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Perspective: tackling future challenges

Last month’s column explored the seven major workplace challenges that have emerged over the past 10 years. But what do these challenges mean for our profession?

The seven global trends combining to reshape our modern workplaces are:

  1. Globalisation in competition throughout all public and private workplaces.
  2. Demographic changes to the workplace, especially with ageing and female participation leading to a very comprehensive set of diversity drivers at work.
  3. The impact of technological changes on employment market restructuring.
  4. The impact of technological changes on how and where work is being undertaken.
  5. The need to quality-assure formal educational outcomes to ensure new workers are job ready, and also to provide continuous learning for those on the job.
  6. The domination of smart work in new employment patterns, and in helping to fulfill demands for better work-life balance.
  7. Tensions around income distribution between wages and profits, and the need for regional fairness in how growth is managed and distributed.

So where is the role of HR headed on these seven inexorable waves of change?

The first priority focus for our profession is the newly emerging, vastly different profile of the modern worker. Hundreds of millions of women are pouring into the future workforce, which is also becoming multigenerational as older workers stay on the job for longer (or seek to) and workplaces become extraordinarily diverse and more cross-cultural.

Older male and female workers are carrying on for reasons of engagement linked to their longevity, and also to redress under-provisions in their retirement income, for whatever reason. Training and retraining them to maintain and sustain application of their corporate knowledge will be a stronger HR priority in future, as will making their work arrangements more flexible.

New workplace youth are more mobile, and HR’s job will be to find innovative ways to keep them more highly engaged, and thereby reduce their turnover and avoid all the costly flow-on: replacement recruitments, inductions and unnecessary ‘repeats’ to core training efforts.

Meanwhile, the greater female participation rates will drive the need for more flexible working arrangements, and also to search out and secure more female mentors and role models, so the careers of younger women can achieve their full potential.

Furthermore, our profession will need to respond to more intense cross-cultural and workplace diversity characteristics, with innovation in workforce planning and appropriate management. AHRI and EIU research studies have concluded that companies need to steal the march on these issues to pre-empt unnecessary and unhelpful government intervention and regulation over the same sets of challenges.

The divide between qualifications obtained and the skills organisations need will drive somewhat different skills into the HR profession itself. Firstly, vigilance in search and recruitment has intensified – to confirm both formal qualification validity and value, especially across an increasing number of geographically diverse sources of formal education. HR’s learning and development function will also increase in importance as continuous education to maintain relevance in an organisation becomes more critical.

Worker engagement is the continuing Achilles heel of organisational life. In a recent Gallup survey, Australia did better than most countries, with 24 per cent engagement. But we still have 60 per cent neutral and 16 per cent turned off.

Some of the solutions are to be found in reward and incentive systems. Active talent management programs, innovative use of new technology, more effective workplace flexibility, and more modern leadership management models are other keys to success on this front.

Finally, technology and globalisation have increased the use of multinational teams and virtual teamwork models. The key challenges here for HR are optimising global incentive and performance systems, improving communications training for these teams, and actively managing the risks without being heavy-handed at the same time.

Master these new challenges and you’ll serve your organisation well, especially with predictions that more mergers and acquisitions, with greater global reach, will occur in the future. If you can update the HR kit of skills accordingly, you will have the template for integrating many co-workers into your successful workplace world.

This article is an edited version. The full article was first published in the December 2014/January 2015 issue of HRMonthly magazine as ‘The future starts now’. AHRI members receive HRMonthly 11 times per year as part of their membership.Find out more about AHRI membership here.

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