The White House’s recent announcement that it will end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program — yet give congress a six-month delay to come up with a legislative fix — has left the future of the US talent supply shrouded in uncertainty: Will 700,000 employed DACA recipients be pushed out of the country’s workforce? Or will Republicans and Democrats find a compromise that will keep Dreamers in their current jobs?
While it is unclear whether the White House really does intend to end the DACA program, one thing is certain: when it comes to talent supply, HR leaders need to be prepared for multiple scenarios.
You have likely heard the military term VUCA (short for Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity) to describe the current business environment. Typically, it is associated with the sweeping demographic and technological shifts that are making it increasingly difficult to predict future market trends and talent needs. As recent events have shown, politics also contributes to a VUCA world, clouding HR’s crystal ball. What’s an HR strategist to do?
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DACA: Be Prepared With Your Workforce Data
It is possible to have a strategic plan in place even if you can’t predict your talent needs. As HR and leadership expert John Boudreau writes in this Harvard Business Review post, instead of betting big on one kind of future, you need to plan for multiple outcomes. Here is how to do that:
Step 1. Identify multiple futures
First, know what all the possible outcomes are. With DACA, there are three main possibilities (although you will want to revise these as new developments crop up):
- Congress comes up with a new version of the DACA program
- The DACA program ends on March 5, 2018
- The cessation of the program is delayed further
Step 2. Ask: How many? Who? When?
For each of the scenarios identified above, ask: Who is going to be affected? Where are those people? What is the timeframe for action? Knowing the answer to these questions will allow you to be proactive, rather than reactive, when identifying talent shortages.
You will also need to ask: How critical are these people to our business? What happens when these people aren’t there? Knowing this will help you prioritize your resources if you need to take action such as backfilling positions, hiring through an agency, or helping employees get work permits through different channels.
Armed with this information, you can not only inform your people strategy, but also work alongside the CEO — as well as other areas of the business — in communicating the potential repercussions of ending the DACA program when required. HR has a role to play in generating precise data to help executives quantify the impact so they can effectively lobby for change when necessary, as well as communicate internally to employees.
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Step 3. Plan continuously
In a VUCA world, HR needs to be at the forefront of workforce planning. Most organizations follow the finance department’s annual planning cycle, which leads to hiring based on financial constraints and schedule instead of business demand. As the volatility in the current business climate shows, it is difficult to predict what will happen with the talent supply a year out. Instead, look to refresh your plans on a quarterly basis.
With rapid-cycle planning, you can look ahead at how many open positions need to be filled, when they must be filled by, and where in the organization they are needed the most. This gives you the necessary time to either move budget around or talk to the manager about delaying the hire until budget accumulates.
When Neutrality is No Longer the Norm: HR’s Role
When a political leader’s actions come into direct conflict with values of brands and the markets they serve, CEO’s cannot afford to be complacent, particularly from a reputational and employer branding perspective. Consider the leaders who resigned from the president’s Manufacturing Jobs Initiative panel after “after he equated [Charlottesville] neo-Nazis to counter-protesters at a New York City press conference” or the more than 350 business leaders (including Visier CEO John Schwarz) who released an open letter encouraging President Trump to preserve the DACA program.
What does this mean for HR? In an uncertain future, there is an unprecedented need to be more cognizant of outside forces than ever before. When people strategy and public policy is informed by accurate and timely workforce data, HR can be a driving force in shaping the way forward.