European HR departments are becoming more influential
With hiring patterns continuing to change across Europe, HR departments are playing an increasingly important role within modern businesses.
HR professionals now have more responsibilities aside from recruiting new staff and dealing with any employee grievances. Work undertaken by these people can now have a significant impact on the future success of their company, so it is crucial that firms have a HR team they can rely on.
Here are some of the main issues that HR specialists are now dealing with on a day-to-day basis in Europe.
Companies are coming under increasing pressure to ensure they are hiring a certain number of women.
There has been a lot of debate about gender diversity in Europe and some women think there is still a glass ceiling that prevents them from securing the very best jobs. This is particularly true in professions such as IT.
While the topic of gender diversity quotas - which will force firms to promote a minimum number of women into executive positions - has caused controversy, the European Commission is keen to see businesses taking a proactive approach towards establishing a more balanced workforce. This is something that could fall under the HR department's remit.
The Women on Boards organisation continues to campaign for the inclusion of women in director roles and Chief Executive Officer Rowena Ironside recently stated that a mere four per cent of Europe's top 100 companies are headed by women. This problem is not exclusive to Europe, as just 4.2 per cent of US Fortune 100 businesses are led by females.
In October 2013, members of the European Parliament voted in favour of the introduction of new legislation that will make it easier for women to succeed in the corporate world. Following the vote, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said there have been improvements in gender diversity across the continent, although some countries are performing far better than others.
Overall, the share of women on boards rose to 16.6 per cent in April 2013, which was a marginal upturn on October 2012, when the figure stood at 15.8 per cent. Ms Reding said France and Italy - which have both introduced regulations to tackle gender imbalances - are setting a good example for other EU members to follow.
"Regulatory pressure works. The cracks are starting to show on the glass ceiling. More and more companies are competing to attract the best female talent. They know that if they want to remain competitive in a globalised economy they cannot afford to ignore the skills and talent of women," she commented.
Adopting new technology
In the past, a company's IT department would be solely responsible for adopting the very latest technology, but this is no longer the case.
HR departments are now expected to play a leading role in the integration of new technology that can help their workforce do their jobs more effectively. The demand for flexible working has grown sharply in recent years and this has put a great deal of strain on HR professionals, who must ensure employees have the necessary hardware and remote internet access to allow them to work from home.
In an article for HR Magazine, Head of HR Technology at PwC Chris Murray said that expectations are rising and Millennial workers feel that outdated systems and working practices are holding them back. This is bad news for HR specialists, as they need to ensure everything is in place to maximise the productivity of their teams.
Mr Murray wrote that many organisations have recently transformed their HR functions "more rapidly than ever before" and this has not only enabled them to keep their most talented employees happy, but in some cases they have reduced operating costs by as much as 30 per cent.
"The future of the workplace is in HR's hands. But they will only be able to make their mark by presenting a clear vision and business case for real transformational change," he wrote in the magazine.
"When this includes the required technology infrastructure, the benefits can be compelling."
A shortage of skilled workers across Europe is arguably the most pressing challenge facing HR professionals at the moment.
There have been widespread reports of companies finding it difficult to hire new team members who can hit the ground running when they join the organisation. This appears to be a particularly big issue in the IT and engineering sectors.
With the eurozone economy finally starting to recover, businesses will be keen to expand in the coming years, but a limited pool of talented workers could halt their plans. HR departments are often asked to ensure new recruits undergo the necessary training to enable them to do their job effectively. This is made far more difficult when employees have had limited previous experience.
Androulla Vassiliou - Member of the European Commission responsible for Education, Culture, Multilingualism and Youth - said in October 2013 that Europe must act swiftly to ensure skills gaps are narrowed.
"We face a dramatic situation: a shrinking workforce due to demographic changes and a shortage of skilled labour in crucial sectors like IT and healthcare," she remarked.
"There are no short-cuts. We have to invest more efficiently in better education and better training to deliver a better blend of skills."
Changing hiring patterns
There have been some dramatic changes in the way companies are hiring workers in the last few years.
Since the global financial crisis, many firms have been reluctant to offer permanent contracts, as these can be a hindrance during slack periods. It makes sense for businesses to secure the services of talented professionals on a temporary contract basis, but with the aforementioned skills gaps emerging, some organisations have had to look further afield for suitably talented workers.
Companies cannot afford to let the most talented contractors come to them, more often than not they have to search for them. The EU has signed numerous deals with other countries that makes it far easier for businesses to hire the very best foreign workers.
One such arrangement was recently made with Canada. The Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) should be mutually beneficial, according to Adam Taylor, who is the Director of Communications for the country's International Trade Minister Ed Fast.
"EU commitments for temporary entry under CETA will be more extensive than any other country has received from the EU under a free trade agreement," Mr Taylor commented.
While such deals give European firms a real boost, there is still a lot of emphasis on HR professionals to ensure skilled workers from other cultures can integrate seamlessly into an organisation. This could mean finding suitable accommodation, helping them come to terms with the different labour laws and making sure they can adjust to a new lifestyle. After all, once you have found a talented specialist who can add value to your business, you do not want to let them go.
There are clearly many challenges facing HR specialists in Europe at the moment and it is important that these are overcome if companies are to progress. Modern technology - if deployed correctly - can make life much easier for HR departments, although there are budget constraints to think about.
It is important that businesses keep a close eye on announcements from the European Commission, as some significant new laws and policies appear to be in the pipeline. There is every chance that stricter workplace gender diversity regulations will be announced in the near future, for example.
Although skills shortages are a major issue, there are ways around this - such as hiring foreign workers. This can be difficult, which is why companies are more reliant than ever on HR specialists who know what it takes to attract the very best talent.