The EFMD business magazine

The EFMD business magazine

Why tomorrow’s HR professionals must reinvent their role

It is time for human development specialists to re-examine their function and take a global and historical perspective in thinking about how to deal with human development challenges. By Bob Aubrey

There is no doubt that human development is important to companies. Whether baptised as “talent” or “human capital”, the sourcing and development of employees is at the top of CEO priorities.

But talk to human resources (HR) professionals, and you will hear a different story: their work goes unrecognised; they don’t have a seat at the table when leaders create strategies; they are cast in a support and service relationship as HR business partners where they are considered neither as business leaders nor as partners.

Learning and development (L&D) professionals are part of a widely spread people function whose identity is mostly defined by its administrative and process work. That is about to change.

Human development professionals are going to find themselves on the front line, dealing with a host of unprecedented known-unknowns – things we know that we don’t know – but which will have a huge impact on work and the global workforce by the middle of the century.

  • For example, we do not know if robotics and artificial intelligence and automation will make workers obsolete. It is already starting but who will be impacted and will new jobs replace the ones that are eliminated? Can today’s workers be retrained for this new world of work?
  • Another is whether the example of China’s extraordinary human development progress will be repeated by the rest of the developing world – India, Southeast Asia, South America and especially those at the bottom of the income pyramid. Will we see improved health, learning, longevity and self-determination extended to most of humanity? As new middle classes arise, will we have the right talent where we need it and will we be able to increase productivity at the same pace as the cost of work?
  • A third is whether work itself will necessarily include development and self-determination. The mission of the International Labour Organisation (ILO) already includes aspiration as part of human development. In addition to providing income, the ILO says, work can pave the way for broader social and economic advancement, strengthening individuals, their families and communities. Such progress, however, hinges on work that is decent. Decent work sums up the aspirations of people in their working lives (see ILO, the decent work agenda).

Will the ILO take the decent work agenda even further into laws and compliance systems that make these lofty goals a requirement for companies?

By the middle of this century, we will have answers to these fundamental questions but today’s business leaders and human development professionals are not preparing themselves to deal with the challenges that these known-unknowns are creating for companies.

HR professionals

Bob Aubrey is EFMD Senior Advisor for Asia and Chairman of the European Chamber of Commerce HR Committee in Singapore.
This article reflects ideas developed in his book Measure of Man: Leading Human Development published by McGraw Hill Education.

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