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HR Expert Speaks on Evolution of the Human Resources Profession

Friday, October 26, 2012
Marymount University’s School of Business Administration kicked off its inaugural HRM Speaker Series with a talk by Gus Siekierka, former vice president and chief HR officer of Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), on the evolution of today’s human resources profession.

Siekierka spent 38 years at CSC, where he saw the HR function grow from a Personnel Office under the CFO to a strategic player, working closely with the CEO and Board of Directors.  Noting that this transformation has been mirrored across all businesses, he said, “No other corporate function has changed as much as HR over the past 40 years.”

Using his own career as the template, Siekierka discussed the reasons for the growth of HR, which include the shift from compliance with government laws and regulations to an embracing of diversity; the transformation of health care and retirement plans; off-shoring of American jobs; and executive compensation and succession planning.
 
Compliance with federal laws that passed Congress in the 1960s and 70s propelled the HR function to the forefront.  Equal opportunity legislation outlawed discrimination on all levels, and the HR office was the natural fit to implement the changes. Over time, compliance led to an embracing of diversity, driven both by fairness and by business forces.  With more diversity at home and the growth of international companies, the workforce naturally became more diverse. Siekierka commented, “If you do business all over the world, your employees should come from all over the world.”  

HR departments have also been the leader in dealing with the significant transformation in health care and retirement plans.  Medical coverage plans for employees have evolved from a single major medical plan being offered to the addition of options and the pending changes of the Affordable Care Act. With implementation and regulations of the law still being worked out, Siekierka feels the only certainty in health care coverage is that the job of enforcing it will fall to the HR office.  

Retirement plans have also seen traditional pension plans, with a guaranteed retirement income, replaced by 401Ks that put the primary responsibility for meeting retirement needs on employees. Siekierka observed, “The social contract has changed, with the responsibility for retirement now moved from employer to employee. You’ll do as well as your investments do.”

Off-shoring – companies going out of country to produce cost-effective products – is a more recent addition to the HR portfolio. While this is currently a hot political topic, on the HR front, it means providing appropriate services to a foreign workforce.

The “bigger picture” company strategy is also within the HR purview. In light of earlier excesses in executive compensation, Siekierka noted that executive pay is now closely tied to company performance.  He also mentioned that forward-looking companies employ succession planning, an HR initiative, to ensure that there will always be a replacement in the pipeline for high-level management positions.
 
Mr. Siekierka concluded his remarks by noting that the future of the profession will be dominated by a global HR focus, health care issues, and a greater role in strategic company planning. He said, “HR is one of the top five career fields, according to the Department of Labor. It’s an exciting, challenging time for the profession, and the future of HR is very bright.”

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Photo Caption: Gus Siekierka, HR expert, speaks to students at Marymount University on the evolution of the Human Resources profession in the past 40 years. Photo by Robert Brown