Question: What Is a Human Resource Management Degree?

Answer: Human Resource Management, or HRM, is a business specialization that focuses on workforce staffing, training, and maintenance strategies and practices. HRM degree programs provide training and instruction in labor law and relations, employee recruitment and development processes, management theories, organizational communication, and other subjects that prepare students to manage an organization’s human assets.

The Field of HRM

Human resources are defined as the staff, managers, executives, and other individuals who are employed directly and indirectly by an organization, whether it be a manufacturing plant, a service provider, a financial institution, a government agency, or a non-profit entity. These resources are part of an organization’s assets. They have value, require investment of time and capital, and must be managed in order to effectively coordinate the activities of an organization and meet the goals of a business. They are also subject to laws that regulate the fair and ethical treatment of employees. HRM is the specialized field in which these concerns are integrated into coherent strategies for managing an organization’s human resources.

HRM Degree Programs

HRM degree programs provide specialized training in the skills and knowledge necessary to work in the field of human resources at a range of companies, non-profits, government agencies, and other organizations. HRM degrees are offered at different levels. There are undergraduate programs that offer an HRM major; master’s in HRM programs; and doctoral programs in the field of human resources. There are also MBA programs that offer an HRM specialization.

A bachelor’s degree with a major or a concentration in HRM, or in a related area of business management/administration, generally provides sufficient training for entry-level positions in the field. However, the completion of a bachelor’s program followed by a master’s in HRM degree plus some experience in the field is more typical for upper-level human resource management and administration positions. Doctoral programs are generally designated for those who are aiming to teach at the college level or conduct academic research in the field.

Master’s in HRM programs – typically Master of Science (MS), Master of Arts (MA), or Master of Professional Studies (MPS) in human resource management or human resource development – offer a multi-disciplinary curriculum that covers four areas of proficiency:

  • Organizational Science – The study of how businesses are organized, and how individuals and departments within an organization interact with one another.
  • Behavioral Psychology – Psychological theory as applied to human motivation, conflict resolution, and how people interact within an organization.
  • Business and Employment Law and Ethics – Federal and state laws and regulations that apply to hiring practices, employee terminations, and other aspects of labor relations, and the ethical considerations in human resource management.
  • Communication – Written and verbal skills for communicating effectively in professional settings.
  • Training and Development – Theories and practices for creating and assessing training programs and fostering professional development.

HRM Curricular Components and Competencies

A typical HRM curriculum includes courses devoted to the structure of business organizations, the behavior of individuals within an organization, and the best practices for applying this knowledge in a professional setting. Specifically, these programs offer instruction in the legal and ethical aspects of personnel management; workforce diversity and inclusion; professional communications skills; and the practical aspects of coordinating an organization’s human resources. The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) maintains the SHRM Body of Competency and Knowledge, which details three clusters of behavioral competencies (leadership, business, and interpersonal) and 15 functional areas of knowledge for HRM professionals. These behavioral competencies encompass leadership, ethics, business acumen, consultation practices, and critical evaluation methods. The 15 SHRM functional areas are as follows:

  1. Strategic Planning
  2. Talent Acquisition
  3. Employee Engagement & Retention
  4. Learning & Development
  5. Total Rewards
  6. Structure of the HR Function
  7. Organizational Effectiveness & Development
  8. Workforce Management
  9. Employee & Labor Relations
  10. Technology Management
  11. HR in the Global Context
  12. Diversity & Inclusion
  13. Risk Management
  14. Corporate Social Responsibility
  15. US Employment Law & Regulations

Careers in HRM

The HRM curriculum, as outlined by the SHRM, is designed to prepare students for the challenges of working as a human resources manager or specialist, a corporate training and development manager, a labor relations specialist, a compensation and benefits manager, and/or a human resources consultant for organizations in need of such expertise. The management of human resources is a critical function in most businesses and organizations, and most companies have a designated human resources department. There are also companies that specialize in fulfilling hiring needs and other human resource functions for businesses who prefer to outsource these responsibilities. A 2016 HR Jobs Pulse Survey compiled by the SHRM includes common job areas that HRM specialists occupy. These include:

  • Compensation & benefits
  • Diversity/Equal Employment Opportunity compliance
  • Employee Assistance Programs
  • Health, safety, & security
  • Hiring & recruitment
  • Human resources consultancy
  • Human resources information technology & payroll systems
  • International workforce management
  • Labor relations
  • Organizational administration
  • Organizational communications
  • Organizational training & development

Depending on the size of an organization, a trained HRM specialist’s job description may include two or more of the responsibilities detailed in the SHRM survey. For example, a mid-sized company may require an HRM specialist to oversee employee development programs and health and safety protocols, while a larger corporation may have a staff of human resource managers devoted to international workforce management or labor relations.


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