· 9 min read · Features

HR Executive Education: How can HR professionals develop their career in recession?

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Guidance for CIPD-qualified HR generalists keen to develop their careers has been lacking. The CIPD plans to change all that and Steve Hemsley finds plenty of training opportunities when you know what you want.

Recession or no recession, HR professionals have careers too. Yet despite spending so much time advising rank-and-file employees, there is surprisingly little attention paid to where HR practitioners are themselves going.

This has long been the view of many aspiring HRDs (see below), critical of the lack of direction HR professionals have once they qualify. Now, though, this is also the official verdict of the industry's own trade body - the CIPD. Despite having a network of 48 branches in the UK and Ireland, CIPD CEO Jackie Orme told this magazine that more should be done to guide members through their careers. "There is a need for deep skills and expertise that means practitioners can do their current job well but also make the step up," she says. "Specialisms are getting more diverse."

At a time when HR needs to deal with unprecedented change, the CIPD's own research claims the industry is still split 50/50 between those who regard themselves as generalists and those who are specialists. Orme admits people are "unsure what to do next," when they qualify, but that this must change if the profession is to meet the expectations of CEOs. "We want to expand our network to offer more career advice to people who have entered HR from other professions and generalists who want to move into specialist roles," she says.

The CIPD is already starting to overhaul its qualifications. Full details are not being disclosed until June but a career and qualifications 'map' has been developed that singles out 10 areas it feels today's practitioner should be skilled in. Orme says this is about ensuring a person's skills match the management needs of the company they work for.

The 'map' has identified areas such as service delivery and organisational development as crucial in modern HR. Eight organisations are testing it to ensure it meets career development needs, and the first new courses are expected in the autumn of 2010.

"Qualifications in HR must be linked to organisational outcomes," says Orme. "This means shifting and adapting the content of some courses to reflect how the business is changing and how practitioners who want to advance their careers must change with it."

Many courses will be completely revamped. For example, its Level 7 Personal Development Scheme Masters Level programme will be scrapped entirely. A revised masters course with more content explaining business strategy and engagement will replace it.

Need to specialise

One HR director who wishes to remain anonymous started as a generalist but realised he needed specialist experience to become an HRD. He went on to gain experience in compensation and benefits and IT.He says: "Most HR professionals start as a generalist, specialise, then go back to being a generalist. HRDs must plan their training and set their goals accordingly." His career contrasts with that of Zoe Mitchell, HR manager, Graduate Prospects. She has been in HR for 12 years but is only now working towards a CIPD qualification. Although she argues her qualification is more about "ticking a box rather than adding to my knowledge", she does admit that without it her career will be "hindered".

But as the CIPD belatedly updates some of its courses, it will face stiff competition from providers that want to tout their wares to aspiring HRDs. HR training company Learn HR has developed eight courses since launching in September 2008, including HR Data: Adding Value to Businesses. Significantly, it also offers two EdexcelBTEC-accredited courses. Its Level 3 course is equivalent to a CIPD certificate in personnel practice - an entry-level qualification - but according to education director Christine Tebbutt, the plan is to work with universities to provide more accredited courses at a higher level above this.

The Chartered Management Institute's (CMI) head of business development, Richard Sewell, wants HRDs to do more to guide their managers towards suitable training. He is keen to attract more HR people onto the CMI's Level 3 First Line Management Units qualification, for example. "Even if you choose to specialise in HR you will be doing less pure HR as you develop," says Sewell. "Gaining management skills and leadership qualifications provides the best opportunities to move on and support what you are doing now."

So serious is the CMI that it wants the Government to offer tax relief to businesses that provide extra training to staff during the slump. A CMI poll of 1,118 senior executives revealed 74% of business leaders want more financial support to develop employee skills.

The CMI poll echoes research by independent education foundation Edge. It says younger people will have been schooled on vocational training, and this needs to continue throughout their working life too.

This is a strategy that is already working with Karen Hailes, director of human and corporate resources at veterinary charity PDSA. She ensures her 23-strong HR team's training requirements are linked to the needs of the organisation by taking just this approach. "We organise internal courses to help HR managers understand how the business works," she says. "This includes training on negotiation or finance for non-financial managers. Some of my best personal development has actually come from receiving coaching and mentoring, which supplements the technical skills you learn on courses."

Business school partnerships

Most HRDs are fans of business schools offering management and specialist training. The schools themselves are also keen to work closely with the HR profession. Jonathan Trevor, lecture at the Centre for International Human Resource Management at Judge Business School, University of Cambridge, says the beauty of HR is the flexibility it presents in theory for professionals to further their careers.

"Practitioners need to decide how much of an HR role they want to retain as their career develops. Do they want to be deeply technical and specialist? If they become too specialist it can be hard to switch to more general management," says Trevor. Judge runs an Achieving Excellence in HR Management course aimed at senior HR managers. "Individuals need the technical skills they obtain through the CIPD but they also need to gain behavioural competencies to enhance these skills," he adds.

Nottingham Trent University also has a large HR division within its business school, with teaching programmes leading to CIPD accreditation. Carole Tansley, director of the International Centre for Talent Management and Development, says newer courses include how employee engagement impacts on the HR function.

Manchester Metropolitan University Business School has just launched an MSc in Leadership. The school promotes 'reflective leadership'. This means practitioners are encouraged to make career decisions and choose courses by looking at what they have achieved and reflecting on what is happening in their organisation.

