University launches 'first of its kind' people analytics

Welcome to the new age of people analytics

University launches 'first of its kind' people analytics

While the COVID-19 pandemic has caused massive job loss across the globe, it also highlighted people analytics as an in-demand profession.

“The world of people analytics is due,” says Rob Catalano, Chief Engagement Officer at WorkTango. “Over the last 10 years Ive seen a huge influx of companies investing dollars, time and teams around this, yet there was a gap in making sure people could get educated — whether its in their first schooling or extended education.”

The York University School of Continuing Studies’ six month, part-time Certificate in People Analytics aims to fill that skills gap by training human resource professionals to leverage workforce data into solutions that connect to a business’ target outcomes.

The certificate, the first of its kind in Canada, will “help organizations navigate the difficulties created by the pandemic” and provide a way for HR professionals “to upskill in a short amount of time, develop a work portfolio and seize opportunities during and after the crisis,” Tracey Taylor-O'Reilly, Assistant Vice-President, Continuing Studies said in a news release.

Catalano sees real-life examples of how important people analytics has become since the COVID-19 outbreak every day at WorkTango, a platform that surveys employees and shares the information to HR, executives and people leaders in real time. Pre-pandemic, many companies got feedback from employees once or twice a year but now that they are unable to get a sense of whats happening from a sentiment perspective by walking around the office “our role has sky rocketed in terms of use of our technology.”

“Companies are checking in every week or two weeks, getting quick data points and starting to what I call ‘deal with smoke before fire,’” Catalano says. “People are starting to realize we need more insight to understand employees not just in sentiment but in other metrics that are out there, and I think it’s heightened the requirement to really focus on how to collect that data and use it in a new environment.”

While York conducted its own research in developing the program, they wanted input from people who deal with people analytics in their organizations. The Program Advisory Council was created, and Catalano joined the team of 12 leaders and practitioners of people analytics that serve as the main conduit between the program and the HR community.

The advisors all play a different role and “the different angles make sure it’s a well-rounded certification that’s giving students all they need,” which he calls “the wisdom of crowds approach.”

“What York smartly did is not only look at what people should learn and do the research out there, but have advisors add their perspectives from a real business sense and lens. My role is to have a voice in terms of how I use people analytics in my organization and what’s important to me.”

Members of the council ensure the program provides technical and cross-functional competencies. Students will be introduced to fundamental concepts of data analytics, become comfortable visualizing data insights and apply those data-driven insights to HR-related problems. It’s important the program addresses not only the what, but the how Catalano says.

“You can teach someone how to approach HR-related business problems — how to inquire on those things and how to look at it with a frame in mind — but you might not consider ethical or legal concerns in collecting this type of data,” he says. “You may not look at communicating this data to other people in the organization. How do you visualize it? Data is interesting on its own but it’s not valuable unless it gives people insights.”

The members of the council can remain engaged throughout the term as well through student mentoring, guest speaking and using the program as a talent pipeline for their respective organizations.

Catalano says he’s willing to be involved in any way he can, calling his commitment to the program a passion project.

“It’s an important time — there’s a necessity today for the insights the program offers, especially with all the technology that’s available that there wasn’t 5, 10, 15 years ago to collect and interpret that data,” he says.

There’s a huge opportunity for organizations to learn about people analytics and how it’s infusing itself into business — HR professionals aren’t just “people people,” they need data to make decisions — and some companies are moving faster than others. It’s worth taking a look at your company and addressing any existing skills gap, he notes.

“Companies that are going to adopt this and do this well, whether it’s sending their people to courses like York’s or just understanding these concepts, I think is going to be huge.”

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