Two things are happening in parallel in today’s workplace that are challenging human resources and learning professionals to reevaluate their approach. First, there aren’t enough highly qualified people to go around these days. This month, McKinsey and Co. reported that nearly 40 percent of U.S. employers are struggling to find skilled workers. Second, the high-quality talent that is currently powering companies forward has no qualms about leaving if they don’t feel like their needs are beings met, said Mika Nash, academic dean for Champlain College Online’s Continuing Professional Studies division.
An ample paycheck isn’t enough; it may not even be the difference-maker. Now more than ever, employees want to know organizations will invest in them, and they will walk away from one opportunity for another if they don’t.
In the face of this mounting stress on the business, Nash said it’s critical that academic human resources programs adjust their curriculum to this new reality, if they haven’t done so already. She said over the past 10 years, a trend has emerged where human resources leaders are becoming chief learning officers and other decision-makers more focused on strategic business goals. In these positions, leaders can support their organizations’ efforts to think differently about talent.
It’s a philosophical shift human resources is having to reckon with, Nash said. The old-school human resources approach reduced people to the lowest common denominator, an employee, one easily substituted for another. Today, however, leaders understand that retaining workers means acknowledging their individual value and strategically investing in it.
Nash said when human resources integrates talent management and organizational development agendas, the goal is no longer to bring in and work people until they are sick of coming to the office. “The goal is to bring people in, and then make them feel good about the work they’re doing so they want to stay and grow and be productive — a great symbiotic relationship.”
Arriving at this evolved view requires going beyond building an understanding of benefits, payroll, employment law, promotion policies and other records-mired responsibilities that once defined the HR role. People preparing to enter the field also need to know how to identify skills gaps and development needs and how to support people when evolving personally and professionally.
The modern human resources professional needs to know how to design a workplace culture, how to engage workers and cultivate leadership and coaching approaches that empower employees to respond effectively to work problems, and to grow and think different about their work, Nash said. An ability to synthesize metrics and other analytics will increasingly be necessary as well.
Jean Roque, founder and president of the human resources consulting firm Trupp HR, said HR professionals — new graduates as well as those with established careers — also lack an awareness of what comprises a company’s employee value proposition and how to market an employer brand, align with it and promote it. This is important, because through interactions with company websites, social media and even conversations with current and former employees, prospective workers can build an idea of what a business stands for as an employer.
“Are we being intentional about what that brand is and are we making sure that once those applicants come to work for us that what they were expecting based on what they saw on our employer brand is what they’re getting from the standpoint of engagement and that employee value proposition?” Roque asked.
An understanding of marketing and social media also would be beneficial to today’s human resources and learning professionals, she said. And it’s critical they have greater awareness about different types of applicant pools, the different generations of workers, their stages of life and what appeals to them.
Leaders may naturally encounter insight into these areas once on the job, but Roque said development of these competencies should start before then. Academia must extend its view of human resources management from an operations enabler to a strategic business arm responsible for attracting, engaging, developing and retaining people. “A lot of HR professionals come out of school not even knowing that that’s part of what they need to be doing because when we don’t intentionally do that, it gets defined for us.”
The generation of people now entering the workforce are well-acquainted with the speed of change and ambiguity in ways their predecessors may not be, Nash said. Companies would be remiss to cling to antiquated human resources practice.
Bravetta Hassell is Chief Learning Officer associate editor. Comment below or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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