|Paul Juniper, Queen's IRC Director, and Alison Hill, Queen's IRC Research Associate, authored the Executive Summary of An Inquiry into the State of HR in Canada (2011).|
In response to increasing demands from organizations, the skills and knowledge that HR professionals require in the workplace continue to shift. As many of our program participants are likely aware, HR professionals are now more involved in strategic roles that help to shape organizational culture, effectiveness, and design.
To target the professional development needs of HR practitioners, the IRC thought it was necessary to reach out to our HR community and gain insights on the complexities of the work HR professionals perform and the challenges they face in their work. We wanted to describe and analyze the state of the HR profession in Canada, based directly on the perspectives of practitioners.
In February 2011, the IRC surveyed HR professionals across Canada to glean their perspectives on HR, the challenges and priorities for HR departments, and the kinds of skills and knowledge that are perceived as critical for the practice. Our 53-question survey was divided into two sections: demographic information and perspectives on the profession. HR professionals were keen to share their insights; we collected over 450 complete survey responses.
This article provides a synthesis of some of our data. Please note that a complimentary copy of An Inquiry into the State of HR in Canada: Executive Summary is available for download from the Queen’s IRC website.
|An Inquiry into the State of HR: Executive Summary|
The majority of our respondents, 73%, are female. Respondents are concentrated in the 46 to 55 age bracket, with 33.7% of respondents in this category. Years of HR experience vary amongst respondents, ranging from less than five years to more than 25 years. Job titles range from professional/technical through to CEO/President. Approximately 31% of respondents are HR generalists, while approximately 28% are senior leaders. In general, a respondent is likely to hold an undergraduate university degree (43.5%), a CHRP designation (52.1%), and belong to a provincial HR association (76.1%).
Our sample includes diverse organization sizes, with respondents employed in organizations with fewer than 100 employees to more than 5000 employees. There is a relatively even split in public and private sector representation: 43.7% of respondents work in the public sector, while 42.8% are part of the private sector. An additional 8.0% are from non-profit organizations.
We received many responses from the Prairie region; 66.3% of respondents are from Alberta, Saskatchewan, or Manitoba. The high percentage of respondents from the Prairie region is due in part to the Human Resource Institute of Alberta (HRIA) offering to forward our survey to their membership. In addition, 19.3% of our survey respondents are from Ontario, 8.0% from Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Newfoundland and Labrador, or Prince Edward Island, and 4.2% from British Columbia. The IRC recognizes that there is a distinct lack of responses from Quebec. We suspect that this finding is due to the fact that our survey was only available in English. Moving forward, the IRC may conduct a bilingual survey.
Perspectives on the HR Profession
We now provide a summary of the HR activities in which respondents are involved, the perceived challenges, along with the immediate and long-range priorities for HR departments in Canada. Then, we present the skills and knowledge that HR professionals perceive as critical for their work.
Using a Likert scale, participants reported the extent to which they are currently involved in a select set of 16 HR activities, and also the extent to which they were involved in those same activities two years ago. With the exception of recruitment, on average HR professionals rated their current involvement higher than their involvement two years ago in all of the HR activities we listed. The five activities that were rated highest in current involvement were employee relations, employee engagement, organizational culture, employee training and learning, and change management.
To determine the top challenges faced by HR departments in organizations across Canada, participants were asked to rank order a list of 18 items. Almost three quarters of the respondents (73.8%) ranked talent management in their personal top-five list. Rounding out the rest of the top five were employee engagement (58.5%), succession planning (54.3%), change management (46.6%), and organizational culture creation/maintenance (42.1%). Further analysis showed that these rankings were consistent with no significant difference found based on region or between private and public sectors.
Despite the challenges HR departments encounter, 80.7% of respondents have an optimistic outlook on the future of the profession. This optimism is consistent across sectors and regions. We are encouraged by this optimism.
We then sought to determine the top three immediate priorities (i.e., within the next 12 months) for HR departments. We invited participants to cite the top three priorities for their HR departments. Based on the responses to this open-ended question, the immediate priorities facing HR departments include succession planning, employee engagement, talent management, and training, learning and development.
Similarly, we asked participants to list the top three long-range priorities (i.e., next three to five years) for their HR departments. The results suggest that the long-range priorities are comparable to the immediate priorities. The top three long-range priorities include succession planning, talent management, and recruitment.
Given an understanding of the challenges and priorities facing HR departments, what are the skills and knowledge that HR professionals deem critical for their work? To unpack the skills and knowledge required by HR professionals, we created two open-ended questions that allowed participants to cite their own answers. An interesting finding was that even though the questions were open-ended, themes did prevail in the data. It was clear that HR professionals share similar perspectives on the essential skills and knowledge for their work. Required skills for HR professionals include communication, the ability to think analytically, critically, and strategically, interpersonal skills, technical skills, and conflict resolution. Knowledge required by HR professionals includes business acumen, employment law/legislation, talent management, employee/labour relations, and a broad understanding of HR. Reflecting on this data, it is interesting to note that the skills and knowledge perceived as critical by HR professionals seem to exceed what is typically deemed as “traditional” HR functionalities.
Intuitively, HR is, at its core, about people. The role of HR includes, but is not limited to, engaging employees and supporting their professional development, helping employees to manage change, along with organizational culture creation and maintenance. These trends were evident in the top five HR challenges elicited by our respondents.
According to our survey, talent management is perceived as both a challenge and a priority for HR departments, including developing and implementing succession plans, as well as building the capacity of the organization, through effective learning strategies. As such, the IRC has elected to launch a Talent Management program in Fall 2011. The program is still in the development phase; however, the focus of Talent Management is devising effective strategies for recruiting, training, and developing an organization’s talent pool. The program will be designed to allow participants to acquire the skills and knowledge to build an effective talent management strategy for their own organization, discover gaps in existing recruitment and retention practices, and become an important internal resource and advocate on talent management.
In closing, the data collected in our recent HR survey have allowed the IRC to better understand and describe the state of the HR profession in Canada. As intended, the survey findings are helping the IRC to better match our program offerings with the professional development needs of our HR community. Now that we have collected baseline data, the IRC plans to conduct a similar HR survey every two years moving forward. This survey will allow the Centre to compare trends in the profession and continue to provide quality programming for our participants. Our Executive Summary has highlighted only a few of the findings. We intend to rely on the full dataset for future IRC work.