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The HR Department of 2020

Erin-OsterhausToday’s post is a guest post by Erin Osterhaus, Managing Editor for Software Advice‘s The New Talent Times, a popular HR Blog. 

HR professionals beware! Your field may be nearing its expiration date.

Or not.

While some have predicted that software will streamline administrative HR practices to the point that the actual human element in the “human resources” department will be obsolete, others see this new technology as offering an opportunity for growth.

And that includes us.

I recently wrote a post for Software Advice, an online resource for HR professionals seeking software solutions, that shared good news: the HR profession will endure. In fact, I interviewed HR experts to get their views on what the HR department of 2020 will look like, and how HR pros can prepare. Here’s what I found:

In-House HR Must Become a Strategic Business Partner

Brian Sommer, industry analyst and founder of Techventive, concedes that HR may shrink due to “Many businesses getting a lot of capability done by better technology, more self-service and the employee doing a lot on their own.”

However, he also notes that this doesn’t spell the end of the HR profession, but rather a re-imagining of its position within a company. Sommer’s advice to in-house HR professionals dealing with these changes? Strategic thinking: “HR needs to elevate it’s strategic value and importance to the firm and the faster companies can get out of that tactical stuff and the quicker they can move to that more strategic role, the better off they’re gonna be.”

And while software encroaches on in-house HR’s functions on the one hand, outsourcing has also increased over the years–and will continue to do so. Dr. Janice Presser of The Gabriel Institute goes so far as to proclaim, “Entry-level HR jobs, as they currently exist, will all but disappear as transactional tasks are consigned to outsourced services.”

But while Dr. Presser’s prediction might seem less than ideal for those working in-house, she is careful to note that all HR services cannot be outsourced. Dr. Presser agrees with Sommer–in-house HR must become a strategic partner within the business–and this is specifically why in-house HR will survive. As she says, “Strategic planning requires in-house expertise.” In other words–it can’t be outsourced.

Outsourced HR Services Will Need to Increase Their Expertise

While in-house HR departments will most likely become smaller by 2020, there will continue to be opportunities for HR professionals as specialists in firms offering niche services.

Janine Truitt, Chief Innovations Officer of Talent Think Innovations has observed, “Every decade or so we fluctuate back and forth from the paradigm of the independent contributor/specialist to the generalist practitioner. We were in a ‘generalist’ mode and now I think the pendulum may be swinging back toward the specialist.”

Chip Luman, COO of HireVue, agrees. However, he doesn’t see the pendulum swinging back from specialist mode and states bluntly, “HR generalists as we know them will disappear.”

Benefits administration is a particularly promising area for HR professionals seeking to specialize. Elizabeth Brashears, the director of Human Capital Consulting at TriNet HR says that “As regulations surrounding employment, and particularly benefits, become more complex, I believe that companies will turn to field experts to help them navigate through the landscape.”

Brashears goes on to note that, while in-house HR departments my shrink, there will continue to be opportunities for specialist practitioners. She notes, “There will be more specialized roles. I believe this to be the case as the employment landscape becomes more complex with changing regulations around employment law and benefit compliance with the Affordable Care Act.”

Prepare for the Future

It would therefore seem that no matter where you are located–in-house or in an HR services firm–there will continue to be opportunities. But those going into the HR profession will need to think more strategically before they decide to go into the field, as well as while they’re on the job. So, how should you prepare? The experts all agree: keep learning.

Formal education is one option. As Truitt notes, “Long ago, when HR was ‘Personnel,’ the profession was largely made up of individuals that happened upon the profession. With many colleges offering HR coursework and degrees at the Bachelor’s and Master’s level…it seems that the future HR practitioner will likely have to be formally educated in this discipline to be gainfully employed.”

Dr. Presser encourages those already active in HR to continue learning. Her advice to HR professionals: “Get ahead of the curve. Realize that many of today’s ‘best practices’ evolved under very different conditions, and may well become obsolete within this decade. Learn everything you can about your industry, your competitors. Most of all, define yourself as a businessperson and act accordingly.”

Erin Osterhaus is the Managing Editor for Software Advice‘s HR blog, The New Talent TimesShe focuses on the HR market, offering advice to industry professionals on the best recruiting, talent management, and leadership techniques. You can follow her on Twitter, or, contact her directly at


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