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Thread: Human Resources: A guide to the profession

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    Moderator enoilgam's Avatar
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    Human Resources: A guide to the profession

    Preface

    Looking around the Commerce/Business forums, I have noticed that most threads seem to be dedicated to Finance and Accounting. Additionally, there also seems to be a lack of understanding and many misconceptions going around regarding other Commerce fields. So I thought it would be good to have some information on the Human Resources profession, as this is a growing area within Business. I’ll primarily cover the basics of the profession, in addition to employment opportunities, necessary qualifications and ways of breaking into the industry.

    What is HR?

    Put simply, Human Resource Management is the business function focused on all issues related to an organisation’s employees. HR departments are often referred to by a variety of names depending on the organisation. These names include:

    • People and Talent
    • People and Performance
    • People and Culture
    • People Relations
    • Personnel (this the archaic term for HR and is used primarily by older businesses)
    • Personnel and Development
    • Human Capital (usually used by professional service firms)
    • Human Talent

    What do HR practitioners do day-to-day?

    Human Resource departments cover a range of functions across the entire employee lifecycle. The responsibilities of HRM often include:

    • Recruitment
    • Learning and Development
    • Remuneration and Benefits
    • Payroll
    • Performance Management
    • Industrial/Employee Relations
    • Workplace Health and Safety
    • HR Policy and Procedure
    • Employee Grievances
    • Employee Engagement
    • Talent Management
    • Change Management
    • Workforce reporting/analytics
    • Succession Planning
    • Employee Branding
    • Employee File Management

    One key misconception is that HR is primarily an administrative function. Whilst HR does contain an administrative element, it has evolved into a strategic business partner over the past two decades. Businesses are now utilising HR in order to help source the best talent on the labour market and maximise the output of their employers. As a result, HR professionals are required to be strategic thinkers, much like professionals in other business areas.

    Generally speaking, HR work can be divided into three main categories:

    Administrative: This usually involves tasks such as updating personnel records and processing employee requests (such as leave), in addition to the standard admin work involved in most business units. It is usually handled by entry level and junior employees.

    Supportive/Advisory: HR professionals are often required to advise managers and employees on employment issues. This advice may involve answering simple employee questions related to benefits, up to managers inquiring about the process of terminating a staff member. As such, HR professionals must have a strong understanding of HR policies and Industrial Relations law.

    Strategic: Modern HRM departments are often utilised to help maximise labour output and to source and retain talent. In order to do this, HR practitioners must ensure that HR functions and initiatives are geared towards strategic goals, such as improving employee skills and increasing retention.

    The HR Hierarchy and Career Progression

    Another big misconception when it comes to the HR profession is that there are minimal opportunities for career growth due to a flat structure. In reality, there is a hierarchy within the profession and you can climb the ladder.

    The HR hierarchy generally has about 5 levels, depending on the size of the organisation. These levels include:

    Administrative: This level of HR usually deals with all the administrative functions of HR. Employees at this level will often be involved in updating the HR systems, processing paperwork (such as employee contracts and leave forms) and monitoring HR processes. Employees at this level often have titles such as “HR Assistant”, “HR Administrator” or “HR Coordinator”.

    Advisory: Advisory level HR professionals often advise staff and managers on employment issues in addition to supporting senior practitioners with the development and implementation of HR strategy. With the shift towards big data, these professionals may also be responsible for HR reporting and analytics. In smaller organisations, these employees may be in charge of the entire HR function (usually the case in organisation’s with less than 200 employees). Titles for advisory level practitioners include “HR Officer”,“HR Advisor”, “HR Consultant” and “HR Coordinator”

    It is important to note that HR Coordinators can be both administrative and advisory level practitioners. They are often a mid-ground between the two levels.

    Management: Management level professionals either manage a team to deliver HR services or they manage a single HR function (i.e. Learning and Development Manager). Generally speaking, in organisations with less than 1,000 employees, HR will be run by a Manager and supported by 5-10 Advisory/Administrative staff.

    Larger organisations often have mangers who handle HR matters across a single business unit. For example, a car company may have a HR manager for production staff and another for sales staff. These managers are often referred to as HR Business Partners and they must balance the needs of their business unit with the HR priorities of the organisation.

    Senior Management: Senior managers are often found in large organisations and have similar responsibilities to HR managers. The main difference between the two levels often relates to scale, as senior managers will have a much larger scope or area of responsibility.

    Executive: These practitioners are usually in charge of the entire HR function within large organisations (usually those with 1,000+ employees). Alternatively, an organisation may have several HR executives in charge of key functions and business segments. Multiple executives are usually found in extremely large organisations (10,000+ employees) with complex HR environments (especially those with high union involvement).

    It is important to note that the hierarchy in HR is flexible and can vary between organisations due to differing business needs. This is in contrast to professions such as law, which usually have a very set hierarchy (i.e. graduate, lawyer, associate, senior associate, partner etc).

