It’s not often I get to talk about digital capabilities with senior Human Resource managers. Especially not over champagne and a cream tea at the Grand Hotel in Brighton. But someone has to take on the tough assignments, and a glance at the theme of this year’s Universities HR conference (hopefully) explains what I was doing there. This year the HR community is focused on The Changing Face of Work and the Conference was invited to explore ‘How can we best equip our organisations to respond to our increasingly digital world and to meet the needs of our Generation Z employees?’
I was invited to talk about the Jisc Digital Capabilities Framework in collaboration with ECC, the organisation that manages the Higher Education Role Analysis (HERA) scheme and the similar scheme for FE, FEDRA. One of the first things I did in my talk was to shift the question away from the generational one to ask how all staff can thrive in a digital university. I argued that all universities are digital in ways that we can readily see – the devices in students’ hands, the virtual learning and research environments, the involvement of digital systems in all our activities. But they are also digital by virtue of changes in the world beyond that are not so easily seen – the global market in students, the demands of the digital economy, and the availability of alternative routes to knowledge and accreditation. The meaning and value of work inside the university is changed by these trends too.
With that thought, I looked at how work in the wider economy is changing. A report I wrote for Jisc last year – Deepening digital know-how: Building digital talent – discusses this in more detail.
I pulled out some key themes and asked whether they are features of work at the lower end of the ‘knowledge economy’ or whether they also affect the working lives of academics and education professionals. We quickly concluded that work inside the academy faces many the same changes, from casualisation to the increasing use of data and metrics. In fact I went through each of these trends and was able to trace them in university work, through a combination of statistics and quotes from my own interviews with staff.
Delegates then talked about the challenges and changes they were noticing as HR managers. Some of these were familiar to me, such as the chance to reframe the relationships of teaching staff to their students and subject matter (the ‘guide on the side‘). Others were less so, such as the complexities that arise when managers are facebook ‘friends’ with staff who report to them.
When it came to thinking about how best to support staff in these changing times, I introduced the Digital Capabilities Framework and talked about how it is being applied in practice. Sandra Walton, a Senior Consultant for ECC. then described how she has used the framework to update the role descriptors for three different staff roles, thinking about the different demands of the role in 2006 and 2016, and projecting ahead to 2026.
I finished with some conclusions from my report, for further discussion:
- Digital practice and identity are intrinsic to professional practice and identity
- Accreditation, appraisal and CPD processes should interface better with personal technologies/digital ID
- Organisations need to develop digital specialists alongside generic digital capabilities for all
- Recruit, retain, reward and recognise digital talent, across all roles
- Effective digital leadership means leadership in a digital landscape, not (only) leadership with digital tools
- Be a workplace that fosters digital wellbeing