Attending the 2011 SHRM National Convention
By Andrew Molnau, CLM, PHR
I had the opportunity this year to attend the national SHRM (Society of Human Resource Management) convention in Las Vegas. There were several reasons that I went to this convention instead of the national ALA convention in Orlando. First, I had all my CLM credits, and the new credits wouldn’t start to count until July 1st. Second, I had recently obtained my PHR, Professional in Human Resources Certification, which requires its own set of credentials for hours, and this would be a great way to get started. Third, I wanted to attend a new and different conference. And fourth, it was Las Vegas. . . .
Within the first day, a few observations hit me like a brick wall. The attire was completely different from what you would see at an ALA event. When I am at an event away from the office, I wear jeans, nice jeans. But many people wore just about anything, and I mean anything! The size of the convention was also almost overwhelming. While the ALA conference had about 1,200 attendees, the SHRM conference claimed they had about 13,000 in attendance. Nearly every session I attended was filled to capacity even though all the conference rooms were very large. There was an almost impersonal feel to the sessions and events. And the vast number of booths in the vendor hall left me speechless, especially after I saw that – after walking the length of the hall – there were even more vendors on another level.
As I attended the conference, it also sank in that this conference was strictly an HR event. Much of the information covered bridged many different industries, unlike the focus on the legal industry that ALA events provide. This was quite evident in both the session topics and the types of vendors.
The Sessions: The ones I attended were very well done and had the look and feel of most ALA sessions. My favorite session was “Women are Always Right. Men are Never Wrong,” presented by a husband and wife team. They were hilarious together. As you can imagine, the subject matter lent itself to funny stories and information on how the two sexes communicate – or don’t. If there is an education suggestion box, ALA should try to book them, whether on a national or regional level. Given the HR nature of the convention, many sessions had a lot of strategic and overseas focus.
The Vendor Hall: The hall was filled with 650 vendors, showcasing everything imaginable. Many vendors I had never heard of. Some of the themes that dominated the field were job websites (monster.com); drug testing, background checks, and wellness companies (fitness, health subjects). There were two whole rows of employee benefit subjects represented by cruise lines (nice employee perk), resorts, Papa John’s Pizza, gift card companies, Mrs. Fields’ cookies, etc. The giveaways were enormous and iPads were the norm.
Speakers: I really enjoyed the closing speech by Michael J. Fox, who shared his life experiences and his battle with Parkinson’s Disease. I bought “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Future,” an audio book he wrote. It is a short, easy read, and quite good. The opening speaker, Richard Branson of Virgin Group, had an interesting presentation about his ambitions (commercial space flight) and corporate culture. It was done in an interview format with numerous video “commercials.” They tried to use Twitter to forward questions to the moderator, but I don’t know if that worked very well.
Should you rush to your boss to ask if you can go? It could be useful if HR is in your life’s blood and what you do a majority of the time. It is probably worth attending once in your career to see what it’s like, but the extra cost (their conference is quite a bit more expensive than ALA), might slow down your efforts. Since my main focus is accounting with the occasional HR role, I found it useful. The conference is in Atlanta next year, not a vacation destination in my book. I am lucky enough to be with a firm that supports these types of events (being the accountant, it’s easy to put it in the budget, too). The local SHRM chapter is pretty active and it would seem easier to try to keep my credentials at the local level.
If you have any questions about this event, I would be happy to answer them.
Andrew Molnau, CLM, PHR
Burns Anderson Jury & Brenner