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What is Human Resources?

April 1, 2021 | Staff Writers

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Human resources (HR) describes both the personnel as well as the department those personnel work. A broad description of the responsibilities of the department includes hiring, training, administration, transferring, promoting, and terminating personnel. Under each responsibility is a long list of duties that they are responsible for as well.

You may have also seen the terms personnel management and talent management, both of which are quite old-fashioned and not used much at this point but are interchangeable with human resources. At one point, Human Resources began to have a negative connotation to it as it was thought of as the firing squad, so companies wanted to rebrand the department to try and show employees that they were there for them.

The size of your human resources team depends on the size of your company. There are specific areas of human resources that one can specialize in rather than learning to do everything. Many small companies have one or two people working in the department, whereas large corporations will have a fully staffed department with employees filling specialized roles.

Responsibilities of Human Resources

Human resources have so many different responsibilities, both within the department itself and in the role. One hour you might be on the phone talking to a potential candidate, and the next, you’re processing payroll right before your meeting to let go of a long-standing employee.

Not all aspects of the job of human resources are going to be fun, and the personnel who take on the role know that but it’s a job that needs to be done, and many are compassionate, empathetic, and patient.

There are several different responsibilities for human resources, and depending on how deep you want to dive, we could come up with even more, but here are some of the main responsibilities for the department and personnel within.

Recruiting Potential Candidates

The responsibilities of human resources begin even before a person ever becomes an employee. Often, they are the ones who place the ad looking to hire a new position. The first step of the hiring process involves screening phone interviews. 

Working with the head, or a manager, of the department that is hiring, they will then go over the resumes of those who made it through the phone interviews and call them in for a more formal interview. Sometimes there are more than one rounds of in-person, or these days video, interviews to take place.

Hiring Employees

It’s not enough to just hire anyone to fill a position. Talent acquisition is the responsibility of human resources. Hiring quality employees is a focus of upper management for several reasons, one of which is cost savings. Once a candidate has been chosen, human resources are in charge of hiring that person and getting them set up as an employee. That consists of gathering the pertinent information from the new employee, such as name, address, phone number, banking information, etc., and entering it into the company’s system. Human resources will also be responsible for employee benefits going forward and the initial contact with each department for any software or hardware or service that the new employee may need.

That’s the easy part of their job. Once a person has been hired and is part of the company, human resources become much more complex. They are responsible for the entire life cycle of an employee’s career at a company. 

Process Payroll

Human resources are responsible for ensuring that everyone gets paid the right amount of money and right on time. While many companies have automated systems these days, issues can still arise, and it is still human resources that need to look into these issues. At one time, however, payroll was all done individually by hand, while impatient workers were screaming at you for their wages so they could get going.

Conduction Disciplinary Action

This area is one that nobody in human resources likes to have to deal with, yet everyone comes across it during their working career. Whether it’s a complaint from one worker against another, giving a warning to an employee based on repetitive lateness, or having to terminate someone for a safety violation, none of these meetings are comfortable.

These interactions are how human resources got its bad reputation. Not all meetings with human resources need to end badly, maybe the person who is always late is so because of childcare needs, and the company is willing to let them start 15 minutes later as long as they stay 15 minutes later. This resolution might be something they wouldn’t have known had it not been for the meeting.

Policy and Procedure Creation and Updating

Every company needs to have policies and procedures, otherwise, employees wouldn’t know what rules to follow or how to do their jobs properly. In many cases, these documents are created by human resources with input from management and workers in the appropriate departments who know the work and are doing it.

Maintain Employee Records

Human resources are responsible for keeping employee records. Generally, they have a file on each employee, which is locked up so that nobody else can access it. This file contains things like emergency contacts and other information, training records, disciplinary actions, pertinent emails, vacation requests, sick time, beneficiary information, etc. Each company may choose different information to include in these files. Again, it could depend on the size of the company and department. Larger corporations may want to include data that they could use for analysis.

Benefits Administrator

An important role in human resources is benefits administrator. This person is the liaison between the employees and the company that holds the insurance benefits. So, when employees have any questions about their annual deduction or what percentage of their dental work is covered, they go to the human resources representative rather than calling the insurance company. The benefits administrator contacts someone they have a working relationship with at the insurance company if they don’t know the answer. It’s much more convenient for you.

Labor Relations

When it comes to unions, someone has to deal with them, and it’s not always easy. Again, that falls on human resources. They are the ones who have to read over the proffered bargaining contract and counter if needed. They also have to try to prevent a strike or other delays in running the business while contract talks are on. This time can be very stressful for everyone involved.

Types of Human Resources Roles

Just as there are several different responsibilities within the human resources department, there are also several different roles. In smaller companies, you don’t see the different roles as often since the department is usually only one or two people, an HR manager and an assistant of some sort.

Once you get into the big corporations, you will see larger human resource departments, with several specialized roles, instead of one person taking on multiple responsibilities of the overarching umbrella human resources role. 

Human Resources Manager

Someone needs to lead human resources and know a little bit about everything while also managing the people in their department. The HR manager has less involvement with the employees of the company as a whole and more involvement with their team members, the ones who specialize in helping employees in a particular area.

