An HR Exodus?

With the economy slowly trending upward, one-third of HR professionals say they will test the job market this year, according to a new survey. But will demand meet supply?

By Tom Starner

With the U.S. economy on the mend, a healthy percentage of human resource professionals apparently are ready to look for greener pastures and are confident they will find them, according to a recent survey from the Arlington, Va.-based Society for Human Resource Management.

However, supply may not meet demand, as the same SHRM report, its first ever HR Jobs Pulse Survey, found that just one in five organizations said they were currently hiring for HR positions.

According to SHRM's findings, more than one-third of human resource professionals plan to seek new employment in the near future, and the majority of HR professionals polled, 79 percent, said they were confident that they could land another job.

"We will be seeing definite churn in the HR profession," says Deb Cohen, SHRM's senior vice president of knowledge development. "This first HR Pulse Survey will create a foundation from which to understand that churn and enable SHRM to predict what it means for the HR profession and employers.

"The big question," Cohen added, "is whether or not the churn this will create will result in more opportunity for HR professionals."

Angela Hills, executive vice president of Pinstripe & Ochre House, a Brookfield, Wis.-based global talent-acquisition RPO firm, agreed the emerging lift in the U.S. economy has HR pros feeling more optimistic. After all, she adds, HR was one of the first areas cut during the economic downturn. So it makes sense that optimism should return with economic good news. time, she warns, HR professionals should consider that the many new openings will focus on a demand for different HR skill sets, those that fall into the more strategic mode.

"We see with both U.S. and global employers that there is much HR transformation work happening," she says. "Many HR organizations are going through the effort to change the way they do their work, with the focus on the business partner model and not the more traditional general HR function of the past."

In talking to executives across several markets and industries, there will be an increase in the demand for new HR talent, she says, while in a few others - healthcare, for example -- there will be restraint.

"If a person truly can operate as a strategic business partner, there will be jobs," she says. "The problems with getting those new jobs are for folks in the HR generalist category."

David Lewis, president and CEO at OperationsInc, a human resource outsourcing and consulting firm in Norwalk, Conn., sees the profession completing a transformation in the next few years. Mainly, those who have retired since 2000 and will be retiring in the next few years trace their roots to administrative roles, with limited previous education in the HR space. The new generation of HR professional has a four-year degree, and in the last 10 years many have started to arrive with a graduate degree in the field.

"With that backdrop, I think the HR roles will increase and split, with more strategic roles being added to complement more tactical ones," he says. "As such, demand in some respects will be up, but likely for two separate individual HR profiles."

For example, the senior HR role will be more like a CFO, someone who will oversee, direct and analyze culture, retention, recruitment, employee experience, support, succession and overall strategy. The junior HR role, he explains, is more like an accountant in that the person will handle all the day-to-day transactional matter that makes up HR, including paperwork, benefits and payroll administration, answering basic questions and data management.

One area where he expects major change is in matters related to healthcare, specifically the Affordable Care Act.

"Overall, the regulatory environment, particularly this year and next tied to the Affordable Care Act, will drive the need for more HR guidance," he says. "I think the learning curve in 2014 is going to be too steep for most [HR leaders] to fully grasp, [at least] enough so to guide their employers effectively."

He says too much will be decided too late, and with too many ramifications, twists and nuances, so much so that it will overwhelm someone who also has to maintain the HR function plus learn it all. With that, HR will turn to outside advisors.

"By 2015, this area of knowledge will be as critical as knowing what job board to post openings, what the FLSA says, why you need a labor law poster, etc.," he says. "It will be a core competency."

 Kristen Irey, manager of the human resource program at Peirce College in Philadelphia, has nearly two decades of experience in the HR and legal fields, working in both the public and private sectors.

From her perspective as an HR person and someone who has gone through an unemployment cycle herself, she says HR professionals tend to be more insulated to the realities of their own job prospects within the market.

"The realities of what the market will demand for HR professionals is not always what it had been, especially now that it's moving from necessary evil to strategic partner," she says. "HR people are not always prepared for what is out there."

With the possibility of HR professionals testing the job change water, it's especially important to keep your best HR talent, adds Hills. HR leaders must be able to create an environment where people who choose to be in HR can grow and learn with the business.

Irey says HR leaders must realize that motivation for everyone is different, so they need to find the right ways to keep HR talent from escaping.

"Contrary to popular belief, money is not the primary motivator," she says. "HR professionals need support and the feeling they have autonomy. Like any other job, they must be challenged and engaged.

"For most employers, it's not a quick fix, it's a cultural fix," Irey adds. "Of course, HR must make sure everyone is doing what they are supposed to, but not just as a cog in a machine."

Feb 12, 2014
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