Employers and HR leaders across nearly every industry this year have faced sweeping layoffs, vocal protests against return-to-office policies and employee angst—and excitement —about rapid advancements in artificial intelligence, particularly job-altering generative AI.
To help HR prepare for 2024 amid these persistent concerns, industry experts from McKinsey, Carnegie Mellon, WorldatWork and the Talent Board have identified seven trends in talent management—from EX to engagement, retention and the generational makeup of the workforce—that will shape the workplace in the year ahead.
Here’s a look at the trends.
Hiring up across the U.S.
HR Trends 2024: More roles for recruiters
The past year “has been rough” in recruiting, both the industry and the profession, Kevin Grossman, president of the Talent Board, tells HRE. Doing recruiting work was hard as the labor market tightened, and many talent acquisition professionals, especially in technology, lost their jobs in 2023, he says.
TA roles in healthcare, hospitality, retail and some other industries were more resilient last year. In 2024, however, across industries, recruiters should have more job security because hiring strength and stability are improving, he says.
The Talent Board asks employers every month whether they are hiring and whether they are increasing the size of their recruiting teams. “There’s been an uptick in the ‘increase’ answers and responses,” Grossman says. “It’s still a small percentage overall, but it’s not going down.”
The Bureau of Labor Statistics is projecting similar numbers. Total employment is expected to increase at a 0.6% annual rate, reaching 160.3 million jobs in 2024, the BLS stated in a report.
More local hiring
Many companies are returning to the pre-pandemic practice of preferring to hire locally rather than considering the global talent pool, says Robert Kelley, professor of management at Carnegie Mellon University’s Tepper School of Business.
In his conversations with employers, “A lot of C-suite executives are saying if employees won’t come back to the office, we’ll just hire someone else [locally],” he says.
Kelley advises against this strategy, however. “If you want to go after the best talent,” he says, “then you have to go for a global recruiting strategy and not just a local one.”
A global strategy also can reduce employer costs. For example, a data scientist in the U.S. earns about $96,000 per year, compared to $11,000 in India, according to a recent LinkedIn post by Sadiq Sayani, a chief operating officer at IT outsourcing company ArcPoint Global.
HR trends 2024: Employees speaking up
Employees made their voices heard this year in many ways, including with strikes and letters to their boards and CEOs. Next year, as the presidential election season heats up with primaries, party conventions and ultimately, the Nov. 5 election, experts predict that employees will continue to speak up about political and social causes. As a result, employers that previously took neutral stands on workplace discussions of politics, sex and religion need to be prepared to engage in these discussions, Kelley advises. It can hurt an employer’s ability to recruit and retain workers if they don’t, experts say.
“We’re clearly seeing a trend where employees want their employer to bet on certain issues,” Kelley says. “And if they don’t, there’s [vocal] backlash.”
RTO conflicts to continue
The U.S. economy and workforce are still adjusting to the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic, Kelley says. Most recently, that centered around returning to offices: C-suite executives want it, and employees do not.
“It’s set up an unhealthy dynamic,” he says. “I don’t think that’s been settled yet, and I think it will continue into 2024.”
In May, for example, Amazon employees walked out in protest of the retail giant’s three-day-a-week mandatory return-to-office policy, calling for a flexible office policy. The company responded with an enforcement policy stating employees could be fired for not complying. The e-commerce behemoth is not alone. Other companies are also instituting RTO enforcement policies that can lead to termination.
Several unions, including the high-profile United Auto Workers, Writers Guild of America and SAG/AFTRA, scored major victories this year after lengthy strikes.
Seeing that, “one might expect organized labor interests to keep their foot on the gas pedal and push for further gains,” predicts Scott Cawood, CEO of WorldatWork, a non-profit organization for total rewards professionals.
The conflict arising around return-to-office policies, some industry experts say, also could drive unionization among white-collar workers.
Managing the workforce
HR trends 2024: Skills architecture to accelerate
The development of skills architectures will increase next year, Katy George, chief people officer with McKinsey & Company, tells HRE, because of their promise to help employers both hire external candidates and promote internal candidates based on their skills.
“Most organizations are moving toward some type of skills architecture,” she says. “I think it’s exciting, but it’ll be a multi-year transformation for companies and organizations.”
Boeing, Walmart and IBM are among the large employers already using a skills-based approach to hiring. All three have removed requirements for college degrees for certain job postings, according to a McKinsey report, to expand their talent pool and attract more diverse candidates.
In the U.S., job postings that required a bachelor’s degree or something higher for college-level jobs dropped 3.9% between 2017 and 2022, according to a BCG report. Employers instead are giving more weight to boot camps and on-the-job training as viable avenues to build skills.
Companies are also focusing on building internal marketplaces that contain employee skills and career aspirations to help match workers with open positions.
Gen Z influence to grow
Gen Z is poised to overtake the number of baby boomers who hold full-time jobs in 2024, according to a Glassdoor report. And by 2025, Gen Z is expected to account for more than a quarter of the workforce, says Blair Ciesil, senior partner with McKinsey & Company.
Psychological safety, a sense of purpose and belonging, and caring leadership are all important to this generation of employees, she says.
“These [concepts] are all going to be something big to consider when we think about the messages to help differentiate career opportunities for Gen Z and also how we develop that talent,” Ciesil says.