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How HR roles are shifting to keep pace with changes in the world of work

Demographic, technological and regulatory changes have plunged us into nothing short of a revolution in the world of work.

Digitisation in particular has had a massive impact on everything from the way companies design and make products to how they deliver their services and interact with customers. The robots are not just coming, they are already very much with us, and artificial intelligence is now used in fields from healthcare to manufacturing. Recent research suggests that robots will replace 15 million jobs in the next 20 years.

All this of course has huge implications for HR. The way work is organised, how people are managed and the type of skills that will be needed in the future are changing rapidly. We are seeing new roles emerge (the top 10 ‘in demand’ jobs in 2010 didn’t even exist in 2004) and it’s estimated that 65 per cent of children currently at school will end up doing jobs that haven’t yet been invented.

Putting the ‘human’ back into human resources

At a recent conference on the future of work, CIPD Chief Executive Peter Cheese emphasised the need for HR to be at the heart of the changes that are taking place.  “There has never been a more important time to be in our profession,” he said.  “We need to stand up for what we believe in and put the ‘human’ back into human resources.”

This emphasis on the human element is already being reflected in some of the new job titles that are emerging in the field. Handles like ‘head of people’, ‘people operations manager’ and ‘chief productivity officer’ are increasingly being used in the start-up space, although the profession is probably not ready quite yet for the (yes, you guessed it, US-inspired) title of ‘chief happiness officer’.

HR – but not as we know it

But regardless of what HR people are called, there’s no doubt the role is evolving. The profession has been criticised for being slow to embrace the potential of technology, but data analytics is increasingly regarded as a critical skill, with a new cadre of HR data specialists expected to emerge over the coming years.

HR roles themselves will not be immune to the march of the robots. A recent Oxford University study predicts that there is a 90 per cent chance of HR administrator roles being automated by 2035 as increasingly sophisticated systems take over some of the more mundane aspects of the role.

HR directors and managers are less likely to become extinct. Robots, however sophisticated, are unlikely to sort out conflict between warring colleagues or pick up the subtle nuances of why teams aren’t performing as well as they should. But if practitioners are to remain marketable, they will need to acquire the skills to interpret and put to good use the mountains of data their organisations typically sit on.

New skills move centre stage

There’s also a growing emphasis on the whole area of employee engagement, as companies wake up to the fact that the skills shortages already facing industry are only likely to get worse as Brexit takes hold. The need to attract and keep hold of talented people is what has most likely driven the area of internal communications – traditionally the preserve of the marketing team – into HR territory. Diversity is also moving centre stage, as organisations switch on to the benefits that a workforce that is diverse in make-up as well as in thought can bring.

Strong business nous and a keen nose for the future are also increasingly demanded of HR professionals.  Organisations are increasingly looking for practitioners who understand how global trends will affect their industry, can plan for changes in traditional models of employment (witness the rise of the gig economy) and who can get to grips with the type of experience employees are expecting from their roles.

As delegates at the future of work conference agreed, it’s time to look at HR from the outside in – and rather than seeking answers, focusing on the right questions.

Are you ready?


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