How HR Will Evolve, the Young Leaders' Perspective

HR today is hardly recognizable compared to what it was a decade ago. New technological developments such as applicant tracking systems and HRIS have drastically changed the way human resources departments operate. As technology continues to extend the frontier of the industry, HR will have to continue to adapt to the new climate. 

While technology will continue to play a role in revolutionizing the HR landscape, it’s the HR leaders that will be responsible for driving industry’s continued evolution.  It’s impossible to know what the future of HR will hold, but we can be certain that the next generation of these HR leaders and the decisions they make will play an important role in shaping it. 

To get a better idea of where the HR industry is headed, we reached out to a number of emerging HR student leaders from across the country to hear their thoughts on the future of HR.  As members of Gen Z, these leaders bring a fresh perspective to the space that will guide the way they shape HR for the future. As HR continues to grow and change, this new generation of HR leaders will play a significant role in shaping what HR looks like tomorrow and in the years to come. 

Why are you interested in a career in HR?

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Corey Wagner, President of the Iowa State University SHRM Student Chapter, Class of 2020: “I actually fell into HR during my first semester at Iowa State. At the time, I was an engineering student who had never thought about HR as my career. I saw a job posting for an HR student office assistant role, and ended up applying and getting the job. Soon after, I switched my major to Business Management and have loved everything about HR ever since. I enjoy being a valuable resource to everyone in whatever way I can be; being in HR allows me to tap into that enjoyment and really thrive on helping people get the information and guidance they need. Now, being in the position that I am as the President of the ISU SHRM Student Chapter, I am able to spread my knowledge to the chapter, and also build my leadership skills that will prepare me for a successful career in HR.”

Maryn Smith, University of Georgia SHRM Chapter President, Class of 2020: I'm interested in a career in HR because the HR department essentially provides the support that a company needs to function. They handle all of the "behind the scenes" work to ensure that all operations run smoothly and they can truly drive the direction of the company. Plus, you get to work with the most valuable assets a company has - the people!


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Kimberly Steelman, Southern Illinois University Edwardsville SHRM President, Class of 2020: I am interested in a career in Human Resources because I have always been a people person but admired the environment of an office, so therefore felt HR was a perfect fit. I have always been fascinated by the way people interact with each other which is why studying Sociology plays a crucial part in HR. I want to positively impact the lives of others and HR has so many fields to do just that!

Peter Fehring, University of Minnesota SHRM Chapter President, Class of 2020: I am interested in a career in HR because of my love for building relationships. In business, having close connections with colleagues only drives the efficiency of resolving issues, and I bring that directly into my day-to-day HR activities. Building relationships takes a significant amount of time and effort, but when you see successful and sustainable businesses, they are built with long term vision, not short term goals.


What trend(s) do you think will drive the future of HR?

Corey Wagner: “Being a part of the younger generation (Gen Z, to be specific), and working with a predominately Baby Boomer, blue collar workforce for almost two years, my eyes have been opened to some of the behavioral differences between the two very distinct cohorts. We are seeing a shift in what the younger generation expects in terms of wages and benefits (i.e. college tuition reimbursement, higher starting wages, training/career development, etc.). We are also seeing a decrease in the blue collar workforce, as teenagers are being pressured into choosing college rather than trade schools. This is making the recruiting function for the blue collar workforce extremely difficult, forcing them to spend more on these benefits packages and recruiting new talent. This is causing these blue-collar employers, such as construction companies, to invest more in career planning/progression programs to be able to provide the benefits that the younger generations are looking for. Continuing on this theme, many companies have been tasked to be able to do more work with less headcount, due to the mass exodus of the baby boomers to retirement. This has caused many companies and organizations to invest heavily in self-service options to be able to support all employees on an individual level. This is something I believe we will continue to see, along with companies having to come up with creative solutions to address this shortage of workers.”

Maryn Smith: In my opinion, the automation of many HR tasks is unavoidable, but there are still many duties that involve interpretation and human interaction that will guarantee jobs for years to come. For the future, I believe the ability to analyze HR data and identify trends among employees will be crucial when looking for ways to add value to the department. 

Kimberly Steelman: As a young professional, the experience I have had with current trends in HR, the following are the most specific trends I feel our work-culture has led to and will drive the future of Human Resources: Diversity and Inclusion, Networking, Leading Strategy, Managing Change, Empowerment and Enhancing the Employee Experience. Companies, big or small, are constantly under scrutiny by customers and the public on their values, how the business treats their employees, and how that company will develop both themselves and their employees in a positive and professional way.

