Faced with the twin challenges of an ageing workforce and rampant skills shortages, how to keep, manage and attract the best talent will be the most critical HR challenge facing European businesses over the next eight years.
A poll of some 1,350 senior executives in 27 European Union countries has identified five key HR challenges facing business across the Continent between now and 2015, with talent management topping the list.
The survey by The Boston Consulting Group and the European Association for Personnel Management identified managing talent, managing demographics, "becoming a learning organisation", managing work-life balance and managing change and cultural transformation as the top five future HR challenges.
But fewer than a third of executives polled said their firms had as yet begun to tackle all five.
In Britain, managing talent in an increasingly global context emerged as the core challenge.
Managing demographics was cited as the top future HR issue in Germany, Austria and Switzerland. In Italy, by comparison, managing change and cultural transformation was the top concern.
In France managing talent and demographics were the most important issues raised, while Russian executives were focused almost solely on managing talent.
In Spain, the two issues at the top of the agenda were managing talent and becoming a learning organisation. But facing a large influx of immigrants, executives were also concerned about managing diversity, the survey argued.
"Corporate executives in Europe generally agreed that they have a demographic problem and that they have not yet devised strategies to fully combat it," said Rainer Strack, BCG partner and managing director.
"We live in an age of intellectual property and knowledge-based industries; we live in an aging society; we live in a global economy offering multiple job opportunities for individuals. HR executives must face these challenges to draw on human capital as a major source of competitive advantage," added Hans Böhm, general secretary of EAPM.
And it what could be construed as damning praise, the survey concluded that executives outside HR were much more likely to approve of the performance of HR teams if they could show they had mastered the basic activities of the HR function.