SHRM CEO Outlines 2019 Public-Policy Initiatives

Formerly incarcerated, older people and people with disabilities are workers who could fill the skills gap, while educational assistance can give employees the tools they need to get the job done

Allen Smith, J.D. By Allen Smith, J.D. March 19, 2019
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​SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP, addresses reporters at the 2019 SHRM Employment Law & Legislative Conference.

​The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) is focusing its attention on employing people with criminal backgrounds, hiring older workers, encouraging workforce development and supporting the #MeToo movement. By collaborating with CEOs, policymakers and HR professionals, SHRM will influence work, the workplace and the workforce, said SHRM President and Chief Executive Officer Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., SHRM-SCP.

There are 7.3 million open jobs, the birth rate in the U.S. has been steadily declining since 2000 and many applicants don't have the skills employers need. "Now we have to think about how to fix this," Taylor said at a press briefing at the 2019 SHRM Employment Law & Legislative Conference on March 19.

SHRM has sought to address the talent gap partly through its Getting Talent Back to Work Initiative. One-third of U.S. adults have a criminal record. Approximately 750,000 individuals will be released from prison this year, he noted. But those just released from prison often have a tough time finding work. Already approximately 860 employers have signed a pledge to give qualified people with a criminal record a second chance.

The Society also is going to focus more on hiring older workers, Taylor said. He noted that he regularly receives heartfelt letters from individuals in their 50s and older who want to work but cannot find jobs. They have to take care of their kids and their parents, so they need the work, he noted. SHRM's older workers initiative will help eliminate barriers.

This initiative is at the "start-up stage," said SHRM Corporate Secretary and Chief of Staff Emily M. Dickens, noting that the Society is looking to partner with other organizations on it.

SHRM also will focus on workforce development in general. Taylor said some employers used money saved from the 2017 tax cuts and reinvested it with employees, spending significant amounts of money in training. He added that he recently attended a conference of CEOs where a whole day was spent discussing employee engagement.

SHRM is trying to bridge the disconnect between employers and educators. Dickens said the Society's government affairs team is working to persuade Congress to enact legislation that encourages employers to help employees repay their student loans.

[SHRM members-only toolkit: Designing and Managing Educational Assistance Programs]

#MeToo remains a top concern for the Society, Taylor noted; sexual harassment has not gone away even though the spotlight is shining brightly on it. Other types of harassment persist as well, including race harassment, national origin harassment and religious harassment.

Yet Taylor said that 72 percent of U.S. employees say they are happy with employers' anti-harassment efforts—a sign that there has been some progress, although he noted work remains to be done. #MeToo is not a fad, he added.

Government Affairs' Initiatives

In 2019, Dickens said, SHRM's Government Affairs Department is focusing on:

  • Workplace equity, including anti-harassment efforts and pay equity.
  • Workforce development, including not only older workers and the formerly incarcerated, but workers with disabilities.
  • Workplace flexibility and leave.
  • Workplace immigration to help close the skills gap.

She said that of the approximately 700 conference attendees, 200 are going to Capitol Hill on March 20 to talk with legislators' staff in support of two key policy issues:

  • The Employer Participation in Repayment Act (H.R. 1043), which is co-sponsored by a bipartisan group of 100 House members. A companion bill (S. 460) has been reintroduced in the Senate with 18 co-sponsors. The legislation would make the money employers give workers to repay their student loans tax-exempt up to $5,250 a year per employee. That's the same amount that Section 127 of the tax code now treats as tax-exempt for employer-provided tuition assistance.
  • The Department of Labor's proposed overtime rule. SHRM was pleased that the proposed overtime rule reflected "almost all the suggestions we made," Dickens said.
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