For HR professionals, the new century will take up where the old one left off - with the struggle to recruit andretain a trained, satisfied workforce.

Recruiting will continue to be a key issue, John A. Challenger, CEO of the international outplace firm Challenger,Gray & Christmas, tells Human Resource Management News.

"The search for people with the proper experience is making HR a primary, critical factor in a company'scompetitive position. One dot-com executive said the focus on recruiting is the #1 business strategy," hesays.

No Relief from Shortage

HR cannot expect quick relief from the worker shortage, according to a survey by Manpower Inc. 24% of businesses surveyed by Manpower hope to hire more workers in the first quarter of 2000, while 10%plan to decrease employment.

With the unemployment rate standing at 4.1%, "the type of worker being sought in the new year increasingly ismore skilled or higher educated than in the past. The pool of such people is running dry," says Jeffrey Joerres,president and CEO of Manpower.

Of the 10 industry sectors surveyed by Manpower, the biggest demand for workers came from manufacturers ofdurable goods, where 30% of companies reported plans to hire new employees and 9% said they would lay offworkers.

Growth doesn't come cheaply. The Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that more than two-thirds of the 30occupations expected to have the fastest employment growth had median hourly earnings in 1997 above thenational median.

The four occupations expected to experience the fastest employment growth - computer engineers, computersupport specialists, systems analysts, and database administrators - all reported hourly earning in the top quartileduring 1997. High pay for high-tech workers is expected to continue.

Challenger foresees HR using best practices to create an environment that attracts people and makes themwant to stay. "HR will be tailoring the softer benefits. Instead of stock programs, they will listen to individuals andgive them access to things that work for them, that make the environment their kind of place. For one person thatmight mean coming in at 10 a.m. so that they can see the children off to school. For another person it might be tuitionsupport."

Companies should be prepared to handle downsizing, even in today's tight labor market. HR should be preparedto handle the challenge of taking care of those people, he says, because "it says something about the organizationto the people who stay. A lot of time HR has to be the one to stand up for the people in the face of all the costcutting."

End of the Weekend

Among the changes that Challenger foresees is the end of the weekend. "Technology, as well as the change in thetraditional workweek and how jobs are defined, will combine to give us more autonomy over when we work," hesays, and more and more that means working on weekends.

"We are paying more for productivity and performance and output - when you can do it or when it needs to bedone. Time is going to be more flexible in the coming years."

To stay competitive, employers will rely on what Challenger calls "Inter-econ workers" who will be willing to workthe flexible hours associated with an increasingly Internet-oriented, nonstop marketplace. These workers arecomfortable with the latest technology and rely heavily on portable tools such as cellular phones and palmtops.There is already evidence of this new, more flexible worker - in 1997 27% of the civilian labor force workedflexible schedules, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

These work arrangements have many advantages, but Challenger cautions that they may cause workers even morestress.

"We're all becoming like doctors, but it's not a life-or-death matter," he says. "I think people will carve outpriorities and set up barriers. We will have to come up with new ways of deciding when we turn off the cellphones and don't check the voice mail."

Finding Balance

HR's job will be to put together programs that help employees find the right balance between home and work,according to Challenger. That will be especially important for baby boomers, who are turning their attention awayfrom their children toward their elderly parents, who are living longer and need care.

Increased use of telecommuting can help maintain a proper balance, he says, allowing employees to work at homeand avoid lengthy commutes.

While "telecommuting is the next big transforming movement," it creates its own potential problems, according toChallenger. "How do you create teamwork, morale, synergy, a connection among employees? It's harder to createsynergy in isolation."

HR is accustomed to dealing with a diverse workforce, he says, and will find a way to direct these workers towarda common purpose.

People will continue to find a sense of community outside work, Challenger believes, but they may feel the lossof the central workplace. "We may see the creation of a 'director of socialization' as more people are asked to be on the road and are notlinked to a central office," he predicts.

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