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In a public service career spanning three presidential administrations, it was clear that "personnel is policy" and that the organizations I managed would not fulfill their missions without capable workforces committed to doing so. The most strategic leaders in the private sector know that their workforces are the keys to the bottom-line performance. Those are the leaders who have the highest regard for human resource professionals and who make them an integral part of managing the organization.
HR departments vary among organizations, of course, but generally speaking human resource professionals have opportunities to help their own organizations prosper in the near term and the long term. The means of doing so are certainly well-known to those in HR and include hiring productive workers who are a good fit for the organization, and negotiating with benefits providers to help keep expenses fiscally responsible while maintaining overall compensation packages that boost retention, motivation and productivity.
Skills training and education programs can have implications that provide benefits to the organization in terms of productivity and boost retention because people do aspire for more than a paycheck. Regardless of the macroeconomic backdrop, the best workers yearn for opportunities to expand their skills, knowledge and credentials. If they cannot find those opportunities where they are, then they will find them elsewhere the first chance they get.
Although the present economy—and concern about the future—understandably has caused business leaders to be reluctant to expand payrolls, there should be a recognition that today’s high unemployment rate means there are an unusual number of highly qualified, hardworking people looking for work who normally would not be available. U.S. companies collectively have more than
$2 trillion in cash on the sidelines, getting historically low returns because of record-low interest rates.
In a lot of those businesses, it would make long-term strategic sense to invest a portion of those resources in training the existing workforce to make sure they are kept abreast of new skills. In addition, even though it’s counterintuitive, these employers need to consider hiring new workers who the economic downturn made available—highly qualified workers who will be very grateful for jobs.
An economic recovery will come sooner rather than later if policy-makers in Washington wise up. Those companies with ready workforces will be the best-positioned to prosper sooner. Might it require a little faith in the future? Sure. Businesses are founded on faith in the future; the best never lose it.
There is a lot that human resource professionals can do externally that could help their organizations, and that is in the arena of public advocacy. HR professionals know firsthand that so many politically driven, "pro-worker" laws and regulations are actually detrimental to workers because they drive up costs or cause other economic distortions.
Way too many Washington policy-makers have zero practical experience in the private sector. They need to hear from you. America’s workers need them to listen to you about how overly burdensome government regulations are a hindrance to new job creation.
The author served as U.S. Labor Secretary from 2001 to 2009 under President George W. Bush. She is now a distinguished fellow at The Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.
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