Human Capital, that intangible asset we know as people and all the qualities that make up a person, skills, knowledge, capability, and experience (and personality), is a critical aspect of an organisation, it represents the individual and the collective. Human capital management trends in ‘haves-environments’ are spearheading conversations about re-architecting work and worker/employer relationships, testing the social enterprise (we are a team, not a family), and unleashing purpose. They talk of transformation and shifting from lifelong employment to lifelong employability. A portion of our workforce will come from environments where they are confronted with continuous automation and robotization in their daily lives, and are aware that to remain relevant, they need to become more and more specialized and ‘specialist’. To keep remain competitive and aware in an ever increasingly ‘connected’ world, they need to be connected, follow the latest developments and advancements in their professional streams.
Our work, however, takes place in the world’s most difficult contexts. Our employees are stationed around the globe in politically tense and high-risk environments, potentially where international sanctions have been imposed, where there is disrupted power supply and a lack of clean water. For them, arguably, connectivity is a secondary consideration. The local context may also mean working with minimum, old and/or outdated infrastructure. For some of these tools, external training is no longer available, meaning we may have to invest in maintaining training and a skill set that is declining or has no value in the open commercial market. This can be a point of frustration for employees as well, if we imagine that the workplace is where they want to demonstrate their application of learning in context (skills versus experience).
Within our own working context, we have a further issue of haves and have-nots. A portion of our workforce are focused on maintaining basic livelihood as a direct consequence of the context in which they live. For them, the approach to fairness, equal access to learning opportunities, assessment of performance, reward and recognition and promoting employee engagement is different. Initiatives for unleashing purpose is probably not a primary concern, and may in fact be incredibly disconnected from their realities. The fact that this gap, this ‘have and have-not’ situation, exists internally is a basic trait of the sector itself, and is a hurdle for all humanitarian organisations.
Society has a notion of what it means to be a humanitarian. Society expects public duty, voluntary acts of kindness and compassion, absolute transparency, the appropriate use and distribution of funding, the moral obligation that reflects always doing the right thing. Often, we are seen iconically as the gap-closers because of the work we do with the communities we serve. Employees also have expectations of humanitarian organisations that are quite similar— luckily for that element of coherence. They expect care, support and investment into them as valuable and critical participants and partners. They expect fair and right compensation for their work and support and infrastructure to enable them to perform. However, if we bear in mind the extreme deviations between employees’ local and working environments, as well as the variety of sovereign contexts, then what is right or needed for one group of employees is likely to be vastly different to another. We add to this situation, the fact that in and of itself, the work we do and the contexts in which we work means that our human capital is unique to the experience and skills developed in situ. These competencies can be hard to come by elsewhere, and may not necessarily be well understood in the open market. This makes our knowledge management, retention of high performers and critical competencies important, but also means we have to take some different approaches to career development meaning we may not be able to leverage more commercial and standard market offerings.