Corporate 100
HR Professionals in the Workforce Cycle
From recruitment and training to promotion and graceful exits
By Lincoln Garrick and Patty Hickok

umans are essential to the success of any business. Just as equipment, a working space, and financial capital are key components needed for an organization to “do” business, so are all the people who work and contribute to an organization. This includes employees and (increasingly in the gig economy) independent/temporary and on-call and workers employed without a traditional labor contract. Human resource (HR) professionals are tasked with creating the environment for individuals and teams to achieve better performance for an organization, and these efforts can happen before, during, or post-employment.

Changes in the HR field had previously been incremental, but in recent years they have been revolutionary. The HR field has changed more in the last three years than in the previous fifty. According to the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM):

The COVID-19 pandemic threw employers and employees into chaos and uncertainty, with no clear end in sight. HR operated in crisis mode for much of 2020 and the first half of 2021, figuring out how employees could work from home, trying to provide extra mental and physical health support, and working more than ever on C-level strategies for keeping their organizations functioning. As the dust continues to settle and companies adjust to a new normal, the role of HR has fundamentally changed.

The COVID-19 years accelerated work-technology, adapting to the need for remote work. Along the way, many long-held corporate rules about leave, work travel, layoffs, and overtime policies were drastically changed.

Today’s HR team is still charged with performance, productivity, and efficiency within the workforce, but post-COVID-19 it now is also tasked with understanding the challenges employees face, their struggles inside and outside of work, and contributing to employees’ overall well-being.

Who Are Alaska's HR Professionals?
The field can be viewed broadly as three tiers of positions: HR assistants, HR specialists, and HR managers. HR assistants compile and keep personnel records, prepare reports, and search files furnishing information to authorized persons. HR specialists recruit, screen, interview, or place individuals within an organization, along with contributing in other employee areas. HR managers plan, direct, or coordinate HR activities for staff and executives of an organization. Larger organizations may have specialty positions within the areas of compensation, benefits, employment law, training, and development.

Seventy-five percent of Alaska’s HR managers are women, according to the October 2021 Alaska Economic Trends publication by the state Department of Labor and Workforce Development (DOLWD). In 2019 average pay for HR managers was $97,300, with women earning 88 percent of what men in the same role were paid. Alaska SHRM State Council, the state’s affiliate of the Society for Human Resource Management and the major HR professional organization, indicates the following demographics within its 2023 membership:

  • Education – 70 percent have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
  • Unionization – 84 percent work in non-union organizations.
  • Generations – 58 percent are Gen X, 28 percent Baby Boomers, 13 percent Gen Y, and 1 percent Greatest Generation (2019 findings).
  • Ethnicity – 70 percent white, 13 percent Alaska Native/American Indian, and 17 percent other races.
  • Organization type – 51 percent work for private, for-profit businesses, 28 percent non-profit organizations, 16 percent government agencies, and 5 percent other.
  • Company size (number of employees) – 31 percent are in organizations with fewer than 100 employees, 32 percent in organization with 100 to 499 employees, 12 percent in organizations with 500 to 999 employees, 18 percent in organizations with 1,000 to 4,999 employees, and 7 percent in organizations with more than 5,000 employees (2019 findings).

The field is expected to grow in Alaska, with DOLWD projecting increases from 2020 to 2030 of 10.7 percent among HR assistants, 9.6 percent among HR specialists, and 11.5 percent among HR managers.

Changes in the HR field had previously been incremental, but in recent years they have been revolutionary. The HR field has changed more in the last three years than in the previous fifty.
Challenges for Alaska HR Professionals
HR professionals generally oversee the following workforce tasks:

  • Talent acquisition – recruiting, hiring, and retaining a skilled workforce.
  • Employee engagement – developing a workplace culture, which requires listening to employee issues, sharing organizational triumphs and setbacks, and resolving disputes or difficulties among coworkers.
  • Performance management – assessing and coaching employees with continuous feedback.
  • Compensation and benefits – calculating fair compensation rates and putting together a comprehensive list of benefits that are valued by current and potential employees.
  • Development and training – providing opportunities for employees to learn new skills, as well as training, which aligns with the organization’s strategic goals and legal responsibilities.
  • Risk management – collecting anonymous employee feedback, implementing diversity measures, and investigating complaints or allegations of harassment and other employee law concerns.

