Both ends of the political spectrum will be covered by keynote speakers at the annual conference of the Society for Human Resource Management this month in San Diego.
The party affiliations of Steve Forbes, publisher of Forbes magazine and a former Republican presidential candidate, and former Vice President Al Gore, however, were not as important for SHRM as the trends they represent.
Forbes, who is slated to open the event June 27, will provide insight on the dynamic—and sometimes confusing—media environment. On June 28, Gore will delve into the complexities of environmental stewardship and sustainable business practices.
“HR has to be aware of what the discussions are in the C-suite and among political leaders,” says China Miner Gorman, who recently left SHRM as the organization’s chief global member engagement officer. “We think that Steve Forbes and Al Gore provide a really interesting point/counterpoint to our attendees to jump-start conversations.”
SHRM hopes that the conference also will generate a dialogue about how HR can help companies deal with two of the biggest challenges they face—a recovering but not yet vibrant economy and major policy changes coming out of Washington.
Just as people management was crucial when the economy spiraled in 2008, it is also going to be central to a business environment in which millions of people are put back to work.
Business performance “rests on the ability of the corporation to attract, engage and retain the best talent available—and that’s HR’s job,” Gorman says.
This point will be explored in a featured panel the morning of June 29 that will include HR executives from Google, Northrop Grumman and Deutsche Bank.
Eric Oppenheim, vice president for operations and HR at Republic Foods in Bethesda, Maryland, says that developing a strategic approach to an improving economy will be relevant for most conference participants.
“As soon as the [job] market opens up, people are going to take off because they’ve been suppressed for a couple years,” Oppenheim says. “They’re going to leave just to leave. That’s going to cause a huge strain on HR departments.”
Employment policy changes also are putting stress on companies and giving HR an opportunity to step up—a trend reflected in the SHRM conference program. Gorman says that placeholders were put in the schedule to allow for timely offerings.
“Several of these slots have been filled with legislative sessions, particularly on health care legislation,” Gorman says.
SHRM expects those meetings to be fuller than they were at last year’s annual conference in New Orleans, which attracted about 7,000 participants. The expected attendance in San Diego is more than 9,000.
The exhibit hall also will be more populated in San Diego than in New Orleans. This year’s conference will attract about 650 vendors, compared with last year’s 600.
“The good spots [on the exhibit floor] have been gone for months,” Gorman says.
As usual, attendees will have to keep a tight schedule to take advantage of the show.
“You have to be careful to plan ahead and target your time appropriately because it can be overwhelming,” Oppenheim says.