going forward.

Further reading:

Iwa Kuchciak and Izabela Warwas (2021) Designing a Roadmap for HRM in the Banking 4.0, Journal of Risk and Financial Management14(12), 615; https://doi.org/10.3390/jrfm14120615



The findings reported here are in addition to the main findings in the CIPD People Profession 2021 survey report in association with Workday.

Add your voice and help us build an annual snapshot for the people profession – complete the 2022 survey here.

Related content:

CIPD reports on the People Profession 2021: UAE and KSA survey report, a collective view of future trends, and cross-functional collaboration in a changing world of work.

The CIPD Learning Hub

People Profession survey findings

Working safely through COVID-19


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