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HR professionals get ready for the new world of work. As workplaces across industries face disruption from technology and other forces, HR managers must upskill to stay on top of these five key demands.

Human Resource professionals are good at keeping their eyes on the future. Indeed, they always need to be one step ahead of the next hiring trend, skills shortage, or economic downturn.

In the current era of rapid and disruptive change, the crystal-ball reading skills of HR professionals are needed more than ever before. They are at coalface of the fast-changing world of work and they see that how we “do jobs” will be very different in a future that is coming fast.

These five capabilities will be essential for HR professionals who want to keep themselves ahead of the game. 

1. Thinking strategically

Dr Justin Ferrer, Discipline Leader in Human Resource Management at the Deakin Business School, agrees that the “bread and butter” of HR is shifting away from an overly functional focus revolving around ‘employees’, ‘recruitment’ and ‘positions’. These terms represent an outdated mindset that no long captures the highly strategic nature of contemporary HR, Dr Ferrer says.

“HR practitioners today need to get beyond functional thinking,” Dr Ferrer says.

“They have to be able to visualize the overall contribution of HR to an organisation’s strategic goals and the bottom line,” Dr Ferrer says.

2. The talent hunt

As organisations increasingly opt for ‘flexible talent’ (freelancers, contractors and agency workers), HR professionals are re-orienting their core activities and purpose. Instead of finding a candidate to fill a pre-existing full-time position, today’s HR practitioners are all about identifying and sourcing talent – wherever that talent may be, and whether it comes in the form of an individual or dispersed team.

Dr Ferrer says securing and retaining core talent continues to be an important issue for HR leaders, and will become increasingly important.

“In some industries and occupations there are core skills shortages – the ageing workforce is not being replenished by the current entry employees. This contributes to broader talent issues, and the challenge of finding and keeping core talent.”

3. Understanding the nature of jobs in the era of AI and automation

Growth in automation, AI and big data is reshaping HR’s role and the kinds of knowledge and skills required by HR practitioners, according to Dr Ferrer.

As organisations increase their use of advanced technologies and data, HR professionals will play a critical role, she says, particularly in relation to the impacts of AI, automation, and big data.

“The nature of jobs and work tasks will change, and HR has a key role to play in managing these transitions and ensuring that new job roles align with employee knowledge, skills and abilities and the organisation’s strategic position.”

4. Managing times of change

Along with an increased strategic input, HR practitioners are now central to the way organisations prepare for and manage change-related initiatives, Dr Ferrer says.

“In the turbulence of operating environments, the ability to manage change is critical. HR professionals manage processes that influence the employee and job tasks, but they also, increasingly, guide how organisations restructure or develop – because at the core of both are people.

“HR leaders who have excellent communications skills, astute strategic insight into their organisation, and a deep understand of the rationale underlying change, are highly valued by CEOs for this reason.”

The changing landscape means HR professionals need to be well acquainted with the letter of the law, the complex and moving feast that it is.

“One of the biggest challenges [for HR professionals] is staying up to date with current trends and law changes, especially in relation to the increased use of HR analytics and how they are utilized for meaningful purposes,” Dr Ferrer says.

5. Wearing many hats within one role

Even aside from the impact of technological and legal changes, the scope of the HR function seems to increase with each passing year.

“The breadth and depth of the HR role is now so varied. Generalist practitioners may be required to wear multiple hats at different time of the days. The ability to move between the hats can be a challenge, but an exciting challenge.”

So how do current and aspiring HR professional ‘future-prep’ themselves?

Dr Ferrer says keeping up to date with current HR thinking, and broader changes in business and leadership practice, are important ways those in the fields can be prepared for everything and anything.

“Being agile and adaptable is critical in this sense. Deakin’s Master of Human Resource Management has been designed to provide students with the information they need to operate in the environment right now, including employment relations, as well as providing them with the knowledge to move forward and be future-ready.”

Upskill with practical, online, flexible learning

The content of the master’s program has been shaped by industry requirements. The recent addition of a HR analytics unit was in direct response to sector expectations.

The program is open to current and aspiring HR practitioners and is offered online and by trimester, to fit with busy, working lives.

“Students study as they would in a face-to-face format, but in an online environment. So, there is no rushing to get through intensive periods, as we understand that most of our students are HR practitioners and are working full time – so it is manageable.”

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