By John Chadwick
When Rutgers decided to offer a minor in Human Resource Management in the spring of 2009, no one was surprised when 240 students signed up for the program.
But few would have predicted what happened next: Over the course of two years the enrollment has more than tripled. A total of 827 students are enrolled in the program, which has expanded from 3 to 11 courses. And, the minor may soon become a major run jointly through the School of Management and Labor Relations, and the School of Arts and Sciences.
The surge of interest confirms what some have known for years: The field of Human Resource Management, or HRM, is "hot," and Rutgers’ ability to teach sophisticated HR strategy as well as core practical skills has made it the premiere institution for the profession.
“The need for really smart, savvy, strategically focused HR people is probably greater now than it ever has been,” said Dave Ferio, director of the Department of Human Resource Management's graduate program, which is also experiencing significant growth. “There is a growing consensus that there are financial gains to be had by managing your workforce better.”
Once equated mostly with the day-to-day administering of personnel functions such as payroll processing, HRM has evolved over the years and now occupies a much more strategic role in the 21st- century workplace.
“We approach it from: ‘how do you get the most out of your talent in the workplace,’ ’’ said Dave Lepak, department chair. “It’s not about doing payroll faster – it’s more like ‘What do we do to make sure your workforce cares, is motivated, and engaged.”
In one of his first lectures of the spring semester, Professor Mark Huselid told students in a graduate class that when he coaches HR professionals, he often tells them to "get over themselves."
|Students in a human resources management class. The field draws students from a range of backgrounds – everything from business to psychology to economics.|
“What (executives) are worried about is talent – they are not worried about HR function,” Huselid said. “So (HR) is not about selection systems or performance management in isolation, but rather it’s about the designing of an integrated system for managing people to get you where you want to be - whether you are the American Heart Association trying to save lives, or Apple Computer coming out with a new product, or whether you are the New Jersey government trying to manage the budget in tough times.”
And as more and more companies see the value of strategic HR, Huselid said, more and more opportunities will open up for graduates.
“I don’t have a Pollyanna view of this – there is some really crummy HR management out there,” he said. “And because there is some crummy HR management out there, there is an opportunity for improvement.”
Career and labor experts agree that the field is poised for expansion. Several years ago, Money Magazine ranked human resource manager as Number 4 on its list of best jobs. And the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics said that overall employment in HR is projected to grow by 22 percent between 2008 and 2018, much faster than the average for all occupations.
Rutgers has long been known for its HR education, which includes the undergraduate minor; a master’s degree in HRM, and a global executive master’s in Human Resource Leadership. The department, part of the School of Management and Labor Relations, garnered more than 1,700 research citations from 1993 to 2005, far surpassing schools with similar programs including Cornell and Michigan State.
“If you were to Google anything in HR. research, you will find typically the names of the Rutgers faculty come up as first or second on the list,” Ferio said.
And that has helped create a global reputation. Eighty-one current graduate students have traveled from China to take the graduate HRM program, which has grown by 45 percent, or 72 students, since 2006.
Huselid’s class is a diverse mix of graduate students, both in age and ethnicity. Some are from China. Others are seasoned veterans in the field in the U.S. Others still are coming in after recently finishing their undergraduate studies.
Ashanti Hubbs had most recently served as a volunteer in Teach for America, teaching school in an urban district in Arkansas. Before that she had graduated from Swarthmore College, where she majored in psychology.
“I view HR as a fusion between business administration and psychology,” she said. “You have to make the connection between the business strategy and the people who can make it happen.”
The HR minor, meanwhile, has been exposing undergraduates from a range of disciplines to the basic practices of the industry. One reason for its success is that it appeals to students from fields as disparate as psychology, economics, and communications.
“It does have a practical bent that complements a lot of areas,” Lepak said. “You can take in a lot of knowledge bases and not forget about your own. If you’re an economics major, there are a lot of economics applications in what we do.”
The department hopes to offer a BA program in HRM this fall, pending approval from the Board of Governors.