Trends in HR: A Career Counselor's Perspective

By Maureen Nelson

It's no secret that many career counselors are former human resources professionals. There are reasons for this: both jobs have a lot of people contact and focus on work issues. Some counselors see a "good guy" / "bad guy" relationship (advocates for the employee vs. advocates for the employer), while HR folks tend see themselves "in the middle" between management and the workforce, coordinating a relationship that can run from cooperative to adversarial. The truth is probably a mix of these paradigms, as HR is sometimes gatekeeper, sometimes peacemaker. For example, in helping an employee resolve a benefits issue, the HR professional may be "inside" the system but he or she is also helping the employee to navigate the system. Diversity initiatives (often owned by HR) support the company's need to hire the best person for the job but can improve co-workers' relationships with each other as well.


When career counselors and HR professionals develop mutual respect, a cross-pollination can occur: for instance, career development initiatives, frequently involving outside career consultants, have proven to be an effective retention strategy, and, on the other side, knowledge of recruiting practices allows career counselors to be more effective coaches for clients who are in job search mode.

Every year, the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM) holds a symposium to identify key trends for the future. In 2006, SHRM identified two issues that are of interest to career professionals:

  •  The growing connection between HR and profitability
  •  The increasing diversity of the future workforce

It behooves career counselors to stay abreast of developments in HR because these are the very trends that our clients will face in an organization.

Profitability Through People: The Business - HR Connection

One trend in thinking is that employee engagement, capabilities and training are crucial to a company's success - that is, it is not good enough to just have the right number of people: a company has to have the right person (sufficiently motivated) with the right skills in the right job at the right time. Panelists at the symposium shared that there is not always a relationship between length of service and engagement or between length of service and capability.

Training, by instilling new skills, can increase capability. It can re-engage workers who feel unappreciated but only if the training leads to something that is valuable to the individual: a raise, more interesting work, or more prestige, for example. Arguably, training should be one component of a career plan, which provides the employee with goals and a roadmap for development within the organization. Development might result in promotion, or it might not. "Development in place" where a worker receives raises for increasing contribution and productivity, without promotion, is an equally sound practice. Other rewards might be transfer to a more appealing geographical location or department. This incentive can only work in cultures that support such movement.

Composition of the Future Workforce: More Diversity than Ever

Futurework: Trends and Challenges for the 21st Century reports that the employees of the future will be incredibly diverse: educationally, sexually, but especially ethnically and generationally. Ethnic diversity will result from two conditions: the coming labor shortage, which will force employers to look worldwide for the right skills, and the greater use of technology, which will enable increased hiring of globally scattered workers and their seamless integration into the organization.

Age diversity will result from the Baby Boomers' tendency to delay retirement (out of desire or necessity). Younger workers are always entering the workforce, but for the first time, people are living longer and working longer. It takes no stretch of the imagination to envision four generations working side by side - each with their own perspectives and work values.

The challenge for HR is getting all the generations and cultures to work together harmoniously. Successful corporations will leverage age differences by instituting mentoring programs, including reverse mentoring, where younger workers, who might more aware of cutting-edge technological changes, share their knowledge with older workers. Cultural differences should be celebrated instead of minimized; creative ways of honoring the different perspectives of employees - such as an "international day" with potlucks or presentations - is a simple way to show workers their origins are valued.

Career counselors will begin seeing more diversity in their clientele as well. We should take the time to understand the values of various cultures and generations in order to understand what motivates our clients. Using age as an example, the oldest workers might be seeking phased retirement; Baby Boomers might want flexwork; GenXers might be motivated by more autonomy; Generation Y might want continuous technology training. By perceiving individuals' motivation, we can help clients identify satisfying career paths or organizations with parallel values.

Helping Clients Succeed

Robert Karrmann, SPHR, a consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area, says, "Trends in HR are largely, though not exclusively, trends in business. Career counselors who are aware of these trends can pass this intelligence on to their clients, helping them develop educational, career and job search strategies that are relevant to the job market. Such strategies can range from pinpointing skills that are in demand to identifying sectors that are expanding to finding companies that are hiring." Denise Felder, editor of Minnesota Careers and a career advisor who works with the Department of Labor, adds, "Career counselors cannot operate in a bubble. Clients have to relate to and deal with HR issues, so counselors need to be aware of those same issues to help their clients succeed. If a job seeker is experiencing one thing in interviews and his counselor is telling him something different, then the client will lose confidence in the counselor."

The solution? Include a few HR professionals in your network as a way to "keep your ear to the ground." You will be able to speak more intelligently and authentically about trends in the workforce. Best of all, you'll be a more effective counselor and your clients will thank you.


Filipczak, B., Raines, C., & Zemke, R., Generations at Work. (2000). New York: AMACOM.

Futurework: Trends and Challenges for the 21st Century. Washington, DC: Department of Labor. [electronic version]. Retrieved July 9, 2006 from http://www.dol.gov/oasam/programs/history/herman/reports/futurework/report.htm

SHRM Special Expertise Panel Trends Symposium (2006). Washington, DC: Society of Human Resource Management. [electronic version] Retrieved January 24, 2006 from http://www.shrm.org/trends.




Maureen Nelson is a career counseling intern at John F. KennedyUniversity in Pleasant Hill, CA, and a member of NCHRA who frequently attends HR functions. For more information on these and other HR trends, see the SHRM website at http://www.shrm.org. She can be reached at mpn@dorsey.org

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