Why study HR?

An academic teaches an HR course

Almost every organisation has an HR department or an HR consultant to help them out. Yet many employees don’t understand what human resource management (HRM) is all about.

A common misconception about HR is that it’s all about ‘hiring and firing’. In reality, HR is so much more than recruitment and staffing. HR has rapidly evolved from providing a support function to being a key, strategic partner. This contemporary reimagining of HR is what makes it such an exciting career to pursue.

While it sounds promising, why study HR? Find out as we dig deeper into some of the more satisfying and fulfilling elements offered by a career in HR, beyond enjoying a seriously healthy paycheck.  

But first, let’s explore the evolution of HR a little further to understand more of what’s involved in a modern HR career. 

The evolution and future of studying HR

Traditionally, HR was known as ‘personnel management’. It was a discipline focused on the operational side of a business that mostly performed administrative tasks such as:

  • arranging and performing recruitment interviews
  • onboarding new employees
  • maintaining employee records
  • determining compensation
  • administering benefits
  • training and development
  • employee relations
  • governmental compliance

Contemporary HR aligns more closely to the concept of HR as a strategic business partner. For example, in a recent interview, the Chief of Staff to the CEO at Slack, Robby Kwok, advocated that HR has evolved to be a central business function that creates value.

“HR is shifting to become not only a team that employees can reach out to when there is an issue, but a strategic partner that plays a crucial role in a company’s growth and success,” he said.

While administrative processes are still a part of modern HR, AI and automation technologies are reducing manual workloads. Instead, modern HR leaders have more time to focus on responsibilities such as:

  • working with leadership teams to develop and implement effective people management strategies
  • being an organisational change agent to help manage change from the inside and out
  • creating great workplaces by developing talent management strategies and fostering culture that aligns with the organisation’s values
  • forecasting future skill and capability needs while paying close attention to potential workforce impacts of changing technologies
  • analysing and interpreting people data to make objective decisions using a data-driven approach

Team of four sitting around a table discussing a human resources degree

The COVID-19 pandemic has only served to accelerate the importance of HR in organisations. HR teams had to figure out how employees could continue to work in the face of lockdowns and self-isolation while factoring in:

  • staff wellbeing
  • occupational health and safety in remote working environments
  • communicating effectively in remote and hybrid workplace arrangements
  • how to support staff morale and engagement

What effective HRM looks like now

According to McKinsey & Company, effective HRM in a post-pandemic world means focusing on:

  • Identity. HR leaders need to articulate an organisation’s core reason for being and how it will positively impact society. From there, it’s a matter of translating purpose and values into a “set of leadership and employee norms and behaviours.”
  • Agility. To get ahead and stay ahead, organisations need to address relevant skills gaps. HR can assist by making strategic workforce planning a priority and looking at innovative sourcing strategies, such as engaging freelancers and implementing automation.
  • Scalability. One way to achieve HRM success could involve taking a holistic approach to reskilling and upskilling the workforce. For McKinsey & Company, this means blending traditional learning with different methods, such as enhanced peer coaching and learning networks.

Why HR is more relevant than ever

As well as driving organisational culture, HR will play a pivotal role in reskilling and upskilling the workforce to address a growing digital skills gap. 

A recent Deloitte survey of more than 400 Australian business leaders identified how crucial digital skills have become. The survey report states, “roughly 60% of employees said digital literacy skills and knowledge of cyber security tools/processes would increase in importance over the next five years.”

What’s more, the Deloitte research revealed 87 per cent of jobs now require digital skills, and roughly one in five companies said their employees’ digital skills were outdated.

Why choose HR as your career?

While we’ve explored why HR is important, you might still be asking yourself, “why do I want to work in HRM?”

According to RMIT senior lecturer Dr Meagan Tyler, a career in HR can be personally rewarding because it can give you the opportunity to:

  • help an organisation to create values, common vision and social responsibility
  • ensure diversity and equality
  • increase innovation and creativity 
  • improve efficiency 
  • reduce organisational costs

RMIT Professor of Human Resource Management Andrew Timming says that a career in HR is incredibly versatile. 

“Another benefit of HR is that you won’t confine yourself to a particular sector. HR managers are needed in most large organisations, public, private and not-for-profits,” he adds. 

Profesor Timming also says that a career in HR “makes you highly employable” and automation is not likely to change all that: “Whereas many managerial functions are being automated away, there will always be a need for someone with people skills. Machines don’t understand people in the same way that we understand each other.” 

Woman and man searching for why study human resources on their laptops

Why study human resources management?

Deciding to do a postgraduate human resources degree is a big decision. You’ve got to figure out if it aligns with your career progression goals. 

Sometimes, it helps to reflect on how others made the same decision you’re now considering. For example, RMIT Online postgraduate student, Lauren Smith, says she chose to study HRM because it adds versatility to her career.  

“HR is quite broad; it’s in every single company,” she says. “It is just a very broad degree that you can adapt to anywhere. I want to go down the human resources path, but if it doesn’t work out, I think those skills are quite adaptable to most and every other industry,” she says.

So, why not just learn HR management skills on the job instead of getting a master's degree in human resources? 

Dr Tyler from RMIT says that the advantage of investing in a Master of Human Resource Management is that it offers formal, systematic study. “On-the-job training is also good but not systematic. And not all organisations have the capacity to offer on-the-job training,” she says. 

In addition to that, Dr Tyler explains that on-the-job training might also be connected to a specific role or to an organisation’s purpose. As a result, “it might not be what you want to study.”

Even more importantly, Dr Tyler says that undertaking accredited study provides you with transferable skills that will help you on the wider job market, as well as scaffold you for lifelong learning. 

“Higher-level study provides you with a more in-depth understanding of the why rather than just the how. This means you develop skills employers want in their leadership and managerial teams that can be used across a greater variety of contexts. It also helps those skills stay relevant and future-focused in rapidly changing workplace environments,” she says.

Empower people. Power business success

The world of work and our workplaces will never be the same. Business success is no longer just about the bottom line. Instead, it’s about empowering employees to excel and achieve. 

If you’re considering whether you should study HR, now is the moment for professionals to step up as HR leaders.

Learn more about how you can transition to a career in HR and become an HR leader with RMIT Online. 

Enquire or call 1300 701 171 today.