How to improve higher education PG courses in HR Management


There is an urgent need to drastically change the teaching method in all Higher Education institutions teaching Human Resources Management (HRM) at the Post-graduate level. The seriousness of purpose and intent will make a vital difference to the quality of teaching. Some nuances of such a multi-faceted approach are sought to be discussed in this article.

Introduction

Having realized the futility of having a full-fledged specialization in HRM in the second year of the MSW degree course, many Schools of Social Work are now having a two-year Master's Degree in Human Resources Management (HRM). Examples in this regard are the Madurai Institute of Social Sciences, the Madras School of Social Work, and so on. However, there are many Schools of Social Work that are continuing with the second-year specialization in the MSW course.

Quite apart from the fact that the two-year full-time Master's Degree in Human Resources Management is generally far superior to the MSW course in terms of content and knowledge, I have found certain gaps in both the courses, and the concerned authorities need to address these concerns. What exactly are these concerns and how do these gaps get played out in the real-world? Let us examine the concerns in some detail.

The first obvious issue pertains to the kind of competencies needed to become a highly effective HR professional. The first of these competencies will obviously concern the skills needed to perform very well in the role of industrial relations. In the past two odd decades, there has been a marked preference for HR professionals to take on the more glamorous roles in the IT industry. In this vital HR role, the linkage to business needs and competencies is direct and will get reflected in indices such as positive results obtained through employee surveys, reduced employee attrition, and so on. This is diametrically opposed to the HR approach that needs to be adopted in the manufacturing units. In these units, conflict of interests is natural. The vital negotiation skills needed to strike a delicate balance between the Management and the trade union(s), are not the cup of tea of most HR professionals who would like to take on the more "developmental" roles like mentoring, culture building, performance management, career planning and the like. The extremely wide range of initiatives that aim to keep employees happy in the IT industry is very much possible since the industry itself consists of only highly qualified professionals and not workmen. There are no trade unions, no settlements and no negotiations for structured wages, and so on.

It is widely recognized that both the skill-sets, one specific to the manufacturing industry and another completely specific to the IT industry are particularly needed for perfect grooming of HRM professionals; yet, only the likes of the Tata Institute of Social Sciences(TISS), Mumbai and the Xavier Labour Relations Institute(XLRI), Jamshedpur have geared up to this mammoth task and professionals who also go on to acquire a law degree through part-time studies, effortlessly slip into either of the work environments. This does not happen in the case of the MSW degree courses and in colleges that offer the MHRM courses.

In a nutshell, we do need "and" professionals and not "either-or" professionals who become specialized in one but are totally misfits in the other. It in this connection that it becomes particularly relevant to a) Focus on industrial-relations b) Have role-plays guided by experts from industry c) Institutionalise certificate courses on different skill-sets pertaining to IT industry requirements d) Make internships a two-way affair and e) Enable interaction between experts of different fields in the campuses.

Focus on industrial relations

Any development in industrial relations should be thoroughly researched and the students should compulsorily get exposure from experts in the field. For example, it has been reported that the traditional role of bargaining agents, which was won after a massive struggle at the international level and acknowledged and recognized by the International Labour Organization(ILO), has been undermined through the recent passing of the Industrial Relations Code, that is bound to be implemented shortly everywhere in India. It is vital for HRM experts to be thoroughly aware of both scenarios: the first scenario where the workmen could go on strikes and force any Management to negotiate with them and the second scenario, where employers could easily manipulate the existing laws and take more advantage through all the loopholes in the Industrial Relations Code, to their advantage.

Given the history of Industrial Relations in India, since the year 2014, since the Modi administration has repeatedly encouraged the use of contact labor under one label or the other, the second scenario is more likely to happen. And in the real world, any HR executive, even at the junior level, is expected to play the ball to any Management and swing every action in favor of the Management. The weakening of the Central Trade Unions, like the Centre For Indian Trade Unions, (CITU), that was affiliated to the CPI(M) party, also needs to be thoroughly researched and the students of any post-graduate HRM course should be made aware of such developments. The MSW and the MHRM courses offered by the D.G. Vaishnav College, Chennai, are glorious exceptions.

Similarly, the students need to have deep insights into how the bipartite and tripartite settlements are signed and at least two case-studies on the total process of various negotiations leading to at least two long-term settlements, with complete details on the offers and counter-offers and so on.

Have role-plays guided by experts from industry

Imagine a situation where six HR professionals from the industry were involved in a collective bargaining process that leads to a good settlement. If the college had an MOU it can impress the company to spare a full one-day and enact a role play for four hours, with two executives playing the role of trade union representatives. It is such live wire exposure that will add value. It will be even more relevant to get the entire role-play recorded on video so that this forms a regular case-study. In any case, the involvement of the Alumni, who would have played such roles, is crucial. Even if they had retired in the past five years, it does make sense to involve them in role plays.

Institutionalise certificate courses on IT relevant different skill-sets

The IT industry is characterized by a large number of HR practices that are normally termed "professional". Some of these practices are Competency-based Management, Talent Management, Professional Performance Management, Addressing all employee concerns through Employee Surveys, Career Planning linked to Succession Planning of the tallest order, and so on. All these are found in some crude form of approximation of the other in several manufacturing organizations. However, the specialization levels are totally different. Everything related to production is always given maximum importance, particularly where the quality of the product(s) is so good and the market for the product is assured. A classic example is the cement industry, where there is a big market for any brand of cement at any point in time.

The urgent need is to institutionalize tie-ups with deemed Universities on the one hand, and with professional organizations like the Indian Society for Training and Development, the National Institute of Personnel Management, the Academy for HRD, and so on and have certificate courses in each of the aforesaid areas to improve the skill-sets of the post-graduate students and prepare them for taking up roles in the IT industry, where such skill-sets will be urgently needed; after all, every Indian organization would prefer to have the shortest learning curves of any of its managers, and even executives at the lower levels. This is exactly what I would call the perfect industry-preparedness.

Make internships a two-way affair

How about deputing one Faculty Member to visit the organization, and enable the organization to undertake a free employee survey, with the help of the two students who would be undergoing internship in the same organization? I have experience of several colleges where the Faculty Members do not even visit the organization once after the internship is confirmed. This is a short-sighted approach. The involvement of the Faculty Members will increase the interest of the practicing managers who would always be busy and cannot spare time for the students. Consequently, there are occasions where the PG student is merely asked to sit in the time-office and "assist" the official doing his work there.

This will positively defeat the very purpose of the internship; the only alternative is to enable the organization to derive some benefit through and by the presence of the student(s) undergoing internship in that organization. To ensure that this happens, the internship should always be a two-affair.

Enable interaction between experts on the campus

The almost routine annual Conference on an HR-related topic is passe; this is just not sufficient.

The industrial experts will be ready to spare their time on Sundays. All that is needed is the will and the serious intent. When one expert from the manufacturing industry and the IT industry is invited to speak on some current HR topic, the students will be greatly enabled to get the right sort of exposure. No student should relax at any point in time. It is a war in the field. It is a big challenge to make a difference. Only the fittest will survive; it is high time the students of all PG courses in Management, from the various institutions understand and appreciate this new reality.

Conclusion

Only certain aspects of making improvements to the Master's Degree in HR in the different institutions have been discussed above. The scope for innovation is extremely large and it will take a far bigger effort to make things happen.


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