History of HR - the move to a strategic function
A brief glance at the history of HR shows a clear evolution from the hiring and firing department to an integral business function that is increasingly represented at board level. Nowadays, some of the most successful organisations are those which truly incorporate the values, needs and opinions of employees into their strategic planning process: employee-owned John Lewis is a shining example, having just reported annual pre-tax profits of ??306.6m a rise of 9.7%.
Effective management of a diverse workforce requires varied skills across a number of disciplines including corporate strategy, law, training, recruitment and employee relations. Perhaps contrary to the beliefs of those unfamiliar with the industry, those on the coal face know that it requires far more than simply being a people person to deliver real value as an HR professional.
The changing face of HR
The CIPD paper entitled Time for change towards a next generation for HR, released in February 2010, reports strong indications that a new breed of HR leader is emerging (who are capable to provide) breakthrough insight to strategic or operational Challenges.
Nowadays, senior HR personnel must demonstrate an impressive portfolio of characteristics including the ability to communicate clearly, confidence, empathy, leadership, attention to detail, reliability and demonstrable business acumen. While some of these qualities will develop naturally over time, others are better fostered via focused, vocational training.
Increased recognition of the value delivered by HR has resulted in a greater need for specific HR qualifications to underpin hands-on experience. In fact, it can be argued 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. These skills must be maintained in order to keep up-to-date with ever changing employment law legislation. As such, many within the HR industry now find that without the appropriate accreditations, it's hard to progress beyond a certain level.
Getting a foot in the door
Without doubt, it's 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. 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.
Formalising experience is a must for HR
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 and valuable to employers. This is never more so than in a competitive job market, such as that created by the recent 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.
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.
Senior colleagues must lead the way
While it is fair to expect a degree of self motivation from junior team members, it's also the responsibility of senior colleagues to provide encouragement and guidance in these matters, and the HR department must surely act as beacon in this respect. 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 who can play a key part in further enhancing the profile of HR within business.
Without a commitment to team development from senior HR managers, the profession runs the risk of being unable to cope with the increasing demands for strategic, talent management counsel that are likely to become commonplace as organisations seek to recover from the recent economic turbulence.
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