SHRM CEO Says HR in "4th Industrial Revolution"

Author: Robert S. Teachout, XpertHR Legal Editor

June 18, 2018

There has never been a better moment to be in the business of people, said Johnny C. Taylor Jr., president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) in his opening remarks at the organization's national conference in Chicago. The annual conference drew more than 17,000 HR professionals, including more than1400 global attendees. Taylor noted that the world is entering "what's been called the "Fourth Industrial Revolution," not of machines but of combining human intelligence with artificial intelligence (AI).

Taylor said more and more CEOs, executive directors, government leaders and other leaders know and value good HR. The bigger challenge for companies no longer is accessing financing, but rather accessing the right human capital to deploy their financial resources. Taylor told SHRM attendees of one CEO who told him, "I always start my morning by talking to my CHRO, because we are in the people business."

Taylor pointed out the possibilities of the Fourth Industrial Revolution, which is about the future of human beings' relationship to machines. By taking full advantage of technology, he said, employers can "unleash the potential of all that makes us uniquely human." During a later press conference, Taylor explained that, used properly, technologies like AI can be used to help reduce discrimination and biases in hiring by "democratizing" the applicant data, as well as doing it more efficiently. But, used incorrectly, the technology can inadvertently reinforce current human biases.

However, there still are challenges that the HR profession must face, Taylor said. He pointed to what he called a demographic and economic "perfect storm:"

  • A "hot" global economy, including a US GDP that is tracking toward 4 percent for the second quarter;
  • The lowest number of U.S. unemployment benefit claims in 45 years along with a 3.8 percent unemployment rate means "everybody who wants to, and is capable of working, is;"
  • A lower US birth rate, portending a worsening labor problem; and
  • The decades long problem of creating a smart and sensible US immigration policy.

To address those issues, HR should focus in three areas, Taylor said:

  • Build inclusive workplace cultures;
  • Lead workforce readiness; and
  • Elevate the profession.

Inclusive workplace cultures must not only mean gender and racial diversity, Taylor pointed out, but also bringing in other underserved groups, like the formerly incarcerated. Workplace readiness also has to include addressing immigration as it affects the workplace, to increase the labor pool in a job market where there are currently more jobs than applicants. That means, said Taylor, "fight[ing] for laws and policies that may not be popular, but that will set the table for the workplace cultures we want to build, and that will improve our organizations and our people."