    Generalists versus specialists

    Within HR, practitioners can choose to become generalists or specialists. Obviously, generalists focus on overall HR for an organisation whilst specialists focus on one particular area (i.e. Industrial Relations, L&D, Recruitment, Remuneration etc). Generally speaking, those starting out should aim to avoid specialisation in order to avoid being “pigeon-holed” in any one area. Even at a senior level, I would avoid specialisation as there are significantly less positions available at higher levels. That being said, if you have a passion for one particular area of HR, a career as a specialist isn’t a bad option. You will just need to be more proactive with your career development.

    What do I need to study in order to get into HR?

    Traditionally, most people who entered HR came from other business disciplines, as HR specific qualifications have only emerged in the last 20 or so years. However, there are now a variety of courses available at uni for HR. The most common courses undertaken are either Commerce or Arts degrees majoring in HR, or a Psychology degree (typically with an organisational psychology major). There are also TAFE qualifications and Grad Dip/Certs available in HR.

    The best route to take in my view is a Bachelor of Commerce majoring in HR. Due to the increased strategic focus of HR, a commerce degree would give you a better insight into how HR fits into the “big picture” of an organisation. Second to that would be an Arts degree with a HR major (I don’t think these are very common). I would avoid going through the Psychology route, as some organisations may require you to gain additional qualifications, as Psychology doesn’t cover certain areas of HR. If you are considering a career change and have a Bachelor’s degree, then you would need either a TAFE Diploma or a Grad Cert/Dip. The later is preferred by most businesses, as they are university level qualifications. It should be noted that it is possible to enter HR with TAFE qualifications alone (i.e. you have no uni qualifications in any field whatsoever). However, you won’t make it far up the hierarchy, as higher positions (Advisory and above) will require a Bachelor’s degree.

    As you progress through the ranks of the profession, a Masters degree may be needed in order to secure higher level management positions. If you do not have undergraduate qualifications in HR, then you will need to do a Master’s degree in a HR field. However, if you have undergraduate HR qualifications, then you have a choice of doing an HR Master’s or an MBA. In this situation, I would consider pursuing an MBA, as this is a far more versatile degree and can open up many more doors beyond HR. Again, this points to the advantage of a HR major, as you will have more options when you get to this point.

    Summary of qualifications

    HR TAFE Qualifications ONLY: Sufficient only for entry level/junior roles.

    Unrelated degree: Will need either TAFE qualifications or GradDip/Cert to progress beyond entry level/junior roles

    Bachelor of Psychology or Similar: May need TAFE qualifications or GradDip/Cert

    HRM Major: Sufficient for the vast majority of roles.

    University

    In HR, the university you graduate from is largely irrelevant from an employment perspective, as “prestige” is a complete non-factor in HR recruitment. Obviously, the larger unis like USyd and UNSW will have more industry connections which is always an advantage. Generally speaking however, a degree is very much a checkbox item for HR professionals and all businesses care about is whether you have one.

    In terms of which unis offer the best and most industry relevant HR degrees, then I would say ACU and UWS offer the best programs. Having looked through their respective programs, both have an applied focus and offer units in topics which relate to real life HR. UNSW and Notre Dame also have good programs, although they are not quite as practical as ACU or UWS. With Notre Dame though, you have a choice of four general electives from any school. I preferred this, because I enjoyed the diversity of doing courses from other areas. I would largely avoid UTS or USyd, as both programs are highly theoretical and not really relevant to modern HR.

    Overall though, as I said before, the degree is a checkbox item, so I would just go to the uni which suits you best.

    Job opportunities and breaking into the field

    Generally speaking, HR is a growing field and there are many opportunities available in the sector.

    Graduates

    Unfortunately, HR can be a difficult industry to break into for a variety of reasons. There are very few HR graduate programs and most businesses that do offer these programs have limited places (usually 1 or 2 positions). Moreover, HR tends to be a very circular industry, as entry level and junior roles often require “experience” of some kind. However, that being said, many entry level roles will often require general admin experience. So if you are considering a career in HR, it would be a good to try and get an admin role during uni. Moreover, if you manage to secure an admin role with a large organisation, there could be opportunities to laterally move into an admin focused HR role within the same business. Overall, if HR is your desired profession, you need to be proactive during uni by searching for any opportunities either in HR or a related role.

    One of the more controversial methods of breaking into HR involves working with a recruitment agency, as it is easy to get a job with these firms. In my opinion, this is a poor way of breaking into the sector and I wouldn’t advise taking this pathway. Recruitment is primarily a sales based industry, as recruiters source candidates for firms in exchange for a fee and commission. The industry is extremely cut throat and has a reputation for “churn and burn” tactics. I have heard many horror stories from friends who have worked in the industry and left because of the minimal opportunities it offers. It is a high turnover sector and becoming a recruiter requires few if any formal qualifications/skills.

