‘HR business partners will no longer exist’ – four challenges for people professionals in the next 10 years

Speaking at the Unleash HR conference in Paris, former French government minister Muriel Pénicaud predicts a ‘huge tsunami’ of change

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Muriel Pénicaud, board director and senior advisor at Bain Capital and Galileo Global Education and former minister of labour with the French government, warned that HR will have to prepare for “huge” challenges if firms want to be able to recruit talent and stay competitive in the wider business environment.

AI and changes to the way companies are structured mean that the role of the HR business partner “has long gone” and HR needs to reconsider the skills it needs to keep up with transformative changes and function, and the skills required when searching for talent across the wider business, she explained.  

“With all my experience in the business and also as the former minister of labour, I can tell you that we need to prepare for a huge tsunami of work,” Pénicaud said. “If we are prepared, it's nothing we should be afraid of. But if we are not prepared, we should be afraid.”

Ultimately, HR will have to lead on this “tsunami” of change coming to the workplace, she said. “It's at the heart of your mission, your job, to anticipate and to prepare the company and people for these waves.”

HR will face four major challenges over the next decade, according to Pénicaud:

Artificial intelligence

It will come as little surprise that AI was the first in Pénicaud’s list of the major challenges set to face HR.

What makes the AI revolution different from previous waves of globalisation is that it is set to hit white collar workers the most. Some HR jobs will be lost to AI, she warned. Parts of the function, including talent acquisition, can be “more productive” and “quicker” using AI. “Does it mean that jobs will disappear? Some of them,” she said. “The centre of gravity of the HR function will change.”

This is not a trend exclusive to HR, however – those in supply chain, procurement, marketing, sales and functions across the business will all be fundamentally transformed through AI.

But firms must ensure they are not sacrificing long-term goals for short-term gains, Pénicaud warned, no matter how attractive AI and emerging tech might seem.

Green transition

The green transition will require different skills than those traditionally needed in the workplace, she said: “The difficulty of [the green transition] is it’s not the same skills at all. You can't transform a core worker or technician in the nuclear industry to renewable energy from one day to another.”

She also warned that with businesses already seeing worker and talent shortages, organisations cannot count on being able to hire externally to fill talent gaps and will instead need to upskill current employees. Simply put: “You will not find the talent elsewhere. So there is no choice.”

Consequently, there will be an overall shift in how skills will be viewed and there will be a shift from “talent searching” to “talent building”, she explained.


Organisations must be prepared to face difficulties created by a global ageing population, Pénicaud said. Across Europe, Japan, North America and China there will be more older people than younger. This will pose a particular challenge as talent shortages are already rife and fights for talent will only increase as there are fewer people coming into the talent pipeline, she said. 

Changes to work 

Aside from hybrid working, perhaps the biggest challenge the Covid pandemic brought was an emphasis on “purpose”. 

Pénicaud said: “Many, many, many, many people now want to have a job that is purpose driven. What does it mean to be purpose driven? First, I need to be proud of the mission of what company my delivers. It's why, for instance, the oil industry is now struggling.

“The second path is even more challenging because it's in all companies. My job has to have a purpose. The user has to be useful and recognised for that. That's more difficult.”

She said firms needed to be more innovative in how they reward talent and recognise that things like flexible working are no longer seen as a perk, but are an expectation.

How people view the role of managers has also changed drastically in recent years, she said: “People don't want a boss, they want a coach. A manager has to become a coach to help people to succeed, not only individually but collectively as a team.”