“Our people are our most important asset”. We see these words in many corporate vision statements. Along with the emphasis on human talent, we see a heavier reliance on Human Resources (HR) as an administrative function to manage staff matters.

The business world is changing, and inasmuch as people drive business outcomes, HR has to evolve to help business owners manage the changing face of the workforce. Companies have to give HR a more strategic role in the boardroom, allowing HR to partner the management team and tackle these challenges.

In a broad sense, a career in HR encompasses one or more of these roles: talent management, recruitment, learning and development, compensation and benefits, performance management, and managing employee relations. But various critical challenges are emerging that require HR executives to take on more innovative approaches to perform these roles.

Today, the greatest challenge facing companies in Asia is the competition for talent, both to attract and retain it. The tighter labour market in the region and greater talent mobility has merely added to the challenge. In addition, new skill sets and strong leadership capabilities are required to deal with the complexities of the business environment and workforce.

Companies now also have to manage a more diverse workforce than ever. Gen Y youths are entering the workforce. These employees are more outspoken, desire greater empowerment, and demand challenging work as well as more flexibility in how they do their work. Organisations must manage the different expectations of both Gen X and Gen Y, as well as the older baby boomers in the workplace. As companies expand globally, there is an added dimension of having to manage cultural differences.

HR executives thus need to innovate and update their HR strategies and tools to not just tackle the current challenges but be ready for future ones. An effective and relevant talent management system, with the support of top management, will be a key differentiator in business success and key to retaining institutional knowledge for continued growth.

In part to strengthen national human capital capabilities, the Ministry of Manpower (MOM) set up the National HR Scholarship, the first of its kind in Singapore, to groom future leaders who are competent in human capital management and leadership development. With the growth of Asia’s business landscape and the growing realisation that good people strategies are a key driver to business growth and sustainability, there are tremendous career opportunities for HR.

The growing presence of HR professional bodies here indicates a greater demand for companies to adopt good people practices. The industry will likely enjoy a greater inflow of HR talent, with the profession benefiting from the increased demands for HR capabilities and becoming more attractive as a career option. Overall, this vibrancy also contributes to Singapore’s attractiveness as a human capital hub to serve not just the local market, but also the regional audience.

Ms Rachael Chiu, 22, and Mr Sam Neo, 25, are among the first batch of undergraduates to receive MOM’s National HR Scholarship.

Both are Business Administration students from the National University of Singapore, with Ms Chiu double-specialising in Management and Finance, and Mr Neo, Management and Marketing. On graduation, they will embark on their careers with CapitaLand Limited and Keppel Corporation respectively.

Says Ms Chiu, who has been matched with CapitaLand: “I’ve always wanted to work in HR. I enjoy interacting with people and I can learn to build up my patience when it comes to dealing with difficult people. A good HR executive has to first understand the business inside out before one can formulate better policies.”

She feels a good HR professional must also love working with people. Otherwise, it will be hard to come up with pro-organisation and pro-employee solutions at the same time.

Mr Neo, who will soon start work at Keppel, was attracted to the appeal of good career prospects at sponsoring companies, as well as the financial support. He says: “I want to show that people drive organisational growth and therefore beyond its administrative responsibilities, HR fulfils a bigger role as a strategic business function which helps shape corporate strategy.”