“The biggest challenge for the future of HR is finding the right talent,” Alexander Alonso said.

Variations of that message were heard over and over at the Society for Human Resources Management’s 2013 conference in Chicago last week – that employee benefits, hiring practices and business policies are, now more than ever, just a means to an end, tools used to attract and retain the highest skilled manpower possible. Alonso, SHRM’s vice president of research, said his one concern is “what keeps [HR professionals] up at night,” and it all comes down to talent management.

“Who here believes that the war for talent is over? Anyone? Well, it’s good to see there are not any hands in the air,” Alonso said. “So when thinking about recruiting, what benefits are going to increase and decrease in importance over the next 10 years?”

The two big staples, not surprisingly, are health care and retirement plans. “Those are by far the most important,” Alonso said. But coming up fast is preventive health and wellness programs, which more and more valued recruits think of as an absolute necessity and more and more benefits managers understand can greatly reduce their health care costs. 

“If we had looked at this two years ago, that preventive health and wellness statistic would be far lower,” Alonso said. “Many individuals did not think that would be the next set.”

The other biggest draw for high-skilled recruits: flexible work arrangements and telework options. “If you really want to attract those high-value workers,” Alonso said, you need to introduce some kind of system to provide them those options. But wellness and telecommuting are only really good at getting them in the door.

“Preventive health and wellness are not doing what you’d want in terms of retention,” Alonso said. For that, you need to turn to leadership training and career development. High-skilled workers are the ones who want to stay high-skilled, and they expect advancement. Health insurance and retirement planning take the gold and silver medals again, but wellness is more of a lure than a nail.

“We’re in the business of business,” Alonso said. “Succession planning is best served, and high-skilled workers are best retained, best saved, by preparing the leaders of the future and offering new opportunities for high performers.”

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