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For Students, HR Is a Meaningful, Practical Career Choice

​Human resource professionals, on average, find their work to be meaningful and have a positive view about their long-term prospects, according to a new global survey. These factors, especially given recent events, largely contribute to students' decision to pursue HR as a career.

Liz Supinski, director of research products for the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), noted that the survey from SHRM and other international HR associations attempted to look at the HR profession from two angles. The first was to see how respondents felt about the job—how happy it makes them and how much of an impact they see it making. The second goal was to gauge how they view the job from a practical standpoint—how easy it is to get into the profession, make a living and advance their careers.

Meaningful Work

The 2020 People Profession Survey is a global survey of 5,200 individuals who work in HR, organizational development and design, learning and development, and other related areas. Ninety-five percent of respondents had a high meaningful work score. To determine that score, these "people professionals" were asked questions such as whether their work makes them happy, and if they believe others experience happiness because of their work.

The survey, which was conducted between January and March 2020 by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), the World Federation of People Management Associations (WFPMA), the Australian HR Institute (AHRI) and SHRM, noted that people professionals working in more strategic roles tended to score higher on all items of the scale than individuals working in more operational roles. However, the report also noted that employees at the strategic level have a better window into the impact of their work.

For students, the appeal of HR certainly seems to be the potential to be involved at that strategic level. Ashley Dugger, DBA, SHRM-CP, program chair of human resource management for Western Governors University, has observed a shift in the perception of HR from an administrative profession to strategic partner. "I think that has definitely shaped what has drawn a lot of the students, especially those who may have already had some work experience, or specifically some HR experience, where they kind of fell into it," she said.

Additionally, recent events have heightened HR's profile. The 2020 Black Lives Matter protests that followed the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor prompted many companies to take significant steps to reaffirm their commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I). HR departments were at the forefront of implementing DE&I programs, and both students and workers could see that.

Over the past year, Dugger has noticed a change in the conversation around the breadth of work that HR can encompass. "We're seeing people make that connection," she said. "Instead of just asking, 'What could I go to my HR department for if I need support in something?' They're saying, 'As a leader, how can I leverage HR to make an impact in my organization in those areas?'"

Ren'ee A. Mangini, SHRM-SCP, HR professor and department chair for HR at Lake Washington Institute of Technology and a SHRM student chapter advisor, has had similar observations, as have many of her peers and students. "We've seen a spike in those jobs, and the students have noticed that there are opportunities for people to work with organizations in those areas," she said.

Career Opportunities

While HR professionals are generally positive about their jobs, the 2020 People Profession Survey revealed that overall positivity can differ greatly from region to region. Depending on geographical location, there may be external barriers to career advancement.

Supinski noted that U.S. and Canadian HR professionals were generally among the most positive globally about the profession, and she believes this largely has to do with the size of those markets and the opportunities they present.

"One of the things we asked about was career progression," she said. "How many times have you been promoted? Do you feel optimistic about your chances for future promotion? And the places where we found that to be the most negative were relatively small markets."

Still, career progression has been mostly positive around the globe; a majority of respondents reported that their progression had met or exceeded their expectations in every country surveyed, with Mexico leading the way at 84 percent. About a quarter of respondents from the U.S. (27 percent), Australia (26 percent) and Canada (23 percent) reported that their career progression had exceeded expectations, while almost a third of respondents from the UAE (34 percent), the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (34 percent) and Singapore (27 percent) reported their career progression had fallen short of their expectations.


An Idealistic and Practical Choice

The combination of meaningful work and job stability make HR an alluring job prospect in the current environment. As the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the job market in 2020, colleges saw an influx of interest in their HR programs that has continued into the new year.  

As compliance challenges around employment laws and benefits increase, employment of HR specialists is projected to grow 7 percent from 2019 to 2029, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That's faster than the average for all occupations.

"My classes are full," Mangini said. She explained that many workers—some of whom have been laid off—have entered into worker retraining programs to pursue new careers in HR.    

Dugger has also observed an influx of new interest in HR careers. "This seems like a pretty bulletproof career, especially with everything that's happened over the last year," she said. "We're seeing a lot of positions being eliminated or restructured, and HR, of course, are the ones desperately trying to manage all of that happening. So [students] see the security and the growth in it."


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