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Demand Surging for HR Professionals

The number of job postings and executive searches for HR professionals is spiking, according to recruiters and other experts. Pent-up demand because of the economy -- as well as the need for business-savvy HR leaders -- are two of the reasons.

Friday, October 7, 2011
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As the U.S. economy continues its volatile swings and economic reports remain mixed, one bright spot has emerged in the U.S. job outlook: HR positions.

Kim Shanahan, senior client partner and managing director of the HR center of expertise at Korn/Ferry in Reston, Va., says she is seeing more searches for heads of HR than ever before, primarily because CEOs and boards are increasingly spending significant amounts of time looking into HR issues, such as executive compensation, succession planning, talent management and performance reviews.

In addition, she says, mergers and acquisitions are driving the demand for HR to manage such transitions effectively.

The HR leaders being sought need a high level of business acumen, she says, as they are being asked to help more with high-level decisions and strategies

"What's happening is HR is being pulled into the front-end in terms of decision-making and strategizing for the business, so the business acumen piece is very high in terms of what a CEO needs and that permeates throughout the business," Shanahan says.

But, lower-level HR professionals are being sought as well.

According to Wanted Analytics, a Quebec City-based research firm that focuses on employment trends, the demand for HR professionals has increased by 28 percent in the past year.

In August alone, more than 6,800 new jobs were advertised online for human resource positions, which was an increase of 33 percent from the same period in 2010, according to the firm.

The five most common advertised HR job titles were recruiter, human resource assistant, payroll specialist, human resource specialist and payroll clerk, according to the report. The biggest demand in August was for personnel recruiters, up 58 percent compared with the same period in 2010.

The metropolitan areas with the biggest hiring demand were New York, Washington, Chicago, Los Angeles and Boston, according to Wanted Analytics. New York had the highest demand, with regional employers and staffing firms placing more than 530 new online HR job ads.

"We definitely see the hiring market as much more vibrant and the call for HR talent is certainly up over the last 10 months and skyrocketing over the last two months," says Donna Friedman, CEO of Tower Consultants, a Stuart, Fla.-based company specializing in searches for HR executives.

She sees the most demand for HR generalists, talent-management executives and high-level benefit planners due to healthcare reform measures. She's also seeing a big need for HR professionals skilled in succession planning and leadership development.

"There are a lot of young managers that need the coaching and the development for management training," Friedman says, especially because many baby boomers are retiring or are expected to retire in the coming years.

One reason for the surge in demand for HR professionals is that, during the recession, many organizations relied on a lean HR staff, says Ravin Jesuthasan, the global head of talent management at Towers Watson in Chicago. That created a pent up demand as the economy recovers, he says.

The recovering economy also created increased HR challenges, as finding and keeping talent is the biggest potential obstacle to growth for companies worldwide, according to Towers Watson's 2010 Strategies for Growth Survey.

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As top employees start to realize other employment options are available to them, that will make HR's efforts to retain top talent a high priority at many organizations, experts say.

"This would lead to hiring more HR professionals -- not to recruit new people, but to work to retain the employees in place," says Dave Ulrich, professor at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan and a principal in The RBL Group, in Provo, Utah.

Those HR professionals who can bring rigorous business analytic skills to managing talent, changing culture and building leadership will be in demand as the economy improves, Ulrich says.

Susan Meisinger, HREOnlineTM columnist, HR consultant and former CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management, also attributes the big spike she has seen in the demand for HR positions over the past two months to the demand for HR professionals with business acumen.

"Recruiters are looking for people that not only have human resources backgrounds, but have business savvy and business literacy," Meisinger says. "In this tough economy, having that business sense is critical."

Organizations are increasingly looking for strategic HR professionals who can help to understand the intricacies of running a company, she says. They should be able to create and use company metrics to understand how to equalize compensation increases with cuts elsewhere, among other things.

Jesuthasan, who recently co-authored Transformative HR: How Great Companies Use Evidence-based Change for Sustainable Advantage, agrees: "We are seeing different expectations by a number of organizations for HR to play a very different role as they look to come out of the recession and help the company drive significant growth in a very uncertain economic environment."

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