One of the specialisms HR practitioners could follow in future is 'age management'. Organisations are wary of litigation around changing age discrimination law. Matt Flynn, a lecturer in the HR management department, University of Middlesex, is working on a research project on age and the workplace with Boston College's Sloan Center on Aging & Work in the US. He believes there is huge scope for HR to help organisations adapt strategies on age. "Age management as a specialist area is not quite there yet but it will affect HR professionals," says Flynn.

Heidi Waddington, managing director at Hays Human Resources, says as HR becomes more firmly entrenched in the boardroom there will be more opportunities for senior HR professionals to progress. "They can really show their value in a company - offering those just starting out in HR a clear goal to set their sights on," she says.

Ultimately an individual's professional development is their responsibility. Now, though, more are getting a helping hand. Wise HR professionals will be the ones who take up the offers.

What about international business schools?

VIEW OF ASPIRING HRDS

EMMA JONES

One of the Chartered Management Institute's current students is Emma Jones, a senior resources officer at Marston's brewery. She began her CMI Level 5 Award in Management and Leadership in November and is working through the second module on data and decision-making. Training takes place in-house at Marston's with guest speakers invited. Jones started off in recruitment 10 years ago where she gained her CIPD qualifications. She has always planned her career and wanted to focus more on employee relations within HR. "The CMI course is part of the succession planning programme at Marston's," says Jones. "When the next management vacancy comes up I want to be successful. I have the HR skills but I identified I needed more management and leadership knowledge if I was to progress. HR is changing and you need knowledge of more technical business areas around finance and marketing."

JAYNE RHODES

Jayne Rhodes is HR business partner at Rolls-Royce and has completed an MSc Strategic Human Resource Management programme at Nottingham University. Rhodes joined the company nine years ago as a trainee with a business studies degree. She has gained broad experience across the organisation and has more recently concentrated on employee engagement and recognition. She says the Nottingham course complemented her CIPD learning and helped her personal development. "It was much more industry-based than the CIPD training I was used to and the whole design of the course was closer to the day-to-day organisational issues I have to deal with," she says. "There were international students and that helped me to get a global perspective on HR issues. It has also given me a broader business perspective and I feel more comfortable dealing with a wider range of HR customers."

WHICH COURSE?

Whatever your development needs there are plenty of courses out there to meet them. The following provide a taste of the variety on offer.

The course: A series of workshops called Knowledge Knibbles

What is it? The Institute of Employment Studies (IES) has added new workshops to its programme of Continuing Professional Development for HR practitioners. These bite-sized masterclasses are run inside organisations

How long does it take? Each masterclass lasts about 90 minutes

What does it cover? There are a number of modules such as employee engagement, introduction to workforce planning and performance-related pay. The IES also offers an Emerging Leaders Programme for those considering a step-up into management

What do you get and is it recognised? There is no certificate but the IES has been a leading independent centre for research and evidence-based consultancy in the employment and HR sectors since 1969 so its courses are highly credible

The course: Employee Share Plans qualification

What is it? A course run by law firm Linklaters in conjunction with the Institute of Chartered Secretaries and Administrators (ICSA)

How long does it take? Two three-day modules will be held at Linklaters' offices in London in May and June this year with an assignment deadline and an exam date of September

What does it cover? The world of share plans is changing and this course provides practical advice on the legal, regulatory and tax environments in which these schemes operate

What do you get and is it recognised? This is the only qualification of its kind in the UK and practitioners who complete it receive an ICSA certificate in employee share plans. In the past five years approximately 300 people have completed the course

The course: Health & Safety and Food Safety

What is it? It is run by the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) to enable HR practitioners to become CIEH professional trainers

How long does it take? It lasts between three and four days. This qualification is suitable for anyone considering becoming a CIEH registered trainer or anyone who wants to refine their training techniques

What does it cover? It is designed for HR practitioners who already have some responsibility for training. It covers health and safety training needs and objectives, learning styles and preferences, training skills, course structure and design and how to carry out assessments

What do you get and is it recognised? Participants have access to conferences and seminars leading to a Professional Trainers Certificate. There are interactive exercises and team discussions

The course: Fostering a gender-neutral culture - Improving gender intelligence and mixed team dynamics

What is it? A short course for senior leadership, functional teams or new starters explaining some of the key behavioural differences in the way men and women communicate, work and make decisions. It is run by Xand Y Communications which wants to see women more represented in business and to create a gender-neutral workplace culture

How long does it take? A few hours

What does it cover? The course is aimed at both sexes, with advice on adapting behaviour in meetings, negotiations, conflict management and leadership

What do you get and is it recognised? There is no formal qualification but XandY Communications is the only company in the UK that advises and trains organisations on how to increase engagement with women in the workplace

The course: Motivating - What persuades people to act in a particular way

What is it? A short course run by the Social Marketing Academy, part of the company Corporate Culture. It is suitable for anyone responsible for directing or managing a social marketing programme or who is new to this whole area

How long does it take? One day

What does it cover? The course tackles, among other things, the power of thinking and reason and the link to emotions, principles of commitment, control and self-efficacy as well as the role of incentives and disincentives

What do you get and is it recognised? By the end of the course participants should have a clear understanding of what influences people to act

The course: MSc in HR management

What is it? Held at Oxford Brookes Business School it is ideal for anyone who wants to study the interaction between business planning and strategic HR decision making

How long does it take? It takes 12 months full time

What does it cover? There are compulsory modules in areas such as managing people, business strategy, principles of financial accounting - plus two elective modules

What do you get and is it recognised? You get an MSc and you should have developed the critical thinking necessary to plan human resource strategies.