Guide to College Majors in Labor Relations

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Workers' groups have been around since the Middle Ages, in the form of professional guilds for blacksmiths, carpenters, etc. These guilds established wage, product, apprenticeship, and competition standards - many of which still exist today.
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What is Labor Relations?

Labor Relations is a career specialization within the broader field of human resources.

Labor relations managers and their staff work primarily in blue-collar manufacturing or service industries, acting as the liaison between management and, generally, labor unions. As union membership declines in most industries, however, industrial relations personnel are working more with employees who are not members of a labor union.

Labor relations specialists prepare information, based on employee feedback and industry standards, for management to use during negotiations for collective bargaining agreements. This requires familiarity with economic and wage rate data as well as knowledge of federal and local labor laws and trends in collective bargaining. Course work in labor law, collective bargaining, labor economics, labor history, and industrial psychology is valuable, in addition to the standard business and human resources courses a student will take. Computer proficiency is also useful. The ability to communicate effectively with people of different levels of education and backgrounds, and to see issues from two opposing angles, is very important. You are the voice of the workers, working with management on their behalf, so you must be able to treat both sides fairly.

Labor relations duties span several areas, such as labor agreement negotiation, contract administration, conflict management with third parties, and other relevant issues.

Career Education in Labor Relations

An interdisciplinary background is appropriate in labor relations. On any given day you may need to call upon your social sciences, business, or behavioral sciences background to solve a dispute. Today, many business professionals choose to take online college classes in labor relations and human resources, in order to further their education without taking time off from work.

Associate & Bachelor's Degrees in Labor Relations

For entry-level professional jobs, most employers require a college degree. A Bachelor of Science in Labor Relations includes courses in business organization and administration; human resources management; collective bargaining and labor relations; and compensation management.

If you'd like to move into the workforce more quickly and don't mind starting out in an assistant position, consider an associate's degree in human resource management, which will introduce you to the fundamentals of the field and prepare you to take on entry-level work.

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What Can You Do With a College Major in Labor Relations?

Labor relations managers usually work a standard 35- to 40-hour week. Longer hours may be required when contract agreements are being arranged and negotiated. Human resources, training, and labor relations specialists are employed in virtually every industry; over 20,000 are self-employed, working as consultants to public and private employers. About 80% work in the private sector, including business, health, social, management, and educational services. Federal, state, and local governments employ about 18% of HR specialists.

Overall employment in the field is expected to grow about as fast as average in the coming years. In some areas, demand for trained HR professionals is increasing, due to new legislation and court rulings setting standards in various areas like occupational safety and health, equal employment opportunity, wages, health, pension, and family leave.

Employment of labor relations staff, including arbitrators and mediators, should grow as companies become more directly involved in labor relations, and attempt to resolve potentially costly labor/management disputes out of court. Additional job growth may come from the increasing need for specialists in international human resources management and HR information systems. But as in any corporate career, particularly in larger firms, HR and labor relations employees may be adversely affected by corporate downsizing, restructuring, and mergers.

Exceptional human resources employees 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.

Labor Relations Jobs

Under the heading of personnel and labor relations specialists, you can pursue a career with any of these job titles:

  • The director of industrial relations sets labor policies, manages industrial labor relations, negotiates collective bargaining agreements, and implements grievance procedures to handle complaints resulting from disputes with unionized employees..
  • The compensation manager (or benefits specialist) establishes and maintains the pay system, devises ways to ensure fair pay rates, and often oversees the firm's performance evaluation and design reward systems. Employee benefits managers and specialists handle the company's employee benefits program, particularly its health insurance and pension plans.
  • Conciliators, mediators and arbitrators are involved in dispute resolution, working with labor and management on labor agreements and issues.
  • Employment and recruitment specialists recruit and place new employees, either in-house at a large corporation or working with a recruiting firm. Their task is to seek out, interview and fill existing and future positions within an organization, either from internal or external sources.
  • EEO (equal employment opportunity) officers investigate and resolve EEO grievances, examine corporate practices for possible violations, and compile and submit EEO statistical reports. Their primary task is to ensure that companies do not discriminate in hiring or working conditions.
  • Employee assistance plan managers, also called employee welfare managers, are responsible for a wide array of programs covering occupational safety and health standards and practices; health promotion and physical fitness, medical examinations, and minor health treatment. Some employers offer career counseling as well.
  • Training and development specialists are primarily responsible for in-house (or outsourced) professional development and training programs for a company, from company-specific software or procedures to general business and technology courses. They also periodically evaluate training effectiveness.

Certification and Licensure


With a Bachelor of Science degree in Labor Relations, you are prepared for professional certification examinations such as Human Resource Professional, Senior Human Resource Professional, and International Human Resource Professional--all designations offered by the Society of Human Resource Management (SHRM). The International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans awards the Certified Employee Benefit Specialist designation to college-educated HR specialists who pass their exam.

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