Guide to College Majors in Human Resources

If the people who make the decisions are the people who will also bear the consequences of those decisions, perhaps better decisions will result.
--John Abrams
Table of Contents

What is Human Resources?

The human resources field has advanced beyond its early clerical functions of managing employee benefits and 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 to suggest and change 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.

Why HR Matters

Attracting the most qualified employees and matching them to the jobs for which they are best suited (and 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 employees 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" include 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.

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Career Education in Human Resources

Human resources specialists 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 degree 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.

The bachelor's degree is the most common qualification for entry-level jobs, although you may be able to get a foot in the door with an associate degree if you also have work experience. Master's degrees have increasingly become preferred for upper-level management positions. At all levels, online college courses in human resources have become more widespread as business professionals seek to expand or focus their expertise without losing years of work experience.

An interdisciplinary background is appropriate in this field--more so than for other business degrees. Look for a curriculum that combines business and social sciences. Relevant courses might include management principles, organizational structure, industrial psychology, public administration, computers and information systems, compensation, recruitment, and training and development. Other courses 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, or labor relations, for example.

Associate Degrees in Human Resources

An Associate of Arts in business administration with a human resources focus introduces the activities that affect and influence employees in an organization. These activities include recruitment, selection, compensation, and evaluation. This degree can qualify you for HR assistant positions that allow you to start building seniority in a company and work your way up.

Bachelor's Degrees in Human Resources

A bachelor's degree is the typical entry-level requirement 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 labor 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 in Human Resources

An undergraduate certificate in human resource management enables experienced professionals to upgrade their skills with theory and practical knowledge in human resource management. This online certificate can also prepare you for certification examinations.

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What Can You Do With a College Major in Human Resources?

The increasing supply of qualified college graduates and experienced workers creates heavy competition for jobs. Overall, employment in human resources is expected to grow much faster than average for all occupations through 2018, with the highest growth in the tech industry.

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.

Types of Human Resources Jobs

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 expertise. The responsibilities of human resources generalists can vary widely, depending on their employers' needs.

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 resources management degree and 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 can help them move into specific areas in the personnel department.

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

As a human resources manager, you will motivate, develop, and direct staff and identify the best candidates to hire or promote. Other positions in the human resources manger area include compensation and benefits managers, property or community association managers, and training and development managers.

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. 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.

HR Career Outlook

Working conditions vary depending on the specialization and industry that you work in. Arbitrators and mediators may work out of their homes. Many human resources, training, and labor 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 job 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.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics counted approximately 904,900 HR specialists in the U.S. in 2008. The private sector accounted for about 80% of salaried jobs. Federal, state, and local governments employed about 18% of human resources managers and specialists. Job opportunities should continue to increase 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 gain 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.

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