For many professionals, their relationship with a company both begins and ends in the human resources, or HR, department. Human resources professionals serve as a mediary between an organization and its employees. They perform a number of vital functions, from recruiting and hiring workers to administering labor contracts and employee benefits to conflict resolution. Some HR professionals choose to specialize their roles through training and experience. Though there are no set rules, specialized education or certification in an area like labor law or HR management is an investment that might pay off in higher earnings and quicker advancement. Read on to learn more about key HR specializations, certifications and degrees.
Specializations in human resources
Students attending human resources trade schools learn how to complete basic HR tasks, like employee hiring and recruiting, translating key benefit information and mitigating conflicts in the workplace. Some choose to specialize their educations further by tailoring their coursework (or experience in the field) to certain areas of the field. Among them:
- Labor relations. Labor relations is the sphere where human resources and labor laws overlap. Students studying labor relations learn how to advise management on contracts, investigate labor grievances and facilitate collective bargaining proposals for unionized workers.
- Human resources generalists. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS.gov), HR generalists perform a wide breadth of basic HR functions, like managing employee benefits, administering company policies and managing payroll issues.
- Recruitment specialists. Recruitment specialists -- sometimes called personnel recruiters -- find, screen and interview potential employees.
- Human resources management. Some vocational schools with human resources programs allow students to specialize in human resources management. These programs provide students with the leadership know-how that could eventually land them jobs in HR management. The BLS reports that HR managers tend to earn more, and are generally in higher demand, than HR specialists.
It is important to note that at many business schools, human resources is a specialty, particularly among students majoring in a discipline like business administration. You can always contact prospective schools directly to learn more about your options.
HR certifications and degrees
Human resources trade schools and professional organizations offer a plethora of credentials for now-and-future HR specialists and managers. Some of the most prevalent HR credentials:
- Postsecondary certificates. Postsecondary certificates are the most basic credentials offered by human resources trade schools, and often require less than two years of study. Postsecondary certificates are a solid option for students who want to get a sense for the field without spending years in school. Certificates are ideal for those working in human resources assisting or support roles.
- Associate degrees. Associate degrees typically require about two years of study (though keep in mind programs vary significantly). As with postsecondary certificates, associate degrees in human resources are best suited for those who want to get their feet wet before investing years to their studies.
- Bachelor's degrees. The BLS considers bachelor's degrees the baseline requirement for most human and labor relations specialists. Programs typically require about four years of study and include training in key areas, like business, professional writing and accounting. Bachelor's degrees serve as stepping stones to higher degrees for those who want to eventually become human resources specialists.
- Master's degrees. The BLS reports that while a bachelor's degree with plenty of experience may be enough to carry HR specialists to HR management positions, employers increasingly prefer to hire and promote candidates with master's degrees. Students can often earn a master's degree in an area like human resources or labor relations, or can earn a Master of Business Administration, or MBA, degree with an emphasis on human relations.
- Professional certificate. Professional HR certificates are an excellent way for HR graduates and those working in the field to further specialize their training and certify certain skills. Some professional organizations offer and confirm professional certifications in areas like labor relations and HR management. Requirements vary, but usually call for candidates to meet minimum education and experience standards, and them complete a national exam.
HR salary and career outlook
Human resources earning trends can shift from one company or geographical region to the next. Other factors, like experience, education and overall job performance, matter, too. The BLS reports that the national median annual salary for HR specialists was $56,630 in 2013, though specialists in the District of Columbia, Connecticut and Maryland exceeded $70,000 on average. Human resources managers earned a national median salary of $100,800 that same year. Managers in the the highest-paying states -- New Jersey, Delaware and the District of Columbia -- earned more than $136,000.
Career outlook is another key consideration for students considering human resources trade schools, but as with earnings, regional demand and other variables can impact growth. The BLS projects that demand for human resources specialists will grow by 7 percent between 2012 and 2022, which is a bit slower than the national average. It projects that demand for HR managers will grow by 13 percent, or about as fast as average. In both cases employers are generally more inclined to hire candidates who have invested in the right training, or who have accumulated a good deal of experience in the field.
This guide provides a snapshot of the education and employment trends shaping the human resources field, but is by no means comprehensive. As always, it pays to do your own research. Visit the BLS and professional organizations online to learn more about the field.
Human Resources and Labor Relations Specialists, Occupational Outlook Handbook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, January, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/business-and-financial/human-resources-specialists-and-labor-relations-specialists.htm
Human Resources Managers, Occupational Outlook Handbook, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, January, 2014, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/management/human-resources-managers.htm
Projections Central, State Occupational Projections, Long Term Occupational Projections, http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm
May 2013 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates: United States, Occupational Employment Statistics, Bureau of Labor Statistics, May, 2013, http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm