HR in 2012: Forum warns employers to adapt or be left behind

by Stephanie Zillman24 Nov 2011

A panel of industry experts in Sydney yesterday warned that Australia is entering the ‘new world of work’ and as yet, the challenges are not being met by the majority of organisations.

The panel included: Matthew Francechini, CEO Entity Solutions; Craig Osborne, managing director Sage MicrOpay; Daniel Sheahan, general manager ComOps; and moderator Mark Douganm, managing director Frost & Sullivan ANZ.

The need to better prepare for the impacts of new technologies and changing demographics took centre stage, and Sheahan said it’s as though "the perfect storm is brewing”.

Francechini said workplaces are currently witnessing the biggest, most rapid shift in history, and said “It’s a completely different workforce paradigm - I want to shout it from the rooftops because organisations who don’t adapt will be left behind.”

Sheahan added that a key challenge is how to harness the knowledge of the departing Baby Boomer generation, as well as better dealing with employee demands for more flexible terms of work.

The key challenges of the ‘new world of work’ were discussed in an animated panel discussion, and the key themes that require the greatest attention going into 2012 were identified.

  1. Employers must seek skills not roles

The Gen Y desire for flexibility, plus a growing number of semi-retired Baby Boomers seeking part time or casual work, is gradually blurring the lines between contract and permanent staff engagements.

Francechini said, “Rather than seeking to fill a title, companies will find they need to search for particular skills. They’ll have to spread the net far and wide to find the right talent and then work out the terms of engagement that best suit both parties.”

Sheahan added that in many cases the future of remuneration must be seen through the lens of paying for results and outcomes, not whether someone was physically present for eight hours a day.

  1. A resurgence in unionisation

The public perception of overpaid executives benefitting at the expense of the general worker is strengthening the reception of unions in the workplace.

Increased union access to the workplace due to the introduction of Fair Work Australia, and the development of enterprise bargaining agreements, are being well received by a disgruntled workforce, and Sheahan said that unions should not present a problem for employers.

“It’s just a fact of life that needs to be dealt with. Employers who recognise the need for union involvement and quickly handle the issues will find this trend painless, but those who ignore it do so at their peril,” he said.

  1. Conflict between the benefits and risks new technology provides

Employers and employees alike have embraced smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices during 2011, and the rise of cloud-based software has allowed employees to access corporate systems remotely. However, the rapid take-up of new technologies has also meant an increase in demand for flexibility.

Osborne said: “Much of the focus on mobility has been about how to get information out of the business to the employee. What hasn’t received much attention is how organisations can best manage their remote workers and how to get employee information back into the business. For example, how do we get accurate information about the hours worked or billings of an employee working from home?”

Sheahan agreed and added that “organisations need to be aware of what’s actually out there to allow these technologies to enable the transition to the new workplace environment quickly and painlessly”.

  1. The skills shortage is not going to disappear

The global nature of the workforce, the retirement of experienced Baby Boomers and an under supply of suitable replacement skills were identified as factors which will perpetuate the skills shortage. Naturally, this will have a negative impact on employers in the year ahead and must be effectively managed.

To mitigate the problem, HR professionals need to become more creative in the way they retain their existing organisational skills base, for example through the creation of part time, contracting or mentoring roles for personnel nearing retirement.

Osborne said: “If you take payroll as an example, we’ve been talking about a shortfall of payroll skills for at least the last eight years. Today, the average payroll manager is over 50 and it’s highly likely that in the next five to 10 years the industry will hit a critical point because there are just not enough new people coming through. It’s a real recruiting challenge that requires foresight and planning. And this is just one of the similarly affected industries.”

  1. Employees expect to be recognised for being “always on”

Where Baby Boomers traditionally remained in one job for lengthy periods, sought order, structure and defined workplaces, Gen Y is more typically attracted to the type of work on offer rather than a particular position.

They want access to information at their own moment of need using their own preferred device, and they want recognition by their peers as being ‘always on’ no matter the time of day.

Sheahan said the younger generation wouldn’t tolerate “being ridden by the boss for coming in at 9:30”, when they had been up until midnight working at home after ‘hours’.

According to the panel, to attract and retain these younger candidates, organisations will need to respond by offering greater choice in remote working and telecommunicating, providing access to mobility technologies and incorporating changes to the physical workplace layout.

-Stephanie Zillman


  • by graeme creed 24/11/2011 3:26:15 PM

    Unless employees over the age of 55 are given some surity of their position they will become silo boarders and knowledge storers

  • by Pia Inverarity-Stone 24/11/2011 7:29:56 PM

    Is the amount of single parents participating in the workforce still increasing and the family issues around single parenting affecting the workplace and work arrangments. Is this on the increase?

  • by Vaishali Kapoor 2/12/2011 4:22:40 PM

    HR have transitioned from transactional to transformational. Emplyees demands haved changed. Growth in demanding flexible working, more focus on project in hand and deliverables instead of designation and time spent with one employer, and payment for end results achieved rather than hours spent has opened up a new horizon towards hr practices. Now the perspective for hr is to manage free birds flying in the sky without boundaries. The challenge is to pic the right skilled bird for the right project not designation and pay appropriately for the results achieved. The bigger challenge is to retain the same and engage him more effectively.

Most Read