( CIPD press release )The HR profession has adapted to change in today's workplace, has alignedits priorities right at the heart of today's business challenges, isaddressing skills gaps to implement the programmes needed, and isdeveloping the capabilities it needs to raise its game for the future.

These are the top line findings of HR Outlook, launched on the first day ofthe CIPD's Annual Conference and Exhibition, which "lifts the lid" on theHR profession's present and future challenges by surveying 2,266 HRprofessionals within UK organisations, including 319 of the profession'smost senior practitioners.

Respondents at the top of their organisations are fully aligned with theneeds of their businesses, and are not blind to the many challengesre-structuring and cuts for some, or emergence from recession for others,will mean for the HR function. The senior sample identified their top threepriorities for the next 12 months as "managing change and culturaltransformation" (50%), "employee engagement" (41%), and "improvingperformance management and reward" (38%).

"Employee engagement" emerges as the number one priority for the privatesector across the total sample, which supports findings from other CIPDresearch that this is key for organisations to sustain performance throughturbulent times. It was missing, however, from the top three prioritiesidentified by public sector respondents, a finding that may change over thecoming months as the budget cuts and service delivery challenges confirmedin the Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR) are translated into action. Thepublic sector respondents are strongly aligned with "managing costs" astheir top organisation priority for the next 12 months.

The profession is not in the dark about difficult decisions ahead, and howthey will be seen as a consequence. The majority are more likely to agreethan disagree that "HR can be perceived negatively at times of costreduction and redundancies" (with a net score of +57). Despite thisexternal reality check, however, HR professionals in general know what theyneed to do, and also believe their function is capable of achieving the priorities set for the coming year (with a net score of +82*).

To help achieve these priorities, nine in 10 identified skill/capabilitygaps that they are seeking to address. A particular area for future attention within the profession is the degree to which "curiosity" isdisplayed and developed. This is one of the key behaviours identified onCIPD's HR profession map**. Currently, our survey shows that this is thebehaviour least likely to be displayed in HR teams, and the least likely tobe encouraged.

There is good news, however, for graduates struggling to find work in thetoughest jobs market for two decades, with senior HR professionalspreparing to invest in future talent. Twenty-seven per cent of seniors believe they will take on HR graduate trainees in the next 12 months(compared to 7% of seniors having done so over the last year).

"The next few years offer tremendous opportunities for ambitious andaspiring HR professionals. The last two years have seen the biggest shift Iremember in my lifetime from an old order to a new one, an economic shift from West to East and fundamental changes in attitudes to business. I see a profession that is successfully adapting to change in today'sworkplace - integrating its priorities into the challenges and changesneeded in the business environment. It is right at the heart of whatbusinesses need to do. As the profession moves forward, it needs to become an increasinglyinquisitive and curious function - we need to increase our capacity to lookup and out to develop and deliver real insight to sustain our organisationsin a changing world and uncertain times.

"Our survey shows that the function is open to bringing skills in fromelsewhere. We also need to encourage HR people to build depth and breadthinto their careers with well chosen moves to other business functions too.The importance of engaging employees during this time of restructureshould not be under-estimated and the survey highlights the opportunity forpublic sector employers to learn from the experiences of a private sector beginning to emerge from tough times. Employee engagement is an area thatshould feature high on the list of priorities for HR and the organisationat the best of times. But facing an almost unprecedented period of austerity, public sector HR managers will undoubtedly be looking to pushthis up their list of priorities in the year ahead.

"Overall, I'm excited by the picture the survey paints of a confident,capable profession, increasingly well-equipped to deliver on itspriorities, yet clear on how it needs to adapt to thrive in the future."

Jackie Orme, CEO, CIPD, comments on the findings on the day of her addressto the Annual Conference

Other key findings include:

Just over two-thirds (65%) of seniors believe the size of the HR functionwill remain the same over the next 12 months, 17% think it will increaseand 16% decrease. For almost three-quarters (73%) of HR professionals, the last person theyrecruited had HR experience. 48% said they would consider recruiting peoplewithout HR experience for an HR role. Three-quarters of HR professionals have worked outside the HR function intheir professional career. Fifty one percent of respondents said their HR function had changed itsstructure over the last two years. For seniors the main challenge ofrestructuring the HR function is dealing with skills gaps (32%), while for the broader HR sample it is defining roles (36%). The majority (53%) of HR professionals have had a pay rise in the last 12months. Two in five (40%) have experienced a pay freeze, while 3% havereceived a pay cut. On average, HR professionals' annual salary is around 44,000. Figuressuggest a CIPD member will earn on average 46,000, while a non-member willearn on average 38,000

*Net scores are calculated by subtracting the percentage of respondents whosay something positive from the percentage who say something negative

**The CIPD HR Profession Map is a comprehensive view of how HR adds thegreatest sustained value to the organisations it operates in, now and inthe future.