Four areas to grow your HR career in 2014

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Renewed business confidence means that HR professionals are looking for their next career move. But what will be the high-growth areas for 2014? Jo Faragher finds out.

Whether it’s inside or outside HR, the years since the start of the financial downturn in 2008 have led to career stagnation for many individuals. But with more positive economic developments on the horizon, 2014 will be the year when people start to re-think their careers again and go in search of their next move.

Jeremy Thornton, co-founder of HR recruitment company Oasis HR, sums up how this caution has affected the jobs market for HR professionals: “There’s likely to be a large amount of movement as candidates continue to ‘right-size’ their careers following a period of uncertainty [over the next six months].

“Over the past few years, we’ve found that many professionals settled for jobs that didn’t tick all their career boxes, but these candidates now seem to have the confidence to go in search of more exciting and more fulfilling opportunities.”

On the employer side, organisations are keen to get HR projects moving again that had been sidelined during the recession – such as learning and development – so are creating new roles and expanding existing teams. But in their search for talented HR professionals, they are still cautious and want to be able to choose from the very best.

“Expectations of HR professionals are generally very high at the moment, and clients’ wish lists are long,” explains Lisa Wormald, director of the HR division of Harvey Nash. “The style and approach of an HR professional, as well as their skills, is increasingly important. Clients are seeking engaging, collaborative, pragmatic and solution-oriented HR teams that are highly visible and that are prepared to challenge the status quo.”

This will be good news to respondents to XpertHR’s recent survey into HR career paths, where one-third of participants reported that a key barrier to their career advancement was HR not being taken seriously enough, while 37% said there were a lack of senior-level HR opportunities.

So if 2014 is your year for a career move, how should you sell yourself? Recruiters advise that you expose yourself to the area you want to move into, and if you’re a business partner or have ambitions to become one, make sure you’re influencing at managing director or CEO level. If you are looking to move into a specialism or improve your career prospects, there are a number of key areas worth pursuing in 2014:

1. Anything to do with data

The buzzwords “big data” may not exactly be new, but demand for HR professionals with experience and skills in data analysis is likely to increase. This can be as a standalone specialism – for example, HR analytics or HRIS specialists – or as a sub-discipline of another area such as business partnering or recruitment.

“In business partnering, you often now see an analytics specialism. Organisations are looking for people who are good with data and can influence the business with data insights, as well as personality,” says James Ballard, founding partner of HR recruitment business Annapurna.

With so much more data filtering through the HR function, and investment in technology systems meaning more data can be extrapolated, being able to make sense of it will mean you are in high demand.

2. Recruitment and resourcing

As business confidence returns, recruitment picks up – and this also means that many employers are looking to build on their hiring and resourcing expertise. While some choose to outsource recruitment and candidate sourcing, many want to keep this in-house to retain a level of control over employer branding and control costs.

Consequently, demand for skilled sourcing professionals will be high this year, according to Thornton: “These recruiters, paid anywhere between £60,000 and £80,000, are trained to operate using complex Boolean searches and innovative methods of direct candidate identification. Dubbed as ‘sourcerers’, these recruitment professionals could have a profound impact on many internal resourcing functions over the next few years.”

3. Organisation design

The structural impact of the downturn on many organisations cannot be underestimated, with departments cut right back and workforces changing shape. As the economy begins to revive, professionals who can help “re-form” organisations to meet new challenges will be sought after.

“If you can do pure organisation design you’re in a very strong position,” says Ballard. “If you’re running a business you need to know you have the right people in the right jobs, enough in revenue-making areas and not too many in areas where you’re not making money.”

Compared with engaging with an expensive management consultancy, hiring skilled organisation design specialists is a savvy investment for HR this year, he adds.

As part of this drive towards getting organisations in the best shape, roles for talent management specialists are also on the rise. Business partners that can work with their commercial colleagues to look at talent holistically, tying in the make-up of their teams with the overall goals of the organisation, will go far, adds Ballard.

4. Reward

After a number of years where salaries stagnated, HR departments are taking another look at their reward structures and how they can incentivise talented staff. This is particularly pertinent in areas where certain skills are in shortage, and organisations may find themselves having to pay above the market rate to recruit and retain.

“I would definitely say reward is our number one sector at the moment,” says Paul Duffield, director at recruitment company Better Placed HR. “Companies are looking to reward talent and engage with people quickly, so they’re willing to pay a premium.”

In addition, businesses will be looking for analytical reward specialists who can pinpoint where reward can add the most value to their workplace population: from top-level bonuses and pensions to non-traditional benefits such as discount schemes.

According to Sarah Greensmith, head of HR and IT recruitment at Hudson, one of the key drivers behind this renewed focus on reward is an awareness that loyalty alone is not going to guarantee retention: “You find that perhaps the psychological contract isn’t quite as strong as organisations might think, so they’re reviewing how they reward people.”

Finally, we’re likely to see roles emerge in entirely new areas over the coming months. New sub-disciplines such as, for example, vendor management in recruitment process outsourcing, recruitment relationship managers and executive resourcing managers will begin to populate recruiters’ job books.

What do you think are the HR growth areas this year? Other specialisms such as learning and development or diversity and inclusion have commonly been pushed down the agenda during the recession. Are these areas likely to see a resurgence as we enter recovery? Comment below…

One Response to Four areas to grow your HR career in 2014

  1. Avatar
    John Ludike 13 Feb 2014 at 10:40 am #

    I would suggest in fast growing emerging markets and or for international HR Practitioners a narrow role/specialism will prove to be inhibiting having worked in Europe as well as Africa, Middle East and Asia. Keep in mind a project isn’t a role and many organisations hire practitioners as per article as a phase (read project) however narrows ones exposure and experience and with that career mobility.