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    What the Toys R Us meltdown reminds us about workforce trends

    By now you probably have seen the sad news that Toys R Us is in bankruptcy, and is facing the likely closure of its 700+ stores in the US in the coming months.

    Definitely a sad day for many, especially for the thousands of Toys R Us employees soon to be out of work, and for the let's say 'traditionalists' among us who still enjoyed shopping for toys and games and the like in the 'real world', and not just from an Amazon app.

    Of the many reasons that have been blamed for Toys R Us demise, competition from Amazon (and others) is frequently cited, along with the pretty staggering amounts of corporate debt and debt service payments that Toys R Us has been burdened with since its acquisition by Private Equity companies in 2005. Other post-bankruptcy analyses have pointed to Toys R Us failure to modernize its shopping experiences, inability to grasp digital commerce trends, and the fact that they lost touch with their most important customer - mothers shopping for their kids.

    But there is one other factor that has contributed to the toy retailer's plight, one that has not been mentioned as much in the coverage, and one that has much wider implications in work and workplaces as well. And it is this: people in the US are having fewer children, thus creating fewer of Toys R Us' prime 'end customers', and, eventually, fewer entry-level workers for all US firms to recruit.

    Here it the thing, the folks running Toys R Us maybe couldn't figure out what to do about this trend, but they did see it coming. Here is an excerpt from their most recent 10-K financial filing from April 2017:

    "Most of our end-customers are newborns and children and, as a result, our revenues are dependent on the birth rates in countries where we operate," the filing reads. "In recent years, many countries' birth rates have dropped or stagnated as their population ages, and education and income levels increase. A continued and significant decline in the number of newborns and children in these countries could have a material adverse effect on our operating results."

    Data from the CDC in the US backs that up - the most recent data available from 2016shows the US birth rate hitting a record low, and with no obvious sign of this trend changing, retailers like Toys R Us are going to face continuing pressure. Longer term, if this trend does continue, all kinds of employers will face pressure too - a different kind of pressure perhaps, this one stemming from relatively fewer entry-level or younger candidates, as well as the need to create workplaces that are more open, accommodating, and available to older workers too.

    Since I love charts, I will close with this one, from our pals at FRED - a look at the increase in the 65+ labor force in the US over the last 20 years or so.

    I will spare you trying to squint at the small print, but the total number of workers aged 65+ has more than doubled since 2000 - with almost 10M people in that group as of the latest data. And even if you can't read the small print, it is easy to see the 'up and to the right' trend in the data.

    Fewer babies and young kids means trouble for Toys R Us in 2018. It could mean recruiting problems for your organization too, in a few years. Don't wait until it is too late, like our pals at Toys R Us, to know how to react.

    Have a great week!


    PODCAST: #HRHappyHour 315 - Breaking Through with Diversity & Inclusion

    HR Happy Hour 315 - Breaking Through with Diversity & Inclusion

    Sponsored by Virgin Pulse - www.virginpulse.com.

    Host: Steve Boese

    Guests: Cecile Alper-Leroux, Dr. Jarik Conrad - Ultimate Software

    Recorded Live at Ultimate Connections 2018

    Listen to the show HERE

    This week on the HR Happy Hour Show, Steve is joined by Cecile Alper-Leroux and Dr. Jarik Conrad from Ultimate Software to talk about the challenges organizations are facing with Diversity & Inclusion initiatives and the keys for organizations who want to improve and make progress in these areas. Cecile and Jarik talked about the definitions of diversity and inclusion, the importance of appreciation and acceptance at work of all people from all backgrounds, and what people want from work in the modern era.

    One of the interesting points discusses in the show was the idea that organizations can't jump right from awareness of these issues into solutions - there is an important stage of preparation or 'readiness' that has to be addressed in organizations and especially with leaders and managers before solutions can be developed and implemented. So 'readiness' is the pre-condition before action.

    We also discussed some of the research around the business benefits of Diversity & Inclusion initiatives, and why these benefits do not necessarily resonate equally in all contexts. Finally, we talked about how, where, and when in the HR/Talent lifecycle in organizations that bias, sometimes unconscious bias, can be introduced and how some of the modern HCM technology solutions are helping organizations detect and try to minimize and eliminate these biases.

    Finally, Cecile shared her recent mountaineering adventure and Steve and Jarik bonded over baldness.

    You can listen to the show on the show page HERE, on Apple Podcasts or your favorite podcast app, or by using the widget player below:

    Thanks to Cecile, Jarik and the team at Ultimate for having us at the event.

    Subscribe to the HR Happy Hour wherever you get your podcasts - just search for 'HR Happy Hour'.


