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Guide to a Career in Human Resources

What is Human Resources?

The Human Resources field has advanced from its early clerical functions of processing employee benefits, or recruiting, interviewing, and hiring new personnel. Increasingly, today's human resources professionals work with the organization's top executives on strategic planning - using their expertise in suggesting and changing policies which affect the workforce.

Senior management is recognizing the importance of the human resources department to the bottom line. Happy, well compensated employees provide a competitive advantage, a strong corporate environment, and prove to be more innovative, efficient and productive than in companies where employees feel undervalued by management. Since many enterprises are too large to permit close contact between top management and employees, human resources specialists serve as a mediator between them.

Attracting the most qualified employees and matching them to the jobs for which they are best suited - then keeping them - is important for the success of any organization. Conversely, reducing redundancy or removing workers who are no longer working towards corporate goals is also an important function in human resources management.

A career in the human resources field demands a range of personal qualities and skills - from the ability to work with diverse workforces to the active promotion of organizational goals. Ideally if you are looking at this career you have "soft skills" like integrity, fair-mindedness, and a persuasive, congenial personality, and you must be able to cope with conflicting points of view, function under pressure, and demonstrate discretion. The "hard skills" are computer proficiency, strong written and oral communication, math, and principles of business.

In an effort to improve morale and productivity and limit job turnover, human resources managers also help their firms effectively use employee skills, provide training opportunities to enhance those skills, and boost the employees' satisfaction with their jobs and working conditions.

Career Education in Human Resources

Undergraduate and graduate degree and certificate programs

Human resources workers have diverse duties and levels of responsibility, so the educational requirements in the field vary. You can work in virtually any industry, so you have some choices to make when selecting your education program in human resources. Even though specialization usually occurs at the master's level, determining your specialty in advance will direct you to the most effective courses of study and help you pick your elective courses while at junior college.

Most degrees can be completed entirely on line within 2 years or less. Doctorate degrees have short residency requirements and generally take longer. In entry-level jobs, employers usually expect you to hold an undergraduate degree.

An interdisciplinary background is appropriate in this field - more so than other business degrees. Look for a curriculum that combines business and social sciences - relevant courses such as management principles, organizational structure, industrial psychology, public administration, computers and information systems, compensation, recruitment, and training and development. Others in behavioral sciences, psychology, sociology, political science, economics, or statistics are useful. Some jobs may require a more technical or specialized background in engineering, science, finance, labour law, collective bargaining, and labour economics, for example.

Associate Degrees - An Associate of Business Administration / Human Resource Management degree is an entry level program which introduces the identifiable set of activities that affect and influence employees in an organization. These activities include recruitment, selection, compensation, and evaluation.

Bachelor Degrees - A bachelor's degree will generally lead to an assistant level position in human resources. You'll develop further insights into human resources functions and outside influences on modern business such as economic, social, and legal issues. You may obtain a more strategic understanding of workforce planning and development, training, compensations and benefits, global human resource management, employee health and safety, and labour law.

As a Bachelor of Science or arts, this degree can prepare you for professional certification examinations such as Human Resource Professional, Senior Human Resource Professional, and International Human Resource Professional - designations offered by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM).

Undergraduate Certificates - An Undergraduate Certificate in Human Resource Management enables employees already working within the private or public sector to upgrade their skills with theory and practical knowledge in human resource management. This certificate can also prepare you for certification examinations.

Master's Degrees - An advanced education is increasingly important for human resources management jobs. Many labour relations jobs require graduate study in industrial or labour relations. For contract negotiators, mediators, and arbitrators a strong background in industrial relations and law is highly desirable. A law background is also great for employee benefits managers and others who must interpret changes in laws and regulations. A master's degree in human resources, labour relations, or in business administration with a concentration in human resources management is highly recommended for those seeking general and top management positions.

Coursework in human resources management is designed for mid level managers who want to improve their skills and move into executive positions in their organizations. The goal is to enhance your strategic competencies in the field. You will learn to think critically - beyond traditional functional boundaries - and to turn strategic plans into workplace practices that deliver results.

Graduate Certificates - Human Resource Management graduate certificates are also available. You can review fundamental principles of organizational behavior, the scope of human resource management issues, and basic legal frameworks involved in human resources. Certificates are completed with fewer credits and less time than a degree, but still provide the foundation of knowledge necessary to pursue higher level certification and can be applied to full Master's or doctorate degrees later.

MBA Programs - An extensive array of MBA (Master's of Business Administration) degrees specializing in Human Resources is detailed on our MBA programs link.

Doctorate Programs - At the Ph.D. level, human resource management focuses on the skills needed to become a full business partner, to consult, write, or to teach. The curriculum is often based on the HR competencies identified by SHRM and based on the American Society of Training and Development's (ASTD) Human Performance Improvement Model.

What can you do with a University Major in Human Resources?

