What the Future of HR is not Learning… But Should Be…

Jessica Lee HR Technology, Steve Boese

As a part-time college instructor I have heard the ‘Is this going to be on the test?’ question many times.

I always give the same answer, we don’t have tests in this class.

I teach an HR Technology class in a HRD Master’s program. I typically have an interesting mix of students,Fast-Times-Ridgemont some have not started their HR careers yet, some newer HR professionals with just a few years in HR, and even a few seasoned HR professionals and small business owners taking advanced HR classes to further their development and add more value to their organizations.

With such a wide range of backgrounds and experience you would think it difficult to ‘level-set’ the class, and keep the content interesting and challenging for all.  I mean 20-year HR pros HAVE to be more tech savvy than recent grads with one or two years in the workforce, right?

Wrong. At least not when it comes to technology.

The Technology Gap in HR: Two Reasons

One characteristic I have consistently noted is a shocking lack of technology awareness and knowledge, really from students of all experience levels and backgrounds. And it is not just that students don’t understand what ERP is, or how SaaS is changing the nature of enterprise software ownership and deployment.  Heck, barely anyone understands that, and that is why we have the Tech class in the first place.

But more basic, fundamental technologies that are really necessary to at least understand, if not effectively utilize, as a Human Resources professional today.  Students in my classes almost never read HR blogs (I can’t even get them to read mine), understand RSS, or utilize social networking sites like Facebook for anything other than purely social interactions with their friends. In two years, I have had one student who was active on Twitter prior to my class.

Two primary drivers are at work here. The first is the ‘traditional’ notion of HR that views technology as the business of the IT department. ‘This is a job for IT.’ ‘I am in the people business, don’t bother me with the technology‘. So many students and HR professionals whom I meet happily admit to technology ignorance. And the mainstream HR professional organizations have largely ignored technology education – the closest to any ‘technology’ sessions that the last SHRM National Conference included were about corporate career sites and very few HR graduate programs weave technology throughout each course in their curriculum (the best approach) or offer dedicated courses (an acceptable substitute).

The second driver is a consistent ignorance, apathy and a serious underestimation of the impact of new technology on the businesses that HR supports (particularly social technologies). Technology moves so quickly and for HR leaders and professionals it can seem so easy (and sometimes necessary) to remain in their comfort zone of policy creation and enforcement, employee relations, or compliance reporting. Finding the time and resources to invest in new HR technology research and education, brainstorming, and experimental pilots of new tech can quickly fall to the bottom of the priority list. In the emerging social media space, HR leaders and HR Professors who blog, tweet, or otherwise are heavily engaged are seen as (still) almost revolutionary. I recently co-presented on innovation in the classroom to a large faculty group and only two out of about eighty professors in the audience admitted to using Twitter. But still, even being a Twitter person doesn’t make you a ‘tech’ person, although it does at least show an awareness and curiosity of this phenomenon.

Increasing the Tech Acumen of HR Students + HR Pros

So what do we do? Here are some quick steps to increase the technology acumen of both the HR professional and the HR student:

1. For current HR professionals – Don’t be content to cede the technology decisions to IT. IT, by necessity, has very different motivations and criteria for technology selection (data security, interoperability with existing systems, in-house tech skills). Partner with your IT colleagues to make sure that HR goals and requirements are considered up front and not as an afterthought. Additionally HR pros can leverage resources like IHRIM and events like the HR Technology Conference.

2. For HR academic programs – Incorporate technology content as a key component in your existing curriculum. Discuss the importance of Talent Management suites in your Competency Development class, best practices in recruiting tech and Social Recruiting in the Staffing and Selection class, or collaboration technologies in the Strategic Employee Development class.

3. For both groups – Tap into the vast array of webcasts, white papers, market research, and blogs that cover the HR Technology space. There are literally thousands of vendors, scores of consultancies, and a few decent blogs providing technology content for the HR pro and HR student.  In particular, HR educators need to take a broader view of the full range of excellent content provided in the blogosphere and make sure both they and their students take advantage of this resource.

The ‘test’ for many HR pros in the future will be the ability to understand, assess, and apply the appropriate technologies to support HR initiatives. Will you be able to pass?