HR Analytics education: which competencies should (and do) we develop?

HR Analytics education: which competencies should (and do) we develop?

This academic year we started teaching our brand-new master course ‘Strategic HR Analytics’. We developed the course from scratch, and therefore needed to answer quite a few fundamental questions. In this post I would like to reflect on two of such questions that needed answering, and still deserve attention from HRM teachers: ‘Is there a need for HR Analytics education?’ and if yes, ‘Which competencies should we develop?’.

Is there a need for HR Analytics education?

In general, education should respond to the needs of society. Or even better, anticipate on future needs. So what about the need for HR Analytics education? In their ‘Global Human Capital Trends 2015’ study among 3,300 business and HR leaders from 106 countries, Deloitte for example concluded that ”people analytics presented the second-biggest overall capability gap for organizations” (p.71). The worrisome question that popped up in my head was: what did we as HRM teachers then teach in the last decades? After all, when following the commonly accepted definitions, HR Analytics in essence is about the systematic identification and quantification of the people drivers of organizational outcomes. And yes, based on (big) data, with statistical analyses, and so on. I am inclined to say that we already expect such competencies from our current HRM graduate. But if organizations in practice experience a capability gap, we are obliged to critically reflect on our HRM education, and explore what the distinctive features of HR Analytics education then would be.


We are obliged to explore what the distinctive features of HR Analytics education then would be


Which competencies should we develop?


I believe that the discipline of HR Analytics is too young, and still too much in an experimental phase to strongly argue which specific skills and competencies are needed to design, implement and apply HR Analytics in practice. Nevertheless, suggestions have been made. For example by Patrick Coolen and Auke IJsselstein from ABN AMRO bank, which in the Netherlands is considered as one of the forerunners in HR Analytics. In their article ‘A practitioner’s view on HR analytics’ (Coolen & IJsselstein, 2015), they introduce the ‘HR Analytics Capability wheel’ and state that “only those organizations that manage to create and maintain a balanced blend of different relevant capabilities will be successful in HR analytics”. The six relevant capabilities they distinguish (formulated in terms of perspectives) are (1) the human resources perspective, (2) the data scientist perspective, (3) the consultant perspective, (4) the IT architect perspective, (5) the software perspective and (6) the business perspective. Of course, not all capabilities necessarily need to be present within a single person or even an HR Analytics team. They may be available elsewhere in the organization or be obtained from external consultants.


Nevertheless, Marte André (a student of mine) and I found it interesting to explore the extent to which universities are actually developing competencies in these areas in their HR Analytics education. Marte examined the publicly available information on the websites of 605 US state universities. When available, the academic catalog/bulletin on the university’s website was inspected using the search terms ‘human resource’, ‘HR analytics’, ‘HR metrics’, ‘workforce analytics’, and ‘people analytics’. When there was no catalog or bulletin available, the business studies or management studies section was examined to check if any HR Analytics related courses were provided. When we had identified the courses, we assessed to what extent the six competencies were addressed in the courses.


The publically available information on the websites of 605 US state universities was examined


HR Analytics education at US State Universities

The results are at least interesting (if not disturbing). Only 31 state universities in the US seem to offer some sort of HR Analytics education. In total, they offer 37 courses, with names varying from simply ‘HR Analytics’ to for example ‘Human Resource Metrics and Talent Analytics’, ‘Data Analysis and Decision making for Human Resource Management, ‘Human Resource Information Systems, and ‘Business Analytics in Human Resource Management. When looking at the competencies these courses aim to develop, the main emphasis is on the software perspective (34%) and the human resources perspective (32%). Courses primarily targeted at the software perspective focus on HR Information Systems and the concrete usage of those systems. Courses aimed at developing the human resources perspective focus primarily on specific HR practices, and the theoretical reasoning of how HR contributes to business results, but without a great emphasis on actually conducting analyses on such relationships. Third, in line is the development of the data scientist perspective (18%). Here the more statistical competencies are developed in the context of HR Analytics. The remaining three competencies – the consultant, IT architect, and business perspective – only receive a marginal portion of the attention in the HR Analytics courses (less than 6% each). Courses with some focus on the consultant perspective explicitly referred to communicating the outcomes of HR analytics, developing recommendations, and formulating advice. Courses with a (partial) focus on the IT Architect perspective, aimed to develop an understanding of IT architectures underlying HR Analytics, as well as the knowledge and skills to design such architectures. Finally, courses that aimed to develop the business perspective, emphasized the identification of business problems, and understanding of business objectives.


The consultant, IT architect, and business perspective only receive a marginal portion of the attention in the HR Analytics courses


Where’s the link with the business?

For me, the most striking insight from this quick analysis is that there seems to be little attention for what is actually the core purpose of HR Analytics: improving business outcomes. The vital first question that should be asked at the start of basically any HR Analytics initiative is: to which business objectives do we make a contribution? A prerequisite for contributing to business objectives is a thorough understanding of the business, its strategic objectives, processes, challenges, and dynamics. Furthermore, obtaining these insights (especially as an HR professional positioned ‘outside’ of the business) requires well-developed consulting skills. Moreover, such consulting skills are indispensable in ‘selling’ HR Analytics initiatives to the business, persuading them to share their data, and convincing them to take action on the insights of your HR Analytics research. Of course, in the ideal world, business managers themselves ask for HR Analytics, pose well-defined research questions, or even present a conceptual model which they want to explore. Today’s reality, however, still is that most HR Analytics teams spend a great portion of their time convincing the business to participate in their initiatives or on setting up pilot studies in the hope to create some appetite for HR Analytics.


The most striking insight is that there is little attention for the core purpose of HR Analytics: improving business outcomes.


Practitioners, will you help?

Educational programs are not known for their agility. And even when universities have set up a new program, or have modified an existing one, it takes a while before the first graduates enter the labor market. In todays rapidly changing world of work, active involvement of practice in developing new and redesigning current education is therefore needed, and I believe very much appreciated by most universities. So I would say: let’s work together, rather sooner than later.


The post \"HR Analytics education: which competencies should (and do) we develop?\" was first published by Sjoerd van den Heuvel  here


About Sjoerd van den Heuvel

Passionate associate professor and international keynote speaker in the area of Data-Driven Business and People Analytics. Holding a Ph.D. degree in Human Resource Management on realizing successful organizational transitions. Experienced in academic research, management consultancy, and internal advisory. Connecting the science and practice of Data-Driven Business and People Analytics.

He is an international authority on People Analytics and a frequently asked speaker and chair at HR and People Analytics conferences and in-company training across the globe. He teaches People Analytics for professionals, undergraduate- and graduate students. His research focuses primarily on individual competencies and organizational capabilities required for successful implementation and execution of Data-Driven Business and People Analytics. Sjoerd holds a Ph.D. degree in Human Resource Management from Tilburg University and prior to his current position, he worked as a senior HR management consultant (Capgemini Consulting), senior Engagement & Retention adviser (Dutch Postal Service), and assistant professor in HRM & HR Analytics (University of Amsterdam and Twente University). In both his teaching and research activities, his core focus is on how to bridge the gap between science and practice, because that’s where the People Analytics magic happens!


Sjoerd Van Den Heuvel
This article was written by Sjoerd a Guest at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd

Related Articles


Sign up now to get updated on latest posts and relevant career opportunities