ATD Blog

Human Capital Challenges & Opportunities in the 21st Century

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

“Education is what people do to you, learning is what you do to yourself.”
—Joi Ito

There is a perfect storm brewing globally and nationally with workplace implications, particularly over the next decade and beyond. The “storm” consists of multiple and varied factors that are increasing in pace and importance, such as evolving technology, demographic changes, and globalization of business. More importantly, these rapidly changing trends are occurring while organizations work to stay ahead of their competitors and rethink how they will move their businesses forward.

Although these evolving trends may seem overwhelming, organizations cannot afford to ignore them. They are not going away, and how an organization tackles them could be the difference between its success and its demise—across global areas, industries, and competitive markets. 

Let’s review a few trends and their implications for organizations and leaders at all levels. 

First, it’s important to note that as society ages, demographics transform. The minority and majority terms will mature in the 21st century, particularly in the United States. In fact, currently the U.S. has four generations in the workforce, with a fifth gaining ground. 


In addition, technology is expected to grow and change at rapid levels. Indeed, few can argue that connectivity is not only changing our personal lives, but business paradigms as well. Mobile and social are just a few trends experiencing exponential advancements.   

As a result, education will be increasingly more important as high-level skills become necessary to compete in the future workplace. Likewise, employee engagement will gain importance, especially during these transforming and tough economic times, and leadership and leadership development will become fundamental for success.    


In other words, change remains constant—organizations need to adapt to the ever-changing environment to outperform their competitors.  

If society has learned anything, especially in the early stages of the 21st century, it is that we must be open to the unknown. Indeed, since 2000, many of the changes that have occurred with regards to technology and globalization were probably never considered in the late 20th century. 

Organizations and their leadership teams (at all levels) must be sure to develop human capital and talent development strategies that foster agility and learning, as well as position the enterprise for success. Organizations that take their eyes off any one trend do so at their own risk. Bottom line: Challenges and opportunities lie in how organizations will address and work through this perfect storm of change. 

About the Author

Edward Mouriño-Ruiz, PhD,  is a U.S. Air Force veteran and a seasoned multi-industry human resources development (HRD) professional. He has more than 30 years of experience in a variety of organizations and industries, including the U.S. Air Force, utilities, aerospace and defense, and medical. He has served as an Association of Talent Development (ATD) chapter president as well as a member of the National Advisor to Chapters. He has been a guest speaker at numerous conferences and events, including the Futurist Conference, IT Symposium, Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), the Hispanic Engineer National Achievement Awards Corporation (HENAAC), and the Corporate University Exchange (CUX) among others. He also serves in the capacity of adjunct faculty at the graduate level at institutions, such as Rollins College and Webster University. He has written numerous articles on a variety of subjects in a variety of publications and recently published The Perfect Human Capital Storm: Challenges and Opportunities in the 21 st Century .  

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