Does HR need more practical routes into the profession?

A poll on LinkedIn has sparked discussion among the HR community about the need for more apprenticeships in the profession.

Lisa Haggar, head of people & culture at Origen, asked professionals on LinkedIn at what level they would consider taking an apprenticeship as an alternative to their traditional CIPD qualification.

At last count over half of poll respondents (228 people) said they would consider doing a Level 7 apprenticeship, which is the equivalent of doing a master’s degree.

The reason for this, Haggar said, is that HR professionals at this later stage of their career need more support when moving to a more strategic role.

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: “It's about understanding how to be more strategic, have a seat at the table and all of these things that you would expect a Level 7 person to be able to do.”

Haggar said one of the main questions she gets from fellow professionals is how to progress when they have the qualifications to do a role but no practical experience.

Ruth Cornish, co-founder of membership body for independent HR professionals HRi, echoed Haggar’s concerns.

She told HR magazine: “The most common struggle for those who have gained their qualifications is that they can’t get a job as they don’t have experience.”

Though there are other routes into the HR sector, the CIPD remains the only body that awards professional HR qualifications.

Alongside the poll, Haggar questioned whether the CIPD should have such a monopoly over HR qualifications.

“I just think that it's healthy to have competition, and also by having a choice it means the professional skills education becomes affordable for those who can't afford it right now,” she said.

“I do think that their qualifications have a place, I'm not disputing that, but I'd like to see another contender and I'd like to see HR professionals actually being part of that enablement.”

Commenting on the LinkedIn post, Janey Smith, director at consultancy Matgrad, said while more work needs to be done to recognise other qualifications, she prefers that a single body set the standard for HR qualifications otherwise it would get diluted and confusing.

Denis Bernard, director at Green River Technology, however argued that the CIPD is not doing enough to meet the changing needs of the profession.

Speaking to HR magazine, Bernard said: “As for CIPD setting standards, if that is truly the case either they have failed or set the bar too low.

“Too many members are still floundering with HR tech which is a key arena and where CIPD should have been blazing a trail. Further, so much admin (which is an HR comfort zone) is still being done manually when automation should be harnessed.”

So, is there a case for more practical education in HR? HR magazine asked the CIPD and other professionals for their views.


Victoria Winkler, professional development director, CIPD

"Both CIPD qualifications and the HR and L&D apprenticeships have an important role to play in the development of the profession.

"The new CIPD qualifications offer learners an excellent balance of knowledge, skills and behaviours that reflect current organisational requirements, and a key element of the qualifications is applying this in actual practice within their own organisation. For learners who aren’t currently working they may draw on previous experience or from a simulation. 

"We have also been heavily involved in the development of the HR and L&D apprenticeships, and the Level 5 HR apprenticeship has the CIPD qualification integrated within it. The number of employers and apprentices signing up for these apprenticeships has been very encouraging."


Ruth Cornish, co-founder of HRi

“Attitude towards apprenticeships in HR has been quite traditional, where they have unfortunately not been seen as high quality and there's a lack of awareness of how they can work/fit at different levels. 

"Typically those earlier in their career may be financially supported to get a qualification but not in a structured way to help embed the learning – there's also a case of HR not looking after its own, which is a painful reality in many organisations.”


Kessar Kalim, director of HR, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine

“I started my journey in the HR profession in a very junior role having read economics at university. I was simply keen to get my foot through the door in a people-focused role, and wanted to work in an environment where I felt I could learn and develop, and with an organisation whose values align closely with my own values.

"These were crucial considerations for me after leaving university. Working with wonderful people in a values-led organisation was a great starting point for my HR career and helped my personal and professional development immensely.

"The value of experience, particularly in those formative years of one’s career, cannot be understated, and I would encourage those entering the profession to actively seek opportunities with creative and dynamic HR teams that are committed to developing and nurturing talent, and ideally in an organisation whose values aligns with your own. Qualifications are important, and can complement valuable real-life experience – but never replace it.”


Katie Churchill, company secretary, OCEA UK

“I would have taken longer to do the HR CIPD qualification if it weren’t for the apprenticeship as they can be so expensive to self-fund, but I ultimately would have funded myself through the Level 5 CIPD eventually.

“In honesty I did the Level 3 CIPD as apprenticeship at first as it was the cheapest way to do the qualification. However I actually feel lucky to have done the apprenticeship and not just the CIPD through AVADO as you get a lot more support with the apprenticeship. You have to demonstrate that you can put in to practice what you’ve learnt whereas if you just do the CIPD through a provider it’s more about passing the exam and you don’t have to prove you can do HR – as you can basically make up what you like to pass an essay or exam.

“I think it’s very important to have a CIPD qualification to progress not only because many HR roles won’t even consider you without one, but also to show that you’ve gone the extra mile for your craft.”