The HR profession is losing basic operational skills as it strives to become more strategic, according to recruitment specialists.
They say HR professionals equipped with both commercial know-how and operational experience are in short supply. Many HR practitioners have concentrated on developing strategic expertise to the detriment of basic HR skills in areas such as redundancy, discipline and recruitment, and recruiters are struggling to find well-rounded HR people for their client organisations.
“There has been a trend towards the business-orientated HR person who has specialised in strategic HR and change management and has lost touch with the operational side of HR. This is not what employers want,” said Hugo Tucker, managing consultant at recruitment agency Ortus HR.
Mark Knapper, director of HR recruitment firm Astralis, said this was a result of the business partner model separating strategic and operational roles.
“In theory, this model works brilliantly, but you sometimes need someone to facilitate an operational project, for example, absence monitoring, and this is not seen as a sexy area,” he said.
“Some HR people have been concentrating solely on strategic development and design, but this doesn’t match organisational requirements.
Companies want people who will also get their hands dirty tending to the day-to-day needs,” Knapper added.
He said the shortage was particularly pronounced among HR applicants going for business partner roles in the 40,000 to 60,000 salary bracket.
The problem stems from fewer HR people cutting their teeth on the shopfloor of traditional manufacturing companies, according to Gareth Jones, director at HR recruitment company Courtenay HR. “It is in gritty environments like these that HR people pick up the knocks and scrapes of experience,” he said. “Today, too many come straight out of university, work for a consultancy firm and have no direct role with the running of a business. Some of the new breed are brilliant – they are enablers of change – but others just end up doing stuff that is of no real importance.”
However, as the latest salary statistics (above left) suggest, HR practitioners with commercial acumen can command bigger pay packets – perhaps one of the factors that is enticing HR people into business partner roles.
Top tips on marketing yourself
director, Courtenay HR
“Specialise. Don’t be a generalist because there is a dearth of generalist roles. Concentrate on developing expertise in specific areas – be it learning, people development or organisational compensation and reward.”
regional director, Hays Recruitment
“Up-and-coming HR officers need to get themselves qualified and then gain experience of strategic planning. They should be putting themselves forward to work with the HR director on projects.”
managing consultant, OrtusHR
“Top HR candidates need to show a good track record in a number of blue-chip organisations, and that they have experience of the good times and bad. Have they worked in a successful company that is expanding, as well as experience of job-cutting and downsizing?”