Some of Alaska’s recent HR issues mirror the Lower 48, with mass retirements, a diminishing level of participation from women in the workforce, and significant challenges finding qualified and reliable new workers.

On the Horizon
There have been a number of contemporary shifts in society that have and will continue to affect HR professionals’ ability to recruit, retain, and develop Alaska’s workforce, including the Great Resignation, the Great Reassessment, burnout, quiet quitting, and a shift in employees’ personal and professional priorities.

All of this has led to Alaska HR professionals having a smaller pool of potential employees from which to recruit. Alaska is currently experiencing record low non-seasonally adjusted, statewide unemployment rate in the 4 percent range, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. This compares to the average statewide rate of 7 percent from 2000 to 2020. Alaska’s working-age population—individuals 18 to 64 years old—peaked ten years ago in 2013 at 479,000, and its rate of loss since then—of 5.4 percent to 449,000 individuals—was the third highest decrease in the US, according to DOLWD. Economists believe this has been caused in part by an outmigration from the state and an aging Alaska’s population, as well as excess mortality during the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is difficult to untangle how HR professionals might find qualified and motivated Alaska employees in the future, but some combination of a focus on retaining workers, investing in automation, and rethinking remote or flex work will be critical. Larger employers may be able to stand out when recruiting by increasing access to childcare, which continues to be a problem especially for female workers, with the average cost for care around $10,746 annually, or 29.3 percent of an Alaska single parent’s median income.

With the stiff competition for talent, Alaska companies are now offering higher starting wages and signing and referral bonuses, even in industries that traditionally didn’t do so. HR professionals are also having to think more broadly about how to stand out for recruiting new employees since compensation and health insurance are no longer the only differentiators. Many Alaska companies have updated their recruitment strategies with employee referral programs providing incentives for potential new hires, retooled job descriptions highlighting company culture and values, and targeting passive candidates—individuals who are not actively seeking a new job but who might be willing to make a career move if the right opportunity was presented. In 2022, according to, more than 75 percent of US job seekers indicated they have been approached by another employer while they were already employed, and 99 percent said they would be willing to take an interview if another employer approached them.

As organizations struggle with navigating the new employment landscape, automation has emerged as a tool to address concerns created from the labor shortage. It is not uncommon at retail stores to have more self-checkouts than staffed cashier aisles, and this use of computer-aided customer service is increasing in areas like restaurants and airports. Business leaders are now confronted with whether to invest now and embrace change or wait until the technology is further defined. Many in HR are not viewing these new technologies as threats to workers’ jobs but as an evolution of what work will look like in the future, with human intelligence combined with artificial intelligence to improve productivity and efficiency. In a new AI-assisted workplace, the most successful employees will adapt to change and upskill to ensure they are equipped for technological advances.

The Future of Work
Labor shortages are driving organizations to adjust their policies, practices, and operations and think differently about the “future of work.” That term, coined by the SHRM, defines labor not only by the who but also the how, where, and when work is performed. The notion of remote work had traditionally been met with skepticism until the pandemic forced organizations to change. With the pandemic in our rear-view mirror, some organizations are advocating for a return to the office. Organizations that seek to define themselves as an employer of first choice for recruiting and retaining talent are adopting hybrid work schedules, as well as championing issues like employee well-being and mental health, work-life harmony, and greater say in an organization’s strategic direction.

The last three years have been a testament to organizational resiliency and HR adaptability. Many lessons have been learned about flexibility that will continue to shape the future of work and how HR professionals will approach recruitment, retention, and technological integration. Organizations that view change not as a disruption but as an opportunity to act differently will continue to innovate. Employees will be well served to do the same since the future of work is already here.

Lincoln Garrick headshot
Lincoln Garrick is an assistant professor of business, MBA director, and alumnus at Alaska Pacific University. He has more than twenty years of experience in the business, marketing, and communications fields, providing public affairs and strategy services for national and Alaska organizations.
Patty Hickok headshot
Patty Hickok has more than twenty years of HR experience working for Alaska Native corporations. She’s been an Alaska Pacific University adjunct professor for fifteen years, specializing in HR courses. She is the past-president of the SHRM Anchorage chapter and has served on the board for twenty-one years.