HR leaders have a major role in helping companies meet the challenges confronting Europe in the 21st century, according to a conference on business success in Europe held earlier this month.
Among the problems facing business are the ageing European population, integrating new members of the European Union, the growing competitiveness of China and India, and the threat of a US economic slowdown, triggered by US government borrowing.
Speakers including the former head of the European Central Bank, Wim Duisenberg, and the last governor of Hong Kong, Lord Patten, agreed that the EU was unlikely to achieve the targets of the 2000 EU Lisbon Strategy, which aimed to make Europe "the most dynamic and competitive knowledge-based economy in the world" by 2010.
Patten told conference delegates at the Building Success in Europe conference in Barcelona, organised by the Hay Group, that failure to achieve targets for investment in education and research and development would put Europe at risk of lagging behind the US on innovation.
"At the moment, something which should concern us is the US spending twice as much on education and research and development," said Patten.
However, the skills and knowledge of the European workforce were seen as an advantage.
Group managing director of global practices for Hay Group, Murray Dalziel, said: "I'm going to suggest that this decade is the decade of talent, and that HR will be the champion by the end."
General manager of Hay Group Spain, Enrique de Mulder, said that HR was key to achieving the "European Dream" of a transnational union, capable of enabling the inter-connectedness that is needed to thrive in the 21st century global economy.
De Mulder advised HR leaders to become strategic partners in making the dream come true by encouraging diversity, customer focus, transparency and integrity.
Dalziel's prescription for European business was more focus on talent management, leadership development and organisational design.