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CIPD Conference and Exhibition: HR is raising its game to better the future of the profession

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The HR profession has adapted to change in today's workplace, has aligned its priorities right at the heart of today's business challenges, is addressing skills gaps to implement the programmes needed, and is developing the capabilities it needs to raise its game for the future.

According to HR Outlook, of 2,266 HR professionals within UK organisations, including 319 of the profession’s most senior practitioners, respondents at the top of their organisations are fully aligned with the needs of their businesses, and are not blind to the many challenges re-structuring and cuts for some, or emergence from recession for others, will mean for the HR function. The senior sample identified their top three priorities for the next 12 months as ‘managing change and cultural transformation’ (50%), ‘employee engagement’ (41%), and ‘improving performance management and reward’ (38%).

Employee engagement emerges as the number one priority for the private sector across the total sample, which supports findings from other CIPD research that this is key for organisations to sustain performance through turbulent times. It was missing, however, from the top three priorities identified by public sector respondents, a finding that may change over the coming months as the budget cuts and service delivery challenges confirmed in the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) are translated into action. The public sector respondents are strongly aligned with ‘managing costs’ as their top organisation priority for the next 12 months.


The profession is not in the dark about difficult decisions ahead, and how they will be seen as a consequence. The majority are more likely to agree than disagree that ‘HR can be perceived negatively at times of cost reduction and redundancies’ (with a net score of +57). Despite this external reality check, however, HR professionals in general know what they need to do, and also believe their function is capable of achieving the priorities set for the coming year (with a net score of +82).

To help achieve these priorities, nine in 10 identified skill/capability gaps that they are seeking to address. A particular area for future attention within the profession is the degree to which ‘curiosity’ is displayed and developed. This is one of the key behaviours identified on CIPD’s HR profession map**. Currently, our survey shows that this is the behaviour least likely to be displayed in HR teams, and the least likely to be encouraged.

There is good news,  for graduates struggling to find work in the toughest jobs market for two decades, with senior HR professionals preparing to invest in future talent. Twenty-seven per cent of seniors believe they will take on HR graduate trainees in the next 12 months (compared to 7% of seniors having done so over the last year).

The survey also shows just over two-thirds (65%) of seniors believe the size of the HR function will remain the same over the next 12 months, 17% think it will increase and 16% decrease. For almost three-quarters (73%) of HR professionals, the last person they recruited had HR experience but 48% said they would consider recruiting people without HR experience for an HR role.

Three-quarters of HR professionals have worked outside the HR function in their professional career

Fifty one percent of respondents said their HR function had changed its structure over the last two years. For seniors the main challenge of restructuring the HR function is dealing with skills gaps (32%), while for the broader HR sample it is defining roles (36%)

The majority (53%) of HR professionals have had a pay rise in the last 12 months. Two in five (40%) have experienced a pay freeze, while 3% have received a pay cut and on average, HR professionals’ annual salary is around £44,000.


Jackie Orme, CEO, CIPD,said: "The next few years offer tremendous opportunities for ambitious and aspiring HR professionals. The last two years have seen the biggest shift I remember in my lifetime from an old order to a new one, an economic shift from West to East and fundamental changes in attitudes to business. 

"I see a profession that is successfully adapting to change in today’s workplace – integrating its priorities into the challenges and changes needed in the business environment. It is right at the heart of what businesses need to do.

"As the profession moves forward, it needs to become an increasingly inquisitive and curious function – we need to increase our capacity to look up and out to develop and deliver real insight to sustain our organisations in a changing world and uncertain times.

"Our survey shows  the function is open to bringing skills in from elsewhere. We also need to encourage HR people to build depth and breadth into their careers with well chosen moves to other business functions too.

"The importance of engaging employees during this time of restructure should not be under-estimated and the survey highlights the opportunity for public sector employers to learn from the experiences of a private sector beginning to emerge from tough times.  Employee engagement is an area that should feature high on the list of priorities for HR and the organisation at the best of times.  But facing an almost unprecedented period of austerity, public sector HR managers will undoubtedly be looking to push this up their list of priorities in the year ahead.

"Overall, I'm excited by the picture the survey paints of a confident, capable profession, increasingly well-equipped to deliver on its priorities, yet clear on how it needs to adapt to thrive in the future."

The CIPD also finds a CIPD member will earn on average £46,000, while a non-member will earn on average £38,000