Human Resource Management – can we predict the future?

By | September 12, 2013

The CIPD marks its centenary with a guest lecture by Corinne Mills on Managing your Career as an HR Professional at Bradford University School of Management on Tuesday 1 October at 6.30pm, Heaton Mount.  Here Dr Peter Prowse looks at the changes in human resource management for the last century and asks what can be predicted for the future.


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There is still a range of people trying to ascertain the next century of Human Resource Management in a bid to move it from personnel to linking people strategically.

The last century outlined the development of the welfare tradition of employer philanthropy, the manpower control tradition, the industrial relations tradition and the professional tradition. But now the UK faces a host of new issues which need to be addressed.

1.  What are the main issues faced by the UK?

One of the main issues facing the UK is the problem of labour austerity. This year, leading expert J Buchanan and his colleagues, predicted that the coalition government’s ‘growth strategy’ would involve implementing a series of measures to resolve the rising levels of youth unemployment in the EU.

This ‘strategy includes:

  • delivering the ‘most competitive tax regime in the G20’, including lowering corporation tax to 24 per cent
  • creating the most ‘flexible’ workforce in Europe through the removal of worker protections by, for example, restricting access to employ­ment tribunals
  • the removal of planning controls and the (re)introduction of enter­prise zones

This is the coalition’s solution to the growing challenge faced by the UK – the movement of the EU’s younger workers to areas of employment in the UK.

2.  How will female workers be affected?

The second issue is that of pay inequality for women. The Office of National Statistics predicts that women will not achieve pay equality until 2040 – 70 years after the Equal Pay Act of 1970. This will be a major issue for both pay and the continuing barriers to promoting women to middle and senior positions in management.

davies-review_women-on-boarThe Davies Review, on suggestions for increasing female executives to Boards of Directors, will also be a major challenge. However, the long term trend is about job quality and challenges for male workers in the changing labour markets.

J Buchanan also notes that the proportion of women in low paid work declined in the UK and the USA but remained relatively constant in Australia. However, options for men wanting well paid desirable work shrank.

3.  How do we improve the skills and education of our workforce?

The next challenge focuses on raising the skill and educational attainment of the UK labour force. Even in a period of intense austerity there are labour shortages in skills and talent. The issue of generating creativity and innovation in organisations develops from highly skilled individuals throughout organisations working together.

4.  What about keeping up with technology?

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Another concern is can we harness technology such as IT and mobile technology to communicate? And will this resolve the issue of harnessing talent across the globe and the UK in particular? Communication can be problematic with data overload predicted for the future. Estimates by AIIM suggest that 294 billion e-mails are sent daily which would take the US Mail two years to process if these were letters.

Interestingly, there has been no net private sector job creation in the former industrial regions of the North East or West Midlands during the last two decades.  In fact, there was little autonomous full- time job growth outside London between 1997 and 2010 while London accounted for 43 per cent of all extra UK full-time jobs.

So technology needs to overcome the challenges faced by regional unemployment and the use of talent in other regions for non-front line occupations.

5.  Why is the link between HRM professionals and senior management a conundrum?

Finally, the link that HRM professionals emphasise to justify power within senior management continues to be a conundrum.

In 2011, Paul Thompson warned the HRM professional that there were so many unproven or weak links between high commitment (and other ‘HR effects’) and performance outcomes that it is difficult to know how far minor conceptual reconfigurations could go.

In a thoughtful and detailed review in Human Resource Management journal, D Guest writes that the research for linking HRM Practices and high work performance is riddled with error with respect to data on HRM and on outcomes.

Therefore, HR still needs to provide evidence that it contributes to performance and organisational creativity.

Is the coalition governments ‘growth strategy’ a realistic solution to the challenges faced by the UK? Why is it taking so long for women to achieve pay equality?

Bradford University School of Management has had a long association with the CIPD and many of our HRM courses are CIPD accredited.  To join us at the CIPD’s Centenary guest lecture, book your place here.





Buchanan J, Froud J, Johal S, Williams K and Yu S (2010) Do the UK and Australia have sustain­able business models? Paper prepared for the International Labour Process Conference, 15–17 March 2010, Rutgers University, New Jersey.


Buchanan J, Froud J, Johal S, Williams K and Yu S (2010) `Unsustainable Employment Portfoios`,  Work, employment and society, 27,No.  3 pages  396–413.