Career Specializations within Human Resources

The abundant supply of qualified college graduates and experienced workers creates heavy competition for jobs. Overall employment of human resources is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations through 2010. The highest growth is expected in the tech industry which is projected to grow by 66%.

In any particular firm, the size and the job duties of the human resources staff are determined by organizational philosophies and goals, the skill of its work force, pace of technological change, government regulations, collective bargaining agreements, standards of professional practice, and labor market conditions.

Human resources practitioners can pursue a specialist or a generalist career path. In a small organization, a human resources generalist may handle all aspects of human resources work, requiring a broad range of knowledge and requirements. The responsibilities of human resources generalists can vary widely, depending on their employers' needs. The recent annual salary range is between $35,000 and $80,000.

For many specialized jobs in the human resources field, previous experience is an asset; for more advanced positions, including managers, arbitrators and mediators, it is essential. Larger corporations further divide specialist positions into corporate and field jobs.

The opportunities for entry-level workers vary depending on whether they have a human resource management degree and have internship or other human resources-related experience. Employees can learn the profession by performing administrative duties such as data entry, working on employee handbooks, doing research for a supervisor, or handling information requests. Formal or on-the-job training programs help them move into specific areas in the personnel department. With an Associate degree, entry level human resources workers earn between $26,000 and $37,000.

Exceptional human resources workers may be promoted to director of personnel or industrial relations, which can eventually lead to a top managerial or executive position. Others may join a consulting firm or open their own business. A Ph.D. is an asset for teaching, writing, or consulting work.

Some examples of human resources specialists are: director of human resources, employment and placement manager, recruiter, EEO officer, employer relations representative, compensation, benefits, and job analysis specialists, occupational analyst, compensation manager, employee benefits managers and specialists, employee assistance plan manager, training and development managers and specialists, director of industrial relations, labour relations, conciliator, mediators, arbitrators, international human resources manager, and human resources information system specialist.

As a human resources manager, you would motivate, develop, and direct staff and identify the best candidates to hire or promote. Other titles in the human resources manger area include compensation and benefit managers, property or community association managers, and training and development managers. Average annual earnings of human resources managers were almost $65,000 in 2002.

As part of a training and development team, you may be assessing the combined skills of a division within the organization to determine training needs and objectives. You will to select the best delivery method to supply the training within a reasonable time and budget. Median annual earnings of training and development specialists were close to $43,830 in 2002.

Salaries for employment, recruitment, and placement specialists were nearly $40,000 in 2002 and $45,000 for compensation, benefits, and job analysis specialists. The approximate salary for personnel managers employed by the Federal Government was $66,000, employee relations specialists - $63,000, labor relations specialists - $73,000; and for employee development specialists - $69,000.

According to a 2003 salary survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employers, bachelor's degree candidates majoring in human resources, received starting offers averaging $35,400 a year.

Working conditions also vary with the specialization and industry that you work in. Arbitrators and mediators may work out of their homes. Many human resources, training, and labour relations managers and specialists work a standard 35 to 40 hour week. Longer hours may be required for labor relations managers and specialists, arbitrators, and mediators, especially when contract agreements are being prepared and negotiated.

Personnel recruiters are required to have a minimum of a bachelor's degree. Their specialty is to seek out, interview and fill existing and future positions within an organization -from internal or external sources. Recruiters regularly attend professional meetings and visit college campuses to interview prospective employees. Arbitrators and mediators often travel to the site chosen for negotiations.

Human resources, training, and labor relations managers and specialists held 670,000 jobs in the US in 2002 in the following specialties:

  • Human resources managers 202,000
  • Training and development specialists 209,000
  • Employment, recruitment, and placement specialists 175,000
  • Compensation, benefits, and job analysis specialists 91,000

The private sector accounted for about 80% of salaried jobs. Federal, State, and local governments employed about 18% of human resources managers and specialists.

Employers are expected to devote greater resources to job-specific training programs in response to the increasing complexity of many jobs and advances in technology. This should result in a stronger demand for training and development specialists in all industries.

Demand should continue to be strong among firms involved in management, consulting, and personnel supply, as businesses increasingly contract out personnel functions or hire specialists on a temporary basis. Demand should also rise in firms which develop and administer employee benefits and compensation packages for other organizations.

Certification and Licensure

Human resources workers often choose to join professional organizations as a way to network, keep up on current advancements in their industry and have access to certification programs. These certifications offer a universal standard of excellence and competence, and are recognized throughout the business community.

For example, the International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans confers the Certified Employee Benefit Specialist designation to persons who complete a series of college-level courses and pass exams covering employee benefit plans.

The Society for Human Resources Management has two levels of certification - Professional in Human Resources (PHR), and Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR); both require experience and passing a comprehensive exam.

By C. Nich
Contributing writer to World Wide Learn
*References: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2002-03 Edition, Management Analysts, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oco/

 

 

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