The editors of Workforce have looked into their 2002 crystal ball and identified what they think are the major issues affecting HR management today. Then they examined the impact of these issues on individual HR functions.
What's happening in your company that contradicts or confirms these trends?
Major Trends Affecting Human Resources Management in 2002
Trend #1: Significant HR issues are intertwined with the current economic climate.
The economic climate has significant HR implications, and conversely, some HR issues are affecting the economic climate.
For instance, there is an ongoing labor shortage, obscured, in part by the current - but temporary - economic cycle. This labor shortage will have long-term effects on businesses' ability to compete in the world marketplace. Therefore, HR must manage to that labor shortage, despite contrary evidence.
Trend #2: Tough times require continued cost-cutting beyond layoffs.
It looks as if the 9/11 events may have helped to delay the country's economic recovery. Thus, many companies will continue to look for ways to cut costs.
In 2001, layoffs targeted less-skilled and marginal performers. In many organizations, only key employees are left. Additional staff cuts could hurt current business and hinder future economic recovery.
Companies cannot over estimate the importance of key employees to an organization and the continuing need to retain the best and the brightest.
As a result, HR will need to look at both trimming expenses and fulfilling HR's demand to keep and attract the best employees.
Trend #3: "Re-engineering" - or its next iteration - will become an important way to cut costs.
Since downsizing won't achieve the necessary cost-cuts, companies and HR departments will have to re-engineer their processes and do what they now do faster, cheaper, and smarter.
HR will have two roles:
First, it will have to look at its own department and make HR more efficient, more cost effective, and a greater contributor to bottom-line stability.
Secondly, HR will work with executive and line management to support their re-engineering efforts.
Trend #4: The pending economic recovery will lag unless there are qualified employees in place to make it happen.
Sustained economic recovery is in the hands of the intellectual capital of an organization - its remaining employees.
Because those employees are vital to long-term corporate success, HR is responsible for maintaining their commitment, well being, skill sets and continued employment.
Therefore, HR will use all of its traditional tools to develop and maintain a competitive workforce.
How These Trends Affect Training & Development
Continued Need for Skilled, Technically Trained Employees
The dot-com focus of 1999/2000 highlighted the need for highly technical personnel. The seeming decline of technology has obscured the ongoing demand for a very skilled workforce.
However, it’s inherent in every industry. There are fewer and fewer unskilled jobs – everything requires using a "computer’’ from manufacturing, to diagnostics, to placing an order in a restaurant.
The lines are blurring between manual labor, technical skills, and professional requirements. Thus, if the workforce is not up to speed technologically, then HR must fill in the gaps with training.
A Shrinking Workforce Brings Succession Planning – and Training – to the Forefront
When large numbers of the Baby Boom generation retire, HR needs to be prepared to fill these open positions. That means succession planning – not just for a few key executives, but for all key positions.
Successful succession planning relies on skills assessment followed by skills training to ensure that the company is preparing and training its employees adequately.
Training Investments Pay Off
The training investment in good employees pays off.
If companies are pared down to their best and brightest, there’s greater pay off in training high-performing employees, versus marginal employees who just need basic skills. Companies need to (and can) get more out of their high potential people. Training helps take these employees to a higher level of contribution.
A flat job market also means a company can get its money’s worth in training. Employees are not as likely to use their newly acquired skills to job hop.
Cross Training Is a Necessity for a Downsized Workforce
If organizations downsized too quickly, some skills and knowledge walked out the door. Smart HR professionals are learning that lesson and are cross-training employees now and for the future.
In addition, with smaller workforces, there is less backup. So, regardless of why workers leave, companies need to make sure there are skilled employees to take their place.
Need to Measure the ROI of Training
It’s true that focused, well-placed training provides a return on investment (ROI). In order to justify training expenditures, HR needs to demonstrate that ROI.
HR could use some help in measuring that ROI and will turn to training consultants and suppliers to document the results of training activities.
Training Expenditures Cannot Be Delayed Indefinitely
In the 2001 cutbacks, companies put training on hold and planned instead to spend those dollars in 2002.
Regardless of the economic issues, training cannot be put on hold throughout 2002. Many of those dollars must be spent to keep up with technology, to generate new ideas, and to keep the workforce fresh and inspired. Delay training too long, and the viability of the workforce is affected.
Message Dictates the Medium
Online learning has sometimes been portrayed as the one solution for all training needs. In reality, training via the Internet works best when it’s just one of several approaches.
In training, content or the message dictates the medium. Team training might be best in face-to-face situations. On the other hand, math-skills training could be best with individual, online, self-paced programs.
Training Departments Downsized, HR Has a Greater Role
As part of cost cutting, training departments have been downsized. HR generalists, who have a greater role in training decision-making, now manage many training activities.
In turn, short-staffed HR departments will outsource more training design and implementation to third-party vendors.
How These Trends Affect the Demand for Training & Development Programs
Diversity Training: As the news continue to focus on possible terrorist activities, the general population will increase its profiling of individuals in the community – including the work community.
Therefore, it will become even more important for HR to implement ongoing diversity training and awareness.
Conflict Resolution Training: In a down economy, there are increased personal tensions – tempers are shorter, nerves are frayed, and employees are suspicious. Employers need to be aware of this situation – and head off issues before they become significant problems.
HR will look to professionals to provide training in conflict resolution – along with general awareness of how to maintain a peaceable workplace.
Safety Training: There is increased potential for violence in the workplace. Any number of situations can create volatility at work, but certainly the economic stressors created by the recession and exacerbated by the events of 9/11 deserve special attention.
HR will need to train management in identifying potentially hot situations – and provide managers with general safety guidelines.
Skills Training: Because many companies lost key staff, particularly at the World Trade Center, "sudden succession" became an issue after 9/11. HR realized – if it hadn’t before – that succession planning was not a luxury, but a necessity.
Thus, HR has new emphasis on looking at key jobs and identifying those people who could fill the open positions. To make that a reality, many employees need additional training and experience. HR will look to outside training providers to help fill these gaps.
Team & Problem-Solving Training: As companies begin to re-engineer, many ideas and solutions might come from the workforce itself.
But not every company knows how to foster a climate in which such ideas and solutions can emerge. Smart companies will invest in training on problem solving and team building, giving employees the tools they need to help in re-engineering their organizations.
Quality Training: Quality was a media buzzword in the early to mid-1990s, but seems to have faded from view. However, there is less customer tolerance than ever for shoddy work or poor service.
The "survival of the fittest" economic environment demands delivering the right product, on time, with no defects. Aggressive HR professionals will look at quality programs and training as a sound business investment.
Custom-Designed Training: As companies re-engineer, training will become an integral component in the success of installing and succeeding with those new processes.
A greatly trimmed down HR staff has probably lost trainers, so it will be required to seek outside firms to help design and deliver training. The same is true in developing and delivering cross-training programs.
Learning Management Systems: With the downsizing of training departments, there are fewer people to manage training and development initiatives and to track employee training.
A cost-effective approach is to put in place new training or learning management systems.
Source: Margaret Magnus, Publisher, and The Workforce Editors, January 2002.