The HR Industry Is At Risk Of Extinction Unless It Learns To Innovate

Libby-Jane Charleston

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The HR industry is facing enormous challenges when it comes to digital transformation. The biggest challenge is the speed of which change is taking place – technology is changing at a very rapid pace, along with the HR industry's relationship with work.

A global study by PageUp, a multi-national Talent Management Software-as-a-Service (Saas) provider, has found the HR industry is on the precipice of a cliff.

"The journey that HR is travelling has hit a hard stop and is under pressure to not only facilitate the transition of the workforce into the new world of work, but equally to reinvent itself," Sylvia Vorhauser-Smith, senior Vice President of PageUp said.

"There is a real risk of falling over and there are two choices to make: invent a way across the chasm, or disappear into it."

Picture: Martin Barraud

Vorhauser-Smith has co-authored a book with PageUp CEO Karen Cariss, putting HR on notice and warning the digital revolution is not backing down. Cariss said it's important to look at the evolution of 'unicorn companies', the companies that reach that one million dollar valuation in a very short time frame.

"If we go back to 2010, there were only six unicorn companies, over the next few years that number has grown to 45 and there are currently more than 208 of these organisations. Yet, directly, they only employ 40,000 people," Cariss said.

"These are companies we're all familiar with, such as Uber, Dropbox and Airbnb. If we take Uber, for example, they employ under 7,000 people yet their driver network is in the millions. So how does HR operate in that type of environment?"

The issue is that business is evolving at such a rapid pace, but HR is not evolving at an equal pace. Carris said the risk for HR is that, if there is no evolution, HR will become irrelevant.

"The road ahead requires HR to play a strategic role in the organisation by sharp alignment with the business strategy, using technology as an enabler and applying strategic foresight to navigate future workforce needs," Carris said.

Paul Birch, Director of People and Culture at Transdev told a panel discussion for the HR industry that organisations need to be far more creative and innovative when it comes to the definition of work and employment relationships.

"Take Airtasker for example, where you can source labour for specific projects that use specific skills. This is the future. Whether we like it or not, current employment models and legislative frameworks will be irrelevant and redundant, particularly for those who've grown up in an era depending on industrial relations," Birch said.

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Ninety per cent of what I've learnt in my 28 years of being in the HR industry is totally irrelevant today."

Underpinning the challenge, according to Carris, is if organisations don't have innovation, how can they continue to operate in the new world?

"In Asia, things are changing. We're dealing with lots of different cultures and we've got consumer based applications driving the expectations of the workforce in terms of what they have access to. We've got the challenges of the business language and the businesses themselves evolving and taking advantage of new tech and new opportunities and ways of working and that's outpacing how we're thinking about design," Carris said.

"But there's an acronym known as VUCA - it stands for 'Volatile Uncertain Complex and Ambiguous and for me it sums up my everyday world."

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I'm a journalist and author writing across a wide range of topics, including tech, travel, history, business/startups, relationships, beauty & fashion, British royal history, & local stories concerning Charleston, S.C (where I have a long family history on my father's side: hence my surname! ) Former HuffPost Assoc Ed, ABC TV, ATV Beijing correspondent and many more. Author of "Fatal Females." Mother of three boys: I will love them until the Statue of Liberty sits down.


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