    HRE Column: Succeeding with HR Tech - Part 2

    Once again, I offer my semi-frequent reminder and pointer for blog readers that I also write a monthly column at Human Resource Executive Online called Inside HR Tech that can be found here.

    This month, I continue the topic of 'Success with HR Tech' that we covered first in February with a look at some of the external factors that impact HR Technology projects. In the March column, we pivot to examine a few of the internal issues, challenges, and opportunities that perhaps have even more of an impact and influence on success with HR tech.

    These are two of the major themes that we will be focusing on for the next HR Technology Conference - the nature of 'success' with your HR technology initiatives, and we will focus on the key issues, themes, and considerations for HR Tech projects, vendor relationships, and internal program/project best practices that are essential for success, and that will be covered in more detail at the Conference this year.

    In the piece, I take a look at some of the issues and considerations that HR leaders should keep in mind as they build a business case for HR tech projects, evaluate potential solution providers, organize and staff project teams, execute their implementations, and finally deal with the important topics of change management and user adoption.

    Here's an excerpt from this month's piece in HRE Online:

    Last month’s column focused on the “success” theme while looking at the considerations and questions you should ask of prospective HR tech solution providers prior to purchasing any HR technology solution. This time around, we will look at some of the internal factors that are vital to customer success in HR tech.

    The organizational elements of success with HR technology will be highlighted this September at the HR Technology Conference and Exposition® in Las Vegas, and the combination of information and best practices on these “outside” (or provider) elements—along with the “inside” (or organizational) elements—will provide HR and HRIT leaders with the foundation for overall HR tech success.

    Here are a few of the key internal elements that organizations must address when planning, executing, evaluating and achieving long-term success with HR technology.

    Creating the business case

    Almost every organization’s HR technology initiatives require internal justification, a budget and executive support, and the means to define and secure these commitments is usually the business case. But for many HR leaders, preparing a technology-centric business case meant to form the basis for HR technology investments is not always easy.

    Here are a few of the key questions that the HR technology program business case should answer.

    The purpose: What specific business problem needs to be solved?

    The importance: What is the negative impact or value of the missed opportunity by not solving this problem?

    The benefit: Stated in quantitative terms, what happens to the business if we do solve this problem?

    Potential approaches: What are some plausible ways to address the business problem?

    Recommendations for action: What are the specific recommendations for next steps? Give special attention to how HR technology will support/drive the business problem’s solution.

    Managing the vendor selection

    Once the organization’s business case has been approved, perhaps the most interesting and difficult process begins: making a technology and vendor selection.  Successful organizations process through and address many of the following considerations when making such selections:

    Identify “must-have” business requirements. Recognize the necessary business-critical capabilities—ones that directly impact the business problem your business case defines—so that you can ensure they can be supported by the selected technology solution.

    Be honest about “nice-to-have” requirements. Take care to understand the difference between critical system capability and other functionality that some users may love but are not fundamentally important to support business processes and solve business problems. No HR technology solution will meet 100 percent of a company’s requirements. The key is knowing that not all requirements are the same.

    Understand the internal factors for success. Who will be the users of this solution? What specifically are their needs? How is their ability and capacity to embrace and adopt new technology? Not all technology solutions are a “fit” with all organizations. Make sure your unique and specific organizational attributes are aligned with the technology provider.

    Gather your candidates. There are increasing sources for HR leaders to create lists of potential solution providers for their HR technology evaluations. From traditional research reports, crowd-sourced software review sites, recommendations from peers, to previous experience with specific solutions, there is plenty of market information available. At HR Tech, we will help you understand how to make sense of all this information to help you narrow down the list that gives your program the best chance for success.

    Assess the providers. Once the short list of technology providers has been created, HR leaders should approach assessment and evaluation in a thorough and consistent manner. Key considerations in this process include the ability of each provider to meet your prioritized requirements, how each solution matches or fits your organization’s user profiles and culture, how the provider aligns with your goals and vision, and finally, how you assess the provider’s willingness and ability to be a true business partner, not just a technology supplier...

    Read the rest at HR Executive online...

    If you liked the piece you can sign up over at HRE to get the Inside HR Tech Column emailed to you each month. There is no cost to subscribe, in fact, I may even come over and plant your spring garden, take your dog for a walk, or re-surface your driveway.

    Have a great day!


    PODCAST: #HRHappyHour 314 - The Employer Health Care Benefits Update for 2018

    HR Happy Hour 314 - The Employer Health Care Benefits Update for 2018

    Host: Steve Boese

    Guest: Shandon Fowler

    Listen HERE

    This week on the HR Happy Hour Show, Steve is joined by Shandon Fowler, Founder and Principal of Four8 Insights, a benefits technology and communication consultancy based in Charleston, South Carolina to talk about important employer health care benefits issues, trends, and what HR and Benefits pros need to know in 2018.