    Moreover, the amount of “HR” practiced by these firms is limited to recruitment, which is only one aspect of the profession (as discussed previously). The only exception to this is agencies who manage temps – even then, the amount of HR will be limited to recruitment, on boarding and payroll. As such, this route into HR greatly decreases your employment opportunities, because your skills will be limited to recruitment. Former recruiters are usually limited to internal recruitment roles, because other, advisory level roles require greater diversity in terms of skills/experience. I’m not saying that recruiters cannot break into the HR sector; I am just saying that it is a much harder and longer route into the profession.

    The profession as a whole

    Whilst HR is difficult to break into, there are still a great deal of opportunities within the sector. A lot of people wrongly assume that a lack of positions/demand for graduates equals a general lack of positions/demand within an entire profession. This is simply not the case for HR. The profession has been growing and expanding due to a shift in its focus from administrative to strategic. There is a high level of demand for qualified and experienced professionals who have a strong strategic approach towards the profession. Once you have experience under your belt, the amount of opportunities available will expand specifically.

    Moreover, the strategic focus of HR and the soft skills gained from it can lead to opportunities in other areas and sectors. Many HR practitioners often move into operational or executive level roles, as HR provides them with the strategic skills needed to excel in higher management positions. Furthermore, many professionals move into Change Management or Consulting roles, both of which are in-demand within business.

    Salary

    Salaries in HR are pretty decent, although they tend to plateau around the $200,000 mark. In order to progress beyond that, you would need to be in an executive position. Considering the scarcity of those roles, HR isn’t the profession for those who want to earn a considerable amount. However, a good, management level practitioner can make more than enough to make it a decent living in my view. The average salaries for each level of practitioner are listed below (Source: Michael Page Salary & Employment Forecast, Human Resources):

    Administrative: $45,000 – $68,000
    Advisory: $68,000 - $105,000
    Management: $79,000 - $158,000
    Senior Management: $131,000 – $220,000
    Executive: $220,000+

    It is important to note that these figures vary depending on organisational size and complexity. It is possible for a HR Manager in a small organisation to earn less than an Advisor in a large organisation.

    Questions

    If anyone has any questions about this guide or HR in general, please feel free to send me a PM or make a post in this thread (I'll try to check it regularly). Also, if anyone thinks that I've missed anything or wants to add something, feel free to post your suggestions.
    Last edited by enoilgam; 16 Feb 2015 at 7:44 PM.
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    Re: Human Resources: A guide to the profession

    Would a degree in Business Admin be enough for a career in HR?
    Just in case I want to do something broader than just HR as a career.

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    Moderator enoilgam's Avatar
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    Re: Human Resources: A guide to the profession

    Quote Originally Posted by sgtgummybear View Post
    Would a degree in Business Admin be enough for a career in HR?
    Just in case I want to do something broader than just HR as a career.
    Apologies for not responding to this earlier, I completely missed it. To answer your question, it depends on whether you can major in it through the BBA (from what I understand, a BBA has no majors). Assuming Im correct, a BBA would be sufficient for some, entry level/junior roles, but to progress, you would need some additional qualifications.

    It really depends though, there are no hard and fast rules with HR, unlike say accounting where you need an accounting degree to become an accountant. Personally, as a HR professional I would consider a BBA sufficient for an HR Admin/Coordinator/Officer, anything higher like an Advisor/BP/Manager and Id like to see specific qualifications. Some of my counterparts though may digress.
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    Re: Human Resources: A guide to the profession

    Quote Originally Posted by enoilgam View Post
    Apologies for not responding to this earlier, I completely missed it. To answer your question, it depends on whether you can major in it through the BBA (from what I understand, a BBA has no majors). Assuming Im correct, a BBA would be sufficient for some, entry level/junior roles, but to progress, you would need some additional qualifications.

    It really depends though, there are no hard and fast rules with HR, unlike say accounting where you need an accounting degree to become an accountant. Personally, as a HR professional I would consider a BBA sufficient for an HR Admin/Coordinator/Officer, anything higher like an Advisor/BP/Manager and Id like to see specific qualifications. Some of my counterparts though may digress.
    😁😁 Thank you, enoilgam. Uni goals are a bit clearer now.

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    Re: Human Resources: A guide to the profession

    hi, gonna revive an old thread lol

    so I just started uni 3 weeks ago as a first year and have chosen hr as one of my majors and I'm enjoying it so far

    since my uni gives the option to complete a double major, is there anything in particular you would recommend that would complement my hr major

    some people I've met so far have paired up their hr major with marketing or management

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    Moderator enoilgam's Avatar
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    Re: Human Resources: A guide to the profession

    You can do a double major if you want to, it certainly wont hurt. That being said, I wouldnt bother. If you are set on HR, then the other qualifications arent going to help much. You are far better off finishing uni in the quickest time possible so you can get straight into the workforce.
    jtakahashi likes this.
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