Training and Development Specialist

Training doesn’t stop after you receive your orientation upon hiring. Companies continue to provide staff training continually. There could be new software updates for the systems they use, refresher training, annual required training, and customer service training to lower customer complaints, etc.

Training and Development Manager

The training and development manager works with department managers to determine the needs of the employees and develop training plans. They will keep a record of when every employee’s training records and when each training they take expires, ensuring they receive retraining before that point. They will work closely with the training and development specialist to ensure that all training is up to date and appropriate, that everyone receives the correct training, and it is given on time.

Benefits Counselor

The benefits counselor can help you pick out which health benefits will best suit you and your situation. Perhaps they can even help with long-term pension goals. If you have basic questions and requests about your benefits, your benefits counselor would be the first person you would go to as they would most likely be the benefits administrator.

Benefits Specialist

The difference between a benefits counselor and a benefits specialist is that the benefits specialist has more knowledge about the details of the benefits, especially when it comes to the pension side of things, including the stocks. This position is extremely vital for people looking to retire soon, as the benefits counselor may not know how to help you.

Human Resources Generalist

Quite often, the most underappreciated person in the department is the human resources generalist. This person can do a little bit of everything and often does a lot of everything. In smaller companies, a human resources manager and generalist make up the department. Between the two of them, they can cover much of what needs to be done. 

Recruiter

A recruiter is a person who begins the process of looking for employees. They will put out ads, go to recruiting conventions, review resumes, research candidates, and complete telephone interviews, looking for possible new hires.

Employment Services Manager

The employment services manager has the final say on which candidates get hired into the company. They take on the responsibility of those hirings, so when they don’t work out, they get the blame as well. Which, after a few bad apples, doesn’t look too good for them.

Compensation and Job Analysis Specialist

The responsibility of a compensation and job analysis specialist at the core is to ensure that people are paid equally. However, each company goes about this differently. Some global companies only want to analyze within their companies, ensuring that men and women in the same positions are getting paid equally. Other companies want to ensure men and women are paid equally, while others still are analyzing based on living wages. These are just examples, and the analysis can go much deeper, and that is why there are full-time positions to fill for them. 

Personnel Analyst

Personnel analysts lookout for the employees in making sure that the policies and procedures protect them, there are equal employment opportunities, compensation, employer and employee relations, recruitments, and more. They study many facets of the company and employees within and compare with other companies.

Educational Requirements for a Career in Human Resources

Your educational requirements will depend on what career opportunities you want to take within human resources. If you are looking for an entry job, such as an administrative assistant in a human resources department, you will need a two-year associate degree.

Any mid-level HR position or human resource specialist position is where you will start to see some different roles come into play a little bit, will require a bachelor’s degree. The most preferred degree would be in human resources; however, some other degrees are accepted, especially if you plan on specializing in a specific area. Business, accounting, and professional writing are all accepted degrees. HR professionals must be detail-oriented, have the capabilities to undertake a lot of paperwork and work well with computers.

If you want to rise to management levels within the HR profession to roles like HR specialist or HR management, most companies will require you to earn a master’s degree. Again, you can choose a master’s in human resources, but you may also choose business management, education, information technology, or finance degree. When it comes to management, you have to have people skills, you need to be able to manage your staff, have excellent communication, be motivational, and make decisions, even when sometimes those decisions are hard to make.

Schools that Offer Human Resources Certifications

There are plenty of schools all over North America that offer human resources certificates and post-degree certificates. The internet is a good way to get started. Perhaps you’re not ready to jump straight into a degree just yet, so we want to dabble with a certificate first to see if you want to spend more time and money before you move on in the field.

Most universities offer a degree program that you can take, which will get you the qualifications you need to make it to at least a mid-level human resources position, and some will even accept those credentials for management positions, depending on the size of the company, and their budget. Other companies and organizations will require management to have at least a master’s degree in human resources or a related field.

Here is a list of the top ten schools that offer online certificates for human resources degree programs. 

1. University of Virginia – Charlottesville, Virginia

This online certificate in human resource management is part of UVA’s continuing education program and takes one year to complete the required 18 credits for those who work full-time and can only do their studies part-time. This certificate program is great for those who want to change career paths, increase their current knowledge, or advance the path they’re on.

2. Golden Gate University – San Francisco, California

This private university gives you the option to complete 15 credits in one year and take the human resource management certificate, or you can continue and combine it with a degree. This program is great if specializing in one area of human resources is of interest to you as they have many specialized classes.

3. Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis – Indianapolis, Indiana

Two schools merged into one in 1969, but it’s Purdue University that offers the human resources management certificate after completing the required 18 credits. This program will also prepare you for the PHR (Professional in HR) Certificate Exam and the SHRM (Society for Human Resource Management) Assurance of Learning Exam. Purdue also offers degree programs if you would like to pursue your education after obtaining your certificate.

4. Judson University – Elgin, Illinois

Judson University is an evangelical Christian liberal arts school that requires 12 credits in their full-time human resources management certificate program. There are some requirements tied in with other courses and classes, so if you plan on attending Judson University, please ensure that you take a look at those to ensure all of your classes count as credits.

