Demographic shifts and the HR challenges of the future
Of course it has not been a one-off shift. Demographics are constantly changing, and in some parts of the world they are doing so at a rapid pace, presenting even greater challenges for HR professionals as they look to hire, train, manage and retain an entirely new generation of workers.
According to a new report by the SHRM Foundation and the Economist Intelligence Unit (EIU) titled Shaping the Future of HR, there are a number of emerging and consolidating demographic trends that are likely to transform the profile of the average worker over the next 20 years.
In fact, there may soon be no such thing as the average worker, and workplaces could become so hugely diverse in terms of gender, age and culture that the strategies used by the HR departments of today may in time become completely redundant.
Here we take a look at some of the trends identified in the report and give our own take on how they are likely to affect HR as an industry in the years to come.
Ageing populations are apparent throughout the developed world as people live longer, healthier lives, and they are going to have huge implications for HR organisations in the future.
As the EIU and SHRM Foundation point out, some European governments have responded to increased longevity by raising pensionable ages in the hope of keeping people in work for longer and therefore reducing the strain on their state pensions systems.
This means there is likely to be a much greater concentration of older people within the workforces of the future, and it will require a real rethink about how HR departments manage everything from recruitment and training to occupational health and employee benefits.
It may also increase the potential for intergenerational conflicts in the workplace, where older employees are seen to be blocking the path to progression for their younger colleagues. HR managers will need to find ways to diffuse these tensions and create environments in which workers of all ages can collaborate effectively.
While some populations are ageing others are moving in the opposite direction, with developing countries in particular facing the challenges that come with an increasingly youthful labour force. The Asia-Pacific region, for example, is home to 60 per cent of the world's 15 to 24-year-olds.
Younger workers bring their own HR-related challenges. Generation Y - or the millennials as they are sometimes known - have very high expectations of their employers, are focused more on the immediate future than the long-term and are keen to strike a positive work-life balance.
"They crave an exciting, varied and innovative environment, which offers them rapid career progression, and seek leaders who allow them the freedom to express their views openly," the report states.
Attracting and retaining these young, often restless workers will be a major challenge for HR departments in the years ahead. Organisations will need to provide the kind of opportunities for training and progression that millennials crave, otherwise staff turnover could soar.
A globalised workforce
Another trend identified in the report is that of people movement. Globalisation means employable populations are moving more freely than ever around the world, which is leading to increased cultural diversity and reduced cultural homogeneity within national workforces.
This will undoubtedly create challenges in terms of equality and inclusion, and will force HR professionals to become much more culturally aware so that they are equipped to manage employees from a growing number of countries, faiths and ethnic groups.
Migration has also had an impact on the size and composition of talent pools, so recruitment practices are likely to be affected, too. Indeed, educational attainment is rising in developing countries, which means more graduates from these countries entering the global workforce.
Not only will HR departments have to become familiar with the complexities of global education, where qualification and skill levels can vary from country to country, but they will also need to make sure their recruitment practices are as fair and as inclusive as possible.
A surge in female employment
According to the report, figures from management consultancy Booz & Company show that in the ten years between 2010 and 2020, some 865 million more women will have entered the economic mainstream, resulting in a boom in female employment.
This boom will primarily occur within developing nations, where female involvement in education is on the rise and equality between the genders is beginning to emerge. What's more, with global figures showing that women now outnumber men in tertiary education by a ratio of 108 to 100, female participation in the workplace is also becoming more highly skilled.
As a result, HR departments that have for years dealt mainly with male employees may have to modify many of their existing practices, policies and programmes to cater for women and to create parity and harmony between male and female employees.
A rise in female employment may have an impact on working arrangements as well. With many women juggling careers with children and other caring responsibilities, they may choose to work part-time or flexibly, which may have a knock-on effect on how businesses operate on a daily basis.
It is clear that these demographic shifts are going to require new ways of thinking by HR departments globally, who will need to update their practices to meet the challenges that will arise.
And there may be new and unique problems that arise as these shifts take hold - problems that haven't yet been identified and which may demand entirely new approaches.
The EIU and SHRM Foundation report explains things rather well. It states that "many of the previously trusted techniques for managing culturally uniform, co-located teams, composed largely of male, long-service employees, are now as redundant as the office typewriter".
One thing is for certain, the role of the HR department is set to transform dramatically, and professionals working within this industry will need to be one step ahead of the emerging trends.