    On the show, Steve and Shan reviewed what the changes in the ACA and other regulations have meant for employers in 2017 and so far in 2018, how employers might be shifting (at least some) of the traditional employer-based health care benefits back to employees themselves, and what the recent Amazon, JP Morgan Chase, and Berkshire Hathaway announcement about their intentions to form a 'new' kind of company to help provide health care and benefits to their 1.1M combined employees might mean for the future of employer-based health benefits.

    Shan also shared he is the best selling author of an advice book for Grooms, (and is very popular in Slovenia), Malcolm Gladwell and the concept of the 'Risk Pool', and (shameless plug), why the HR Technology Conference is so awesome, (use my code STEVE300 for $300 off your registration).This was a fun show - thanks so much to Shan for coming on.

    You can listen to the show on the show page HERE, your favorite podcast app, or the widget player below:

    Thanks to HR Happy Hour Show sponsor Virgin Pulse - www.virginpulse.com

    Subscribe to the HR Happy Hour Show wherever you get your podcasts - just search for 'HR Happy Hour'.


    n = 1

    1. Tariffs: I am not an economist, and I don't even play one on TV. But these blanket tariffs, (code for taxes), sort of feel wrong to me. It is super complicated for sure, but the idea that in 2018 we (America), wants to value one kind of industry over another, mostly based on some romanticized recollection of the past, is misguided. We will see how this pans out of course, and like lots of these kinds of things the impacts will likely be less dramatic in the real world than the current headlines suggest.

    2. TECH: Yesterday I shared some data about the growth and marker share of the 'smart speaker' market - Echo, Google Home, etc. I am incredibly bullish on how these devices and voice assistants in general are going to impact workplace tech. In my down time I have been working on a little project for the Amazon Alexa platform that I hope to get launched in the next week or two. Stay tuned for that.

    3. Winter: it is still snowing here in Western NY. That is not surprising so it can't really be described as disappointing. It is sad though. A few items below there's another observation about Rochester, NY that will make more sense when considering how long and cold and miserable the winters can be here.

    4. HR Happy Hour: Lots of great stuff on the HR Happy Hour Show and the HHH family of shows. Go to the HR Happy Hour Show Page to get caught up, and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. We started the HR Happy Hour way back in 2009. Amazing it is still going strong after all this time.

    5. Sports: I have never been less interested in my New York Knicks. Once franchise player (and hopefully savior), Kristaps Porzingis went down injured the team has become simply unwatchable. I think I can name more players on the US Olympic Curling Team than I can on the current Knicks. Dreadful.

    6. JOBS: Writing this over a coffee as the monthly US Employment report hit the news. Wow - 313,000 jobs added in February 2018. That's a huge number. Unemployment rate held at 4.1% due to lots more people re-entering the labor force - makes sense since the economy is adding so many jobs. Have fun recruiting for those 'hard to fill' positions. Maybe, just maybe it's time to raise wages?

    7. Location: On the same CNBC show that I caught the Jobs report update, one of the 'expert' analysts was discussing job and skills training, and the role of the private sector vs. the public sector with respect to re-skilling workers who are impacted by automation and shifting labor market needs. My ears perked up when explaining why companies need to 'own' training current and future workers he remarked, 'Let's say you own a company in Rochester, NY, (NOTE: Where I live). No one is relocating to Rochester, NY to take your open jobs. You have to re-train the people who are already there if you want to fill those jobs." Ouch. Probably more or less true. I am about 15 months from getting out of here myself.

    8. Oscars: Trish and I did pretty well on our Academy Awards Predictions on the Happy Hour. Sufjan Stevens was robbed in the Best Song category though. (Embed below, email and RSS subscribers click through)

    9. Social Media note of note: I have pared down my social media use to (mostly automated/scheduled) Twitter updates and (oddly enough) posting travel pics on the Chinese social media app WeChat. Over a decade on various social apps has me burned out from them. I have not logged in to Facebook in probably a year, (although links to the blog still post there) and stopped posting (and checking) Instagram last summer. Not that anyone cares. But once in a while someone tries to get in touch with me on one of those apps and I just wanted to let anyone who does care know that I don't see any those messages. I kind of feel like I'm not alone in drifting off in terms of social media use/addiction. Who knows, maybe blogs will stage a comeback!

    10. FOOD: Shamrock Shakes are back. Enough said.

    Have a great weekend!