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HR trends over the last 20 years

1st Oct 2019
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Over the last 20 years, the HR function has evolved from simply “managing personnel” to being a core strategic function, overseeing aspects from employee wellbeing to talent acquisition for business growth. As recruitment gets more competitive and complex, HR teams have had to adapt, innovate and keep up with the evolving landscape. Changes to attitudes towards work-life balance, developments in technology and social media have all impacted how work is done, where and why. Here are three key trends that have emerged over the past two decades.

Flexible working

The number of people working ‘flexibly’ has increased five-fold in the last two decades. According to the 1999 Labour Force Survey conducted by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the percentage of people working flexible hours in the UK was 9.5% at that time. Recent statistics from CIPD, however, show that this number has drastically increased, with 54% of workers currently having the option to operate outside of typical nine-to-five office hours.

The growth of flexible working has undoubtedly been assisted by the advancements of technology. There are now numerous platforms that allow teams to collaborate remotely and hold virtual meetings. 

However, despite this huge development in improving work-life balance, professionals still want more autonomy. The 2019 UK Working Lives Report reveals that two in three professionals (68%) would like to work flexibly in a way that is not currently available. 

Gender pay gap

The move towards a more flexible approach to working has also impacted the average salary difference between men and women. Over the last 20 years the gender pay gap has halved, with it currently standing at 9.6%. In 1999 this figure was 19%, according to a study by the Office for National Statistics (ONS). Although this figure sounds high compared to today’s standards, at the time it was celebrated as a major improvement, as women’s pay was just 63% of men’s in 1970, when the national minimum wage was introduced. The ONS, however, found that almost a third of companies are still way below the national average, with a gap more akin to the figure recorded in 1999 (17.9%).

Ann Swain, the CEO of the Association of Professional Staffing Companies (APSCo), which is celebrating its 20-year anniversary of representing the recruitment sector commented on this saying: “Over the past 20 years I have witnessed growing discourse on this subject, and have seen companies from traditionally male-dominated sectors boost initiatives to encourage female participation, such as returnships. However, this alone is not enough to create equal pay. The HR profession has a social responsibility to encourage firms to boost diversity and inclusion, and to help create solutions for an equal workplace for all.

Women in STEM

As the gender pay gap closes, and more businesses become aware of the importance of diversity and equality, there has been a push to encourage equal representation of men and women in all sectors. One field that has historically lacked female participation is Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). Although in some of these professions, the number of women is rising, in IT it is severely failing, highlighting that more must be done.

The percentage of women working in IT has declined over the past 20 years. According to a joint study by the Department of Trade Industry (DTI) and the Skills Task Force, women made up a third of the information and communication technology (ICT) workforce two decades ago. At that time, it was noted that this figure was declining, with females representing only 20% of students on IT-related university courses in 1999. Today, according to community interest company, Wise, the amount of women working in IT stands at 16%, representing a 1% drop since 2017. While the number of females in the profession is increasing, the number of men joining is also rising, but at a more rapid pace.

What can we expect to happen to HR in the future?

As APSCo celebrate its 20th anniversary this year, the team here have been reflecting on how much the industry has evolved over the last two decades. There have been monumental leaps made within HR to better support workforces across the country, and with technology streamlining processes, human resource teams now have more time to focus on the things that really matter. With AI already making such a big impact on talent acquisition and staffing, and technology still improving every day, it can be expected that the next 20 years will bring even more exciting change.


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