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Human resource (HR) management is a relatively new field that pulls together the fields of personnel administration, organisational behaviour and development, labour relations, the economics of human capital, and subfields such as leadership, change management, and others. These fields are combined into one that focuses on how organisations can develop policies and practices to manage large groups of employees, freelancers, and others who work on behalf of the organisation. In the past, HR professionals were involved in recruiting and selecting employees, designing compensation plans and benefits packages, overseeing compliance with government regulations, and handling labour relations issues. Those are still important, of course, but increasingly HR professionals are most concerned with managing the substantial changes necessary in the modern workplace – driven by the trends discussed below.
Once a support function loathed by operating managers (who regarded HR professionals as ignorant of the business that employed them and likely to hamstring operations with endless paperwork), HR is increasingly likely to be seen as a helpful partner in the drive to build a flexible, cost-effective, committed and competent workforce and organisation.
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Numerous substantial trends continue to drive this field, including:
• The new design of organisations, including the flattening of hierarchies in many.
Choosing a Masters Program
Most human resource masters programs are one year in length; many are provided online. Note that programs can focus on the narrow, technical approach reminiscent of personnel management programs – salary surveys, performance appraisal, grievance analysis, and the like – or a general management perspective that puts human resource management in a context of business strategy and societal constraints. The strongest programs tend to be those premised on the idea that an organisation’s overall strategy, combined with developments in its environment, should determine its HR strategy.
A typical program might offer courses in:
• Research methods in human resources
Human resource masters programs fall into two categories: those that require prior work experience in the field (generally two or more years) and those that value, but do not require, such experience. Many programs (in either category) require little more than some knowledge of statistics. Others require nothing other than a bachelors degree.
Many programs also look for:
• Prior coursework in human resources, organisational behaviour, or psychology
MBA in Human Resources
An MBA in Human Resources will allow students to study the core MBA subjects to give them the business management skills required for their chosen career path, plus the chance to study some elective modules that are more specialised in the field of Human Resources. Core subjects will include: Accounting; Economics; Finance; Marketing; Project Management; and Strategic Planning. The optional Human Resources-focussed modules are likely to include: Employee Relations; Employee Resourcing; and Human Resource Management.
Edinburgh Business School at Heriot-Watt University has an MBA program with Specialism in Human Resource Management which can be studied on campus or via distance learning. This MBA is worked towards on a course-by-course basis and after students have successfully completed three courses they’re eligible for a Postgraduate Certificate in Business Administration, and after six courses for a Postgraduate Diploma in Business Administration. They can then continue on towards qualifying for the MBA by successfully completing HR-focussed modules form a wide choice including: Managing People in Changing Contexts; Managing People in Global Markets; Negotiation and Performance Management.
PhD in Human Resources
Human Resource Management is concerned with the work processes in organisations and the workings of people within companies. This is a wide area of research encompassing the recruitment process, training, rewarding, disciplinaries and assessment. Studying a PhD in Human Resources will enable the student to undertake specialised research in this field.
The PhD in Human Resource Management at Cardiff University is a four -year full-time postgraduate course that includes one year of research training. This course focuses on three areas – organisation studies, employment studies and public management.
Kent Business School at the University of Kent offers a PhD in Industrial Relations which sees each student is supported by a team of two members of Kent’s academic staff who they’ll meet on a monthly basis to discuss and develop their research.
The shift from personnel departments to human resource departments has involved a shift toward integrated management systems – combining work design, staffing, measurement, development, compensation, and control systems – tied to the organisation’s business plan and strategy. This has brought human resource professionals much closer to the business core of organisations, rather than being in a limited support role (such as setting out a firm’s sexual harassment policy). As a result, human resource professionals are increasingly valued for their business savvy as well as their knowledge and skill in particular HR functional specialities.
Typical job titles
• Management education officer
Professional associations (UK and US)
Iain Henderson, Human Resource Management for MBA Students (Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development), provides a particularly easy-to-read overview of the field. Gluttons for punishment can consult Raymond A Noe et al’s lengthy text, Human Resource Management: Gaining a Competitive Advantage (McGraw-Hill/Irwin). The organisational element of the field is given good overview treatment in Stephen P Robbins and and Timothy A Judge’s Essentials of Organizational Behavior (Prentice Hall). A good alternative to Robbins and Judge, albeit more limited in scope, is Andrew J DuBrin’s Fundamentals of Organizational Behavior (South-Western College Publishing).