Peter Fehring: One trend that will continue to rise is other business functions viewing HR as a strategic partner. The people who are looking to work in HR are [generally] not doing so anymore to work in the annex surrounded by paperwork and filing tasks. The people of an organization were often being underutilized, and the HR function itself has often been underrated. As businesses progress and understand just how important their people are, the HR function will continue to gain credibility.


How do you think technology will play a role in HR’s future? 

Corey Wagner: “I believe that HR evolves along with the evolution of technologies, whether they be existing technologies, or new inventions. Over the last 10 years, we have seen technology evolve in so many different ways. You can talk to almost anyone in the world in the touch of a button, where as 10 years ago, that wasn't as easy to do. Technologies such as Skype, and the development of smart phones and social media, has made HR's functions evolve in the process. Before technologies such as Skype and Zoom were available, companies would have to pay travel expenses if there were international candidates, they wanted to interview. Now, all of that cost is gone, as these technologies allows for a face-to-face interview, without the person having to leave their home in a different country. We also see the same kind of development with HRIS technologies, as they push for everything to become much easier for not only the HR team, but for the employees as well. I can only think that over the next 10 years, there will be more advancements in all technologies, and HR will function in a completely new way that no one could even think of today.”

Maryn Smith: I believe technology, and more specifically HRM systems, is the future of all record-keeping and data management. These applications will be able to control everything from recruiting and onboarding to performance management and training and the demand for employees to operate and configure these systems will increase drastically over the course of the next 10 years. 

Kimberly Steelman: Technology has evidently increased at a more rapid rate than it was intended it would. The first area I can think of, in my time of a professional environment is in Training and Development. There are several programs companies use for an online training. The way in which technology in moving quickly into HR is cool, but scary. The way HR can use E-Verify, payroll programs, recruit from anywhere in the world with tools like LinkedIn and Indeed have made the HR world transform in a way to be more efficient because of the advancement of technology.

Peter Fehring: Technology is already beginning to drive so many decisions when it comes to HR. When we look at the number of mundane tasks that HR professionals were previously tasked with, so many functions have already been automated. To dig further, faster and more intuitive ATS and HRIS are constantly evolving, which only makes our jobs easier! Finally, one area that I still believe is being underutilized is data analytics. Making decisions based on data drives diversity and inclusion efforts more than anything, and I think a lot of organizations still do not understand the relevance of this. Race and gender should not be "preferred qualifications," but data representing the strongest candidate certainly is! =)


Final Thoughts?

Corey Wagner: “As amazing as the technology is that we have been gifted to be able to utilize, never forget how important an in-person, face-to-face conversation is. My generation often have much weaker basic communication skills due to the emergence of social media. These soft-skills are still the skills that impress me whenever I am tasked to interview individuals. Don't be the ATM of the workplace; every so often, unplug from technology and really get to know the people around you, and not just their names, their duties, and who they work for. Practice how you communicate, learn your communication style, and hone your soft-skills. To touch briefly on HR in general, remember that we are people too. We aren't there to only enforce rules and regulations. This is a part of our job; however, we love getting to know our employees and about their lives. We want to hear about what you did on vacation, how your weekend was, and what's going on in your life. We want to be a valuable resource to all of our employees, not just management.”  

Maryn Smith: There are many different facets of HR that all require unique skill sets and offer completely different day-to-day tasks. Find your niche! 

Kimberly Steelman: Personally, through my short time as a working professional, I have seen the shift in perception of what Human Resources should mean to an employee and one who is wanting to get into the field. The difference between HR and People Op’s is a fine line of both departments have the company and employee in their best interest but, I do not feel as though they will combine duties. As every company varies with job titles, roles, duties, needs, etc., certain levels will focus more on strategy and others will be more team oriented. Since every company is different in organizational structure, both are crucial to have to be successful.

Peter Fehring: In terms of the future of work, I think organizations need to adapt further to the flexibility that employees need. So many studies have shown that offering remote work options increases productivity, but companies are still afraid of it! Oftentimes, the real reason that managers will not own up to is lack of trust in their team, and that is really what it comes down to. However, at the end of the day, if you cannot trust your team to do their work in the comfort of their own home, how can you expect them to do much better when you're micromanaging them from the office? Just some food for thought, more than anything.

There you have it, insights for the next generation of HR, from the next generation of HR. Where do you think this discipline is heading?