HR Strategy

Why SHRM CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., believes a ‘polycrisis’ is coming for HR

No matter who wins the election in November, “SHRM is going to be in the room,” Taylor told HR professionals in Chicago.
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SHRM

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It was over 70 degrees and sunny in Chicago on the morning of June 24, but the Society for Human Resource Management’s annual conference kicked off with a loud clap of thunder—an ominous warning from CEO Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., that “a storm is coming” for HR professionals.

As rain poured down on large screens in the background, Taylor described a “polycrisis” while delivering his opening speech at McCormick Place, which was host to 26,000 HR pros from June 24–26. He laid out major challenges he believes HR practitioners will face in the near future, including a skills deficit and advancements in AI technology. He also pledged to advocate for “a human-centered approach to workplace AI,” and hinted at SHRM’s collaboration on the issue with Washington.

Skills of the future. Taylor warned of a skills gap “already leaving millions behind” in the US and abroad, citing a statistic from the Organisation for Co-operation and Development that estimates almost one-third of all jobs worldwide are likely to be transformed by technology over the next decade.

As a result of “technology, globalization, and demographic shifts, we are asking more of employees than we’ve ever asked before—we’re asking them, in short, to be superhumans,” Taylor said. He expressed concern for members of the workforce who are likely to see their jobs displaced by AI, and spoke about a new partnership between SHRM and Educational Testing Service to develop a “skills-first talent practices credential” with an eye toward helping HR pros close the education gap.

The HR industry is perhaps particularly attuned to the risks AI poses to the workforce, as some functions of the profession are seen as likely to be replaced by the technology, if they haven’t already been. Organizations have been slow to adopt AI for HR-related activities, but Taylor suggested being “too defensive” about it could be a detriment.

“If you’re not going to be very intentional about skilling up on the use of AI—not just in HR, but in your organization—you’re failing. We’ve got to do this pronto,” he said. 

Working with Washington. The Biden administration has already taken steps toward regulating AI, and a raft of employment and labor issues—from workplace organizing to job training—will almost certainly be affected by the outcome of the presidential election in November. But the results won’t change SHRM’s approach to advocacy, at least according to Taylor.

The SHRM CEO suggested the growing role of AI in the workforce will start influencing people’s “political leanings and social identities,” with proposals like universal basic income potentially gaining traction as more employees worry about their livelihoods. As policymakers consider issues that affect workers and the workplace, SHRM will seek to influence top decision-makers in the government, Taylor said.

No matter the outcome of the election, “SHRM is going to be in the room with whoever wins the White House,” he added.

Quick-to-read HR news & insights

From recruiting and retention to company culture and the latest in HR tech, HR Brew delivers up-to-date industry news and tips to help HR pros stay nimble in today’s fast-changing business environment.