Globalization, the “Great Recession” and increases in the cost of health care are among the most popular topics dominating U.S. headlines. It should come as no surprise, therefore, that these very issues also have a huge impact on the American workplace and the human resource professional.
In the Society for Human Resource Management’s 2011 edition of the “SHRM Workplace Forecast: The Top Workplace Trends According to HR Professionals,” health care topped the list of issues projected to impact the workplace, with the high cost of coverage ranking No. 1 and federal health-care regulation coming in second. The remaining key issues that human resources professionals said would impact the workplace fell into the categories of public policy and law, globalization, economy and employment, and demographics and society.
The “SHRM Workplace Forecast” also reported on what actions human resource professionals and their organizations are taking or plan to take to address these trends. The top action was “linking employee performance to business goals,” followed by “increasing the expectations of employee productivity.” The group contends that these actions indicate the degree to which human resource professionals are focused on and how to get the most from employees, given their organizations’ current financial and/or other constraints.
Outlook for HR careers
The good news is that employment in the human resources function is expected to increase as a result of some of these trends and actions. According to the 2010 – 11 Edition of the “Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook,” legislation and court rulings that revise standards in such areas as occupational safety and health, equal employment opportunity, wages, health care, retirement plans and family leave will increase demand for human resources, training and labor relations experts. The handbook also projects overall employment in human resources to grow by 22 percent between 2008 and 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations. A June 2011 report on industry trends from Indeed, a job-search engine, shows that human resources job postings increased 29 percent from the previous June, with a 39 percent increase in clicks on human resources jobs in the same one-year period.
In addition to policy changes, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that rising health-care costs and a growing number of health-care coverage options should continue to spur demand for specialists to develop creative compensation and benefits packages that companies can offer prospective employees.
In addition to enjoying greater employment opportunities that some of their peers do in other industries, human resources professionals increasingly are being viewed as strategic partners within their organizations. Many of them may still need to focus on new competencies in order to remain relevant in an evolving economic and work environment. Patrick F. McKay, Ph.D., associate professor of human resource management at Rutgers, the State University of New Jersey’s School of Management and Labor Relations, offers five competencies that he believes next-generation HR professionals will need. Business acumen tops his list. To be successful, HR professionals must understand how “human resource management relates to the overall operation of a business,” he argues, adding that “this will help them to sell the value-added of HR to upper-level management.”
Pamela J. Green, a certified senior human resources professional and SHRM’s chief membership officer, also advises next-generation professionals to work on understanding the industry before their first day on the job. In doing so, she explains, “they can come in from day one making a contribution.”
Next on McKay’s list is “analytical skills,” which he says are needed to forecast labor market trends and ensure that human resources decisions are made on a sounder basis.
Cultural competence ranks third for McKay. Since “the largest net entrants into the workforce will be underrepresented minorities,” he says, HR professionals need to be able to manage members of these groups effectively. Fittingly, bilingualism follows cultural competence. As the country’s immigrant population increases, an HR professional who is able to speak and write in a foreign language has an added advantage.
Technical competence closes out McKay’s list of Top 5 competencies for HR professionals, not only so that they can be more effective, but also to keep in line with changing legal mandates. Green, too, stresses “the need for HR professionals to be social-technology savvy.” Along the same lines, according to SHRM’s Workplace Forecast, the fifth most popular action companies have taken in response to workplace trends involves revising policies on the use of social network sites.
Green also insists that HR professionals must maintain “a customer-service attitude” because HR “customers” — current and potential employees —can enhance or hurt a company’s image. “Complaining about the company has gotten so much easier and a company’s reputation is at stake because things can go viral very quickly,” Green says.
African-American HR professionals
As in many occupations, African-Americans in human resources encounter unique challenges because of their ethnicity. “It is always assumed that African-American HR professionals are only going to know African-Americans,” remarks William H. “Bill” Burgess III, president and CEO of The Burgess Group-Corporate Recruiters International, in New York City. To dispel this myth, Burgess says, African-American HR professionals must “make it clear that they are there to find the best possible candidate for the job and for the company.”
Because African-Americans are underrepresented in professional HR positions, those who hold those positions often face social isolation, lack of mentoring and barriers to advancement, McKay says. African-Americans should respond to these situations by “demonstrating that they are assets to an organization,” he suggests, adding that “doing so will provide the social caché necessary to build alliances with influential people.” Ideally, building these connections offer better access to key professional development opportunities, which, in turn, are linked to advancement in organizations.
Preparing for a changing role
Many professional associations that specialize in human resources, such as SHRM, offer a variety of educational opportunities. SHRM, for example, offers certifications that include Professional in Human Resources (PHR), Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR), and Global Professional in Human Resources (GPHR). All HR designations require specific experience and a passing score on an exam. The SHRM recently increased the educational levels and years of practical experience needed for eligibility to take the certification exams. “After considerable input from certificants, business leaders and HR professionals, the eligibility requirements were tightened to better reflect the increased responsibility of today’s HR professional,” explains Mary E. Power, executive director of SHRM’s HR Certification Institute, which administers the PHR, SPHR, GPHR and California certification exams.
Burgess advises professionals to go beyond training in the theory and practice of HR and “take advantage of training outside of their primary function.” For example, if you are a recruiter in the pharmaceutical industry, you should know about your company’s product line, the trends affecting the industry and the major players in the industry. This knowledge puts the recruiter in the position to offer suggestions to the hiring manager. “Know your product, know your industry so that you can distinguish yourself and be better prepared than your colleagues,” says Burgess.
At the glass ceiling
The U.S. Department of Labor reports that firms involved in management, consulting and employment services offer many job opportunities to future HR professionals as businesses increasingly outsource their human resources functions. African-Americans who find that they have hit the glass ceiling in their organization can take advantage of this trend by opening their own firms to offer HR services to a variety of companies, Burgess says. “They can become entrepreneurs and define their own destiny,” he adds.
Top 10 Trends Impacting the Workplace in 2011
• Continuing high cost of employee health-care coverage in the United States
• Passage of federal health-care legislation
• Increased global competition for jobs, markets and talent
• Growing complexity of legal compliance for employers
• Changes in employee rights due to legislation and/or court rulings
• Large numbers of baby boomers (1945–1964) leaving the workforce at around the same time
• Economic growth of emerging markets such as India, China and Brazil
• Greater need for cross-cultural understanding/savvy in business settings
• Growing national budget deficit
• Greater economic uncertainty and market