Human resources (HR) professionals have always been an essential part of organizations, but today, as workplaces continue to evolve and organizational priorities shift, their roles are becoming more prevalent than ever before.
“The traditional HR role is changing very rapidly,” says Carl Zangerl, faculty director for the graduate communication and human resources management programs within Northeastern’s College of Professional Studies. “In many organizations now, the expectation is that the HR team is really a business partner [with a specialized focus on] deploying, training, engaging, and getting the most productivity out of their people.”
This focus on managing the people that make up an organization remains at the core of all human resource work. However, as the industry evolves to meet many of the changing needs of businesses today—including the adoption of new technology in the workplace—many HR professionals will need to adapt or expand their skill sets to keep up.
Read on to learn more about the recent trends that are defining this industry and the ways that professionals in this field can work to embrace them.
Trend #1—Data Analytics & Digital Technology Skills in HR
Human resource managers have always been required to have a specific set of professional abilities, including skills in project management, leadership, and innovation. Recent changes in the industry, however, have increased the need for proficiency in digital technology and data analytics abilities alongside traditional ones.
Digital Technology Skills
In recent years, digital technology has come to impact every facet of H work, no matter what specific career in human resources an individual may hold.
For example, developers are constantly creating new programs and apps that are meant to help ease the burden of daily HR processes such as enrollment, payroll, and time tracking. Having the technical understanding to not only operate but (in some cases) own the function of such technology is vital for those in HR roles.
The entire recruitment process today has gone digital, as well, due largely to the fact that more than half of the population of American adults report completing their job search online. Recruitment systems like LinkedIn and Indeed are now vital tools for HR managers to leverage in order to land top candidates for open positions, and even social media platforms are being utilized to promote, share, and search for open roles. Specifically, of recorded social media users, 35 percent reported using their social accounts for this purpose.
Similarly, HR professionals today are using social media to help evaluate potential candidates by analyzing their public profiles. A total of 70 percent of employers report using social media in this way, disclosing that the information they find contributes to hiring decisions. More often than not, HR personnel are the ones conducting that research, making a working knowledge of such tools a significant asset for anyone in these roles.
Although these are just a few examples of the use of technology in human resources today, they demonstrate the larger digital trend in the industry—and the need for individuals in this field to keep up. Northeastern’s Master of Science in Human Resources Management program has developed its curriculum to cover to help HR professionals do just that, including an entire concentration focused on the exploration of digital tools. “HR organizations are having to deploy digital tools as a new way of interacting with employees,” Zangerl says, “So we felt it was a really important concentration [to include] in our curriculum.”
Data Analytics Skills
“Like every other kind of function within an organization, [human resources teams] are collecting huge amounts of data,” Zangerl says, explaining that this generated information can prove relevant and useful in many aspects of human resources work.
For example, digital recruitment tools like LinkedIn are incredibly popular, with this platform alone gaining 120 new users every minute. These users are generating incredible amounts of data daily that can be beneficial to the practices of HR managers. For instance, HR managers now have unparalleled access to data on users’ engagement with posted jobs, salary metrics, candidates’ previous employment, and much more. With the right skills in data analytics and interpretation, these managers can use collected information to identify patterns and note other significant findings, in order to make informed hiring decisions and improve recruitment processes in the future. Zangerl explains that the “ability to not only analyze the data but interpret it and see those kinds of connections is really critical.”
In order to best arm future human resources managers with these necessary data skills, Northeastern’s Master of Science in Human Resources Management has also included courses like workforce analytics in its curriculum.
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Trend #2—A New Emphasis on People Management in HR
It’s well documented that happy, well-managed teams often results in a successful organization; this isn’t a new concept. As the structure of the modern workplace continues to evolve, however, the need for effective leaders has become increasingly critical.
“More and more organizations are realizing their people are their biggest asset,” Zangerl says. “And [they’re realizing] that they really need to pay more attention to how they organize people to do different jobs.”
Zangerl believes that with the consistent restructuring of teams, the use of contractors to fill important company roles, and the corporate world’s overall lean into the gig economy, the general scope of HR teams’ work has developed into “a much more complex task of trying to organize these people and resources.”
Having practical experience handling different types of people and teams is one of the most effective ways of mastering these necessary skills, and the best way to get that experience is through an advanced degree program that offers an experiential learning component. By participating in internships or co-ops, students in these programs are given the opportunity to work within a functioning organization and manage real groups, while still having the cushion of classmates and professors to bounce ideas off of or ask questions to. Northeastern offers an expansive network of both business and nonprofit organizations that students in the Master’s in Human Resource Management program can work with to hone these important skills.
Trend #3—Artificial Intelligence in HR
Another trend that has increased the demand for trained human resource managers in business is the advent of artificial intelligence (AI) technology and other machine learning.
“There is going to be a huge need to upskill large segments of the workforce in the next 20 years,” Zangerl says. “A lot of jobs are going to be automated, so…it’s going to be the responsibility of human resources [teams] to really map out how to transition employees [and prepare them for] new roles where they’re working with artificial intelligence.”
He believes that this “major challenge” will require human resources teams to not only oversee employees during times of transition but also to continue to guide them once they’ve adapted to their new, AI-dependent roles or environments. This will hopefully give employees the tools they need to both embrace these changes and learn how to use the advanced technology to benefit their work.
In order to prepare future leaders in human resources for this very specific and new aspect of HR work, programs like Northeastern’s Master of Science in Human Resources Management have adapted their curriculum to include full concentrations in these topics. Within this program specifically, the concentration titled “Artificial Intelligence in HR” covers related topics including information processing, advanced analytical utilization, and AI communication and visualization.
“Artificial intelligence and related technologies…are going to be mainstream within organizations in the [next few] years,” Zangerl says, “And we wanted to build a program that tries to prepare HR professionals for not just today, but the rest of their career.”
Learn more about Northeastern’s Master of Science in Human Resource Management, and uncover the variety of ways a tailored degree program can prepare you to keep up with the changing trends of the industry.