5. Thomas Edison State University – Trenton, New Jersey

Thomas Edison State University is mostly an online university and offers a human resources management certificate, which if studying full-time, you can complete your 18 credits in one year. This program puts a big focus on management skills, behavior, and human interaction. You will find courses such as change management, organizational culture and behavior, sociology of work, and interpersonal communications.

6. DeSales University – Center Valley, Pennsylvania

DeSales University is a private catholic school that offers an accelerated learning program to help accommodate working professionals and families. The human resources management program requires five courses and an elective. To be eligible, students must be nontraditional students, meaning that they’ve been out of school for at least five years, or other such requirements.

7. Hampton University – Hampton, Virginia

Hampton University is a private university that offers a 24 credits human resource management certificate that can be completed in 32 weeks. At which time, if you would like, you can continue and transfer those credits towards a degree at the school. This program has specialized courses that are good if you plan on having a specialized role, instead of being a generalist.

8. Cedar Crest College – Allentown, Pennsylvania 

Through the School of Graduate and Adult Education at Cedar Crest College, you can earn your human resource management certificate with 12 credits in a year at this liberal arts women’s college. This certificate is focused more on the analyst side of the role of the human resource. It looks at how markets and social conditions might affect organizations and how management decisions affect recruitment, etc.

9. Champlain College – Burlington, Vermont

Champlain College offers a great, all-around human resources management certificate. With the required 15 credits, you learn employment law, conflict management, managing talent, strategic human resources management, compensation, benefits, and much more, which prepare you to manage human resource departments for small businesses, corporations, non-profits, and government agencies. 

10. Benedictine University – Lisle, Illinois

The private Roman Catholic university, Benedictine University allows you to complete 18 credits in eight months to receive your human resource management certificate, or you can take it at the same time you work towards your Bachelor of Arts in organizational leadership or management degree.

Human Resources Supporting Employees

Human resources might get a bad rep a lot of times, but it also does a lot of good. Not only does it fight behind the scenes to get you the best benefits package it can so that you pay the least amount to get the best coverage possible, but many companies also match retirement contributions to a certain point.

But that’s not all that they do. Here are a few other positive ways in which human resources support its employees.

1. Assist with Career Growth

Not everybody wants to stay in the same position forever. If you’re looking to make a move, human resources will help you in areas such as seeing if there are knowledge gaps, letting you know when a position is coming up, speaking to management in the department you want to move to. It helps the company as well to hire within as it saves them money.

2. Offering Continuing Education

In this day and age, information advances, and things change. Someone who went to school twenty years ago to learn something is not up to date with current practices in most cases and will need to receive continuing education. Especially when it comes to technology. Mechanics are a good example of this. Fewer people can work on their cars these days because everything became computerized.

3. Training and Supporting Managers

Managers need to receive proper training and support as well. They need to learn how to manage and interact with people differently. Not all managers went to school to be managers. Many received the position due to the experience they have in the job they are managing.

4. Supporting Health and Wellness

Health and wellness have become more of a focus in more recent years and differs from health and safety. Human resources want to put the focus on the health and wellness of their employees to avoid sick time and injuries. These things cost the company money but also provide a more comfortable and enjoyable workplace for employees to be in. If you’re comfortable and enjoying yourself, you’re more likely to have a positive outlook and a better dynamic, resulting in better production.

In Summary

Human resources personnel take on many roles and duties for their department and company as a whole. When you walk into their area, you never know which hat they’re wearing at that particular point in time. They may be processing somebody’s retirement pension, reviewing a stack of new resumes, updating a training matrix, or trying to take a couple of minutes after having to just let a long-standing, well-liked employee go. 

Not only are there a lot of duties that somebody in human resources must take control of, but there are a lot of roles as well. When you’re in a small business, those roles may only be divided between two people. The work still needs to get done, so just because there isn’t someone there with a fancy title doesn’t mean that the work can be ignored.

In larger corporations, you will see roles being filled, such as someone who takes care of training and development, another person who will take care of benefits. You might have people who manage those people, a human resources generalist, and someone in charge of compensation and analysis, etc.

 Due to the nature of human resources, the delicate nature of information, handling of human emotions and situations, you need special training to get a junior position, such as an administrative assistant job within the department, even though it’s not human resources specific.

Mid-level positions will require at least a bachelor’s degree in human resources or other major that ties into the field in a way, such as accounting, professional writing, etc. Some human resource specialists have also taken behavior sciences before entering into human resources to communicate with people better, as the job requires constant communication with employees in one form or another

If you’re looking to advance your HR career, you need to advance your education as well, in most situations, especially if you want to get into a bigger organization or one of the more well-known ones. These days there are many online bachelor’s degree options, making it easier to receive a degree while also having a full-time career.

Even if you are just starting and don’t have any human resources experience, you can work towards a certificate while working another job. In a few months, you could have a human resource management certificate and get your foot in the door and start in a human resources department. While working in the field, you can then work towards a degree, and perhaps the company will even help you out. Which is another area that human resources help with.

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