CHICAGO — "There has never been a better moment to be in the people business," Johnny C. Taylor Jr., CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), told attendees Sunday at the organization's 2018 SHRM Annual Conference.
In a speech, Taylor laid out what he called a "once-in-a-generation" chance for HR professionals to not only prove the profession as mission-critical, but also to justify its existence. "Business leaders have told us they will find someone else to do this work," he said.
"There are companies right now where employee relations and labor relations reports to the legal department. Where compensation and benefits reports to the finance department. Where training and development reports to operations."
The speech kicked off a conference that Taylor called the largest in SHRM's history, with an esitmated attendance of 20,000. The SHRM CEO laid out three items that the HR industry would need to accomplish as it entered the "fourth industrial age": creating inclusive workplace cultures, taking a leadership role in preparing the workforce for new job types and skill sets and "elevating th[e] profession."
“The next time that someone asks where was HR, the answer unequivocally is that HR is here, and this is what we do.” -@JohnnyCTaylorJr #SHRM18— Ryan Golden (@RyanTGolden) June 17, 2018
That latter sentiment struck a particular cord for Taylor who, after landing a position as vice president of HR early on his career, recalled puzzlement on the part of a family member. Why would he leave his former post in the legal profession for a job in dealing with personnel?
"Our profession deserves to attract the best and brightest students — [and to be] one that improves people's lives exponentially. That is HR. It's one that has earned the trust and esteem of everyone that we serve. "
International attendees to the conference include professionals from countries such as India, Nigeria and South Korea, Taylor said, totaling an announced 1,430 delegates. Their presence, Taylor argued, shows a global need for those in the business of people management.
"Other nations are having different types of HR challenges," Taylor said. "They've got to scale up, they've got to ensure that there are jobs for their blooming, beautiful populations. Increasingly, these countries are seeing their destinies tied to demography, and guess what: people issues."
For Taylor, times have changed and the time to get to work on issues ranging from sexual harassment in the workplace to providing a template for upskilling has redefined HR's importance and given it a heightened role within organizations.