WASHINGTON — The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) will focus on access to employment in 2019 — and its CEO said Tuesday he has "no concerns" about working with the White House to do so.
Johnny C. Taylor Jr. said job access is the largest issue for the organization today. Unemployment is low while job openings remain high, "and it's not going to get better," he said during a press briefing at the organization's Employment Law and Legislative Conference; "there are no quick fixes to solve for our labor shortage" and skills gap.
Four pieces to the puzzle
Taylor laid out four initiatives that SHRM plans to undertake this year to address the issue:
1. Hiring workers with criminal backgrounds. Taylor said HR professionals are ready and willing to welcome applicants with criminal histories, but they don't know how to do it, and SHRM is positioned to help. With the talent shortage and skills gap, employers just don't have the luxury of declining to consider all qualified applicants, he said.
2. Hiring older workers. Age discrimination remains employment's open secret — Taylor said "it's almost blatant now" — and one way to fight this is training. "We all have to invest in this," he said; everyone needs to invest in retraining employees. "We are really going to take a strong position on that."
3. Workforce development. The investment in workforce development is there, Taylor said, but SHRM is exploring what type of investment is most effective. Students are graduating college saddled with crushing debt, with degrees that employers don't need. There's "a major, major disconnect right now, he said." Two fixes are needed, he said: (1) an incentive for employers to assist with student loan repayment (SHRM supports The Employer Participation in Repayment Act) and (2) partnerships that ensure educators' work is aligned with employers' needs.
4. #MeToo. The movement pushing back against sexual harassment isn't going away, Taylor said. That means that SHRM needs to be involved in crafting good policy around it. Prohibitions on employee dating are not only ineffective but also unwise in a talent shortage, he said, so SHRM is looking at how help employers deal with the issue in the real world.
The way in which SHRM has approached these initiatives has drawn some criticism. The organization has taken heat from some members over its participation in a White House jobs initiative, its work with Koch Industries and, most recently, its hosting of Ivanka Trump at the conference Monday.
For months, a small but vocal group has used #fixitSHRM on Twitter to express displeasure with — and threaten to cancel memberships over — what it has characterized as an alignment with the Trump administration and an arguably controversial company.
At Tuesday's briefing, Taylor defended the organization's actions. "I'm not on a side," he said. "We're on the side of policy." Policy makers need to hear from those with HR expertise, he explained, which is why SHRM is in the room — along with high-profile CEOs, union leaders and local government officials. "No one was excluded," he said; this was diversity on so many different dimensions — not a lineup of Trump supporters. "I had no concerns about it."
And as for its work with Koch to promote the hiring of workers with criminal histories, Taylor said he must give credit where it's due. "I'm not here to defend Charles Koch or Koch Industries," he said, but "they banned the box before anyone did. No other companies took the lead on this." Taylor continued: "You can't get this far with them and then say 'we need you to go away.'" They achieved something that many had been working toward, he said, referring to the company's involvement with the First Step Act.
Taylor said he doesn't know the details of the #fixitshrm contingent's position, but "if it's as simple as [disliking initiatives] because of who's associated with it … we're not going to deprive employers of the talent they need so badly simply because you don't like" who's in the White House or running a company. "SHRM can't align with that," he said; "we won't."
There will always be someone unhappy, he continued, noting that he also found himself "catching hell" from members for his previous support of Hillary Clinton. But still, he's not worried: "Our membership grew significantly last year. We did this all last year and people kept signing up."
"Clearly our membership thinks this is the right thing to do. Will people disagree? Yes," he said. But SHRM's membership is as diverse as it's ever been, he said. "We'll always make someone unhappy and that's not our goal," he said, "but it's reality."
The common thread in SHRM's priorities is that they respond to wider social issues that are playing out in the workplace, Taylor said. As a result, "we have to make [our policy statements] 21st-century relevant," he said. "We want to be the organization that gives a timely response to all of these workplace issues."
In the future, this is likely to include workforce immigration, he said. While SHRM will refrain from weighing in on humanitarian or moral immigration, it's uniquely positioned to help policymakers address workforce immigration, Taylor said. Safety for HR professionals is on the road map as well, especially in light of the February workplace shooting that killed an HR manager and intern. "This is not the safest job in the world" Taylor said, and SHRM is doing a lot of research on it.
For the foreseeable future, advocacy will be a big part of SHRM's work. "We're going to get out there a little bit more," Taylor said; "This is going to be a new SHRM."
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly characterized the unemployment rate. HR Dive regrets the error.