HR is a profession many ‘fall into’. Whether this is a good or a bad thing, does it really mean you don’t need training? Dave Snow investigates the role of HR today and says training is never wasted.
There are some within the HR profession who knew where their future lay from a young age and who made the educational choices to support this goal from the start, perhaps with a relevant first degree straight after A Levels. However, for many others their entry into HR is a choice born of more general business experience and a realisation that such roles offer a varied and interesting career path.
As the profile of HR has grown over the years, so we have seen an increase in the complexity of demands placed upon personnel within the sector. HR has evolved a long way from its roots as the ‘employment department’, with senior management now expected to fulfil a role that spans a variety of disciplines including corporate strategy, law, training, recruitment and employee relations.
With this increased responsibility and recognition comes a greater call from employers for specific HR qualifications to underpin hands-on experience. It is widely recognised that it would be foolhardy to put one’s faith in a finance professional who hadn’t formalised their learning and skills with the relevant vocational study. In the same way, many within the HR industry now find that without the appropriate accreditations it is hard to progress beyond a certain level. This is certainly the case in organisations where HR is deemed to be a board level function and integral to the business strategy.
In fact, many would argue that formal training is a must at some stage in an HR career, as the industry is simply too complex, and at times ambiguous, to continuously undertake without relevant study. Furthermore, these skills must be maintained in order to keep up to date with ever changing employment law legislation.
So, the key question is not whether HR qualifications are necessary but at what point in someone’s career they become a justifiable requirement. Without doubt, it is still common for junior posts to be filled by people with little or no formal HR qualifications or experience. A successful HR professional must effortlessly combine any number of characteristics. These include the ability to communicate clearly, confidence, empathy, leadership, attention to detail, reliability and demonstrable business acumen, among many others. Allowing people to move laterally into HR from related positions presents an opportunity for all parties to find out whether someone is suited to such a role.
At this stage, there are various introductory courses or general areas of study which may be of value in developing desired skills, without the need to commit to a dedicated HR qualification. These could include general office and computing skills, basic psychology or even counselling and coaching. All of these allow junior team members to test their study abilities and get a taste for what further learning will be like as their HR career progresses.
Once the decision has been made that HR is the right route, is advisable to start bolstering experience with industry recognised qualifications, such as those offered by the CIPD. There is no doubt that demonstrating dedication to a chosen career path with formal, vocational study is extremely attractive to employers. This is never more so than in a competitive job market, such as that created by the current recession. When every vacancy attracts 50 or more applications, one of the easiest ways to create a shortlist is to weed out those who lack appropriate credentials. Employers currently have the choice of the market and can afford to choose only the very best.
Vocational study brings with it a host of other benefits. As well as plugging knowledge gaps, it provides a framework for existing experience which can dramatically enhance confidence and the ability to communicate on an equal footing with peers and senior colleagues. Networking with fellow students also helps individuals to think outside their normal situations and gets them involved in wider and more varied discussions than they may otherwise have been exposed to.
While it is fair to expect a degree of self motivation from junior team members, it is also the responsibility of senior colleagues to provide encouragement and guidance in these matters. Clarifying the available options, and ensuring the structures and processes are in place to facilitate further study alongside work commitments, will create a new generation of engaged and ultimately highly effective HR professionals – something that can only further enhance the profile of HR within business.
Dave Snow is academic director at Home Learning College. For more information on all Home Learning College courses visit www.homelearningcollege.co.uk or follow them on Twitter: @home_learning