The start of HR’s dominance

For years, 2011 has been circled on employer’s calendars — and now the pressure is on HR

By Todd Humber (

Happy New Year, HR professionals. As we shake off the holiday hangover, there’s a stark number staring at us from our wall calendars: 2011.

For years, 2011 has been circled on employers’ calendars. That’s because this is the year the first wave of baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) turn 65. As boomers flood out of the workplace to enjoy their golden years, employers will be challenged to replace their skills and experience.

Currently, Canada’s labour force represents 70 per cent of the country’s total population. By 2031, that number is expected to shrink to 63 per cent, according to Statistics Canada. So while employers didn’t wake up to a doomsday scenario on Jan. 1, we’ve turned a demographic corner that will have significant mid- to long-range implications.

The Great Recession provided a steam valve, a bit of a release of the pressure building up in the labour market. With an unemployment rate of 7.6 per cent in November, most employers still had plenty of wiggle room. But as the economy (hopefully) continues its recovery, that number is going to drop. And the great exodus of boomers will only add even more pressure to the kettle.

Ben Wentzell (right), director of the HR and Compliance Strategic Market Group at Carswell, laughs it up with Al Gore at the 2007 Top Employers Summit in Toronto. Wentzell was head of the group at Carswell that publishes Canadian HR Reporter. He retired at the end of 2010 following a long and distinguished career in publishing.

HR’s task in the coming years and decades will be to ease the pressure of this demographic crunch. That means some great strategic HR initiatives are going to take centre stage. Firms that are able to create strong cultures, breed engagement and loyalty and drive corporate social responsibility are going to have a clear advantage in recruiting and retaining talent.

The best-performing firms in the future are, undoubtedly, going to have top HR professionals at the helm. It’s an exciting time for the profession.

Farewell to Ben

Speaking of retirement, keen readers of our masthead will notice a key name missing in the Jan. 17 issue. That’s because Ben Wentzell, director of the HR and Compliance Strategic Market Group at Carswell, a Thomson Reuters business, has decided to hang up his pen following a long and distinguished career in publishing.

It’s impossible to overstate the effect he had on this publication, the staff and the HR profession as a whole. Publisher John Hobel summed it up best at his retirement party — if we could just somehow capture Ben’s management style and put it in a book, we’d have the only textbook HR professionals would ever need.

We’ll miss him dearly, but wish him all the best as he tears up the ski slopes and golf courses across the country.

Todd Humber is the managing editor of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. For more information, visit


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