Parker: Diverse Workforce Is 'Key to the Future'

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Organizations today are seeing three major trends—a rapidly diversified workforce, an aging workforce and an influx of military veterans—Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) Chief Global Membership Officer Janet Parker, SPHR, said during opening remarks at “The Workforce Mosaic.”

SHRM underwrote the National Journal policy summit, held July 12, 2011, at the Newseum in Washington, D.C.

“Our 260,000 members face these three issues every day in organizations, whether they’re large or small, across our nation,” Parker said.

“We all know that it is important to have the right strategy in place; it’s essential for us to move forward,” she noted, but believes having the right people in place is essential. Organizations that are considered leaders recognize that there is value in having a diverse workforce and that this is “the key to the future,” she said.

Parker referenced SHRM’s 2010 Workplace Diversity Practices Poll, which found that nearly 70 percent of the 402 SHRM members surveyed had diversity practices or were conducting diversity training.

“From a purely pragmatic viewpoint, they have no choice. A diverse workforce is the most effective, innovative and productive workforce,” Parker said.

A diverse workforce comes with challenges, she noted, including managing intergenerational conflict as five generations work side by side; addressing issues caused by older workers remaining in the workplace longer than expected; translating skills of returning military personnel into the workforce; and helping veterans adapt from a hierarchical military structure to the “fluid environment of the civilian workplace.”

During her remarks, Parker referred to SHRM’s micro site, www.weknownext.com, and SHRM’s July 2011 Leading Indicators of National Employment (LINE) report, which reflects employment trends. LINE’s findings include data showing that in June 2011, landing candidates for key jobs remained an HR challenge.

Changing Face of the Workforce

The summit included an interview with U.S. Department of Labor Secretary Hilda Solis and a discussion by a panel whose members included demographer William H. Frey, senior fellow at the Metropolitan Policy Program, Brookings Institution.

Frey shared 2010 census figures that show the aging population, the declining birthrate of white children and the growing Hispanic population will change the face of the U.S. workforce.

“The Ozzie and Harriet family is almost nonexistent,” Frey said. “This means that people in the labor force will have all kinds of family arrangements. These are some of the major changes … that undergird some of the issues” discussed at the summit, he said.

He pointed to what he called “sharp demographic shifts” in the U.S. that include many black workers relocating to the South, creating much of the new labor force in states such as Georgia, North Carolina, Texas and Florida.

Additionally, while the number of white workers in the U.S. declines as that population ages and retires, there is a growing shift in the racial makeup of people under age 18. The population of white children is declining, while the population of Hispanic and Asian children is growing, according to Frey. By mid-2020, about one-third of young adults will be Hispanic, he said, citing census projections.

“This is the pipeline that’s going into the workforce,” he said. “This is a huge change, and it requires a lot of emphasis on how we prepare for the workforce.”

The wide-ranging summit discussion also explored why jobs go unfilled despite a 9.2 percent unemployment rate, the need to update the K-12 educational system to better prepare students for the work world, and the importance of job training programs and workplace flexibility.

Kathy Gurchiek is associate editor for HR News. She can be reached at kathy.gurchiek@shrm.org.