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Nuts and Bolts of HR as a profession and Career Choice

HR is literally a sweet to most girls, just doing their graduation, even in their second year. Many boys get hooked to this magic word. They assume that HR is all about relating to people, understanding people, welfare and all that. Truth is HR is totally different in practice. This article deals with the real issues of HR.


Human Resources is HR for short. It is an emerging profession. It is not like Finance or Marketing with well defined outcomes. HR is a totally different cup of tea. The Management's expectations of HR and Vision of HR are as vital to HR than the concept itself. HR actually means Human Resources Management (HRM). Under this wide HRM umbrella, there are some variations and these are sought to be explained in some detail in this article. Those who are keen on choosing HR as a career choice and option, can take an informed decision. The most important points to be covered are: a) avenues for higher education in HR b) the purely legalistic approach towards HR c) the developmental approach towards HR and d) the combo approach and future directions.

Avenues for higher education in HR

There are two nationally well known and very famous institutes for Higher Education of the highest quality in HR. These are a) Adecco-TISS Labour Market Research Initiative, Mumbai and the Xavier Labour Relations Institutes (XLRI), Jamshedpur. The two institutes have the support of the Tata group. The first one is a superb research center as well. XLRI has superb industry support and is very well known for high quality teachers. There is always one hundred per cent placement in each of these institutes.

Apart from these institutes, there are hundreds of B schools including the IIMs, where HR is a specialization. The HR specialization is one of the specializations in most MBA courses of Universities and the affiliated colleges. However the importance given to HR in terms of depth of knowledge is not equal to that of TISS for the XLRI.

The third stream for the higher education course is through the Schools of Social Work. There are stand alone schools like the Baroda School of Social Work, and the Indore School of Social Work, and the Madras School of Social Work, Chennai. There are full fledged departments of Social Work, in colleges like the prestigious Loyola College Chennaiand the Madras Christian College, Chennai and the D.G. Vaishnav College,Chennai . In each of these institutions there is a specialization in HR as part of the Master's Degree in Social Work (MSW) degree. The first year is common to all students. In the second year HR students get to learn everything about HR. The huge difference in HR pertains to the practical orientation. On two days in a week, the students need to go to an industry and learn the practical application of whatever they learn in theory. Of late many Schools of Social Work also have a separate Master's Degree Course in Human Resources Management.

The interns do get to understanding at least something in the practical world.Their observation of a sit-in strike or a real problem in the canteen and so on, does offer the MSW student a lot of practical orientation. Many get to be employed in the same organizations too after the completion of the course. Hence those aspiring for a career in HR can choose to study in any of the aforesaid best institutes for the MSW Degree.

It should be noted that the aforesaid institutes are the best MSW degree institutions in India.

The Purely Legalistic Approach towards HR

As far as Human Resources Profession is concerned, the Top Management starts to interfere in every step. The HR Managers are often told in no unambiguous terms to "show results". This is another phrase for cost-cutting through the legal settlements. The planning for a long term settlement starts even three years prior to the settlement date. These settlements can be either by party settlement, that is settlement between the Management and the Trade Union or a tri party settlement, between the two parties and the State Government as the third party under the Industrial Disputes Act. The MSW course and the MBA courses have exhaustive coverage of all relevant labor legislation like the Factories Act, the ID Act, the Workmen's Compensation Act and so on.

In a huge number of organizations, the approach towards labor is a hugely legalistic one with the workmen always kept under a tight leash. Welfare amenities are just about okay. The Management expects the labor to respond to any demand for excess production. Naturally, conflict between the Management and Trade Union becomes so severe,even resulting in the death of the HR professional within the campus. This has happened at Maruti Udyog and in the plant of Pricol in Coimbatore. The approach is essentially legalistic and the HR professional is charged with the responsibility of farming out most operations to external parties. That is, sub-contract the entire operations like security, and maintenance of statutory records. The entire Time Office Management is computerized and run on the SAP platform. Even this is mostly managed by contractors. Those who aspire to specialize in HR as a profession, need to be prepared for the hard grind in this legalistic approach. They will do well to acquire an additional qualification in law, either part time or even through distance education.

The Developmental Approach towards HR

This started in the mid seventies, when two professors from the Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad, sought to make the concept of HRD very famous. In other words, they started preaching that it pays to enable employees to discover their own inner strengths for organizational excellence. Initially welfare, performance appraisal, career planning, and all other functions of HR barring Industrial Relations, was sought to be brought under this umbrella of HRD. This concept spread like wildfire when the economy was strong and the number of jobs multiplied, mostly during the first UPA regime. Since there were too many jobs and profits came automatically, even manufacturing organizations started talking about HRD.

This concept was practiced so well by the IT organizations like Infosys Technologies, CTS, TCS and so on. It paid to have a hugely developmental approach, as only Human Resources drove the profits of these organizations. Trade Unions do not still exist. There are even "HR Metrics" to measure individual contributions. Of course, everything is not milk and honey even in these organizations. Of late there have been some attempts to form Unions by employees of some IT organizations, where there has been large scale retrenchment. Since the IT industry is itself undergoing a massive metamorphosis, it remains to be seen as to what will happen to the concept of HRD, in both the short and long term. Still, HR has a good development focus in most IT organizations and the high performers still have a whale of a time.

The Combo Approach and future directions

Since the IT organizations do not have trade unions, their approach does not have a legalistic tint at all. The manufacturing organizations do not have any choice. They need to follow each and every statutory legislation and complications arising out of their implementation can often invite adverse comments from the Inspector of Factories. These Government authorities are often "taken care" by almost every Management. The tricks of the trade cannot be described here. Yet, this is exactly what will happen to most organizations. There will be a combination of both the legalistic approach and the HRD approaches in HR. For instance, no Management can go on satisfying all the demands and aspirations of the labor force. There is a huge amount of contract labor in the manufacturing industry, and the BJP Government has actually encouraged this. The Central Trade Unions have not been able to do fight for their rights. For instance the once strong CITU the Center for Indian Trade Unions, which is affiliated to the CPM party is now a shadow of its original self.

This will continue and the Managements will become more powerful. Labor is in no mood to go on long strikes either. The organizations like the TVS group, where the crux of the HR concept is sought to be implemented by empowering workmen on the shop floor, with world-class Quality emphasis and orientation, will offer enough case studies for the serious HR practitioners.

The combo approach will not have any common template. This is the most important lesson in HR which every budding professional should understand. Those who plan a career in HR should also understand this. Each and every company is different, Top Management orientation is different, the labor is different and the organizational culture is also different. So HR outcomes are also different and so complex.

One important advise: choose the hard grind of Industrial Relations in a manufacturing set up, get into the nuts and bolts of signing at least two long term settlements after all the complexities, get your hands dirty on the shop floor, for a minimum of ten years and only then get to work in the IT companies or well known manufacturing companies like Marico Industries or BHEL, where the developmental approach is very well pronounced. This will stand you in good stead. If you start with the IT organizations, you will get stuck only in the developmental approach and be or become a misfit in the more thrilling real world of industrial relations. Acquiring a law degree and a Diploma in Training and Development and advanced training in Psychometric testing is also needed. Please do note there is no choice here.

So all the very best for a very challenging and eventful career in HR!!

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