Rachel Swain, Editorial manager
November, 2015

Good people skills and the ability to communicate well are no longer enough to be successful in human resources. Postgraduate study and professional accreditation are also essential…

Most successful organisations claim that people are their most important asset, and that the effective management of human resources is central to their business strategy. This has led to an increase in human resource management (HRM) jobs both in the UK and abroad.

Why study human resources management?

'Successful organisations often seek applicants with a postgraduate degree in HRM because of the cutting-edge strategic knowledge and skills that they have developed,' says Dr Etlyn Kenny, lecturer in HRM at the University of Birmingham. 'They may also be professionally qualified if their programme is accredited by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD).'

Joining the CIPD as a student gives you access to all of its online resources, such as podcasts, research factsheets and employment law information. There is also a community forum with nearly 40,000 HR professionals. You can use this to discuss your research and studies with experienced members.

Rebecca Watts studied CIPD Human Resource Management PGDip at Anglia Ruskin University. 'I'd been working in HR for three years in the NHS, and wanted to formalise my skills and knowledge with a part-time postgraduate HRM course,' she says.

'The best thing about the course was having the chance to learn from some really inspiring tutors. I enjoyed learning and understanding in greater depth the different theories that underpin the practices and processes that I'm involved with on a day-to-day basis.'

What do courses involve?

The combination of theory, practice and professional accreditation ensures that programmes give students the skills and knowledge that they need to pursue a successful career in HRM.

One example of this is the University of Birmingham's MSc Human Resource Management. There are two pathways on offer. One of these is accredited by CIPD and has a greater focus on the development of managerial skills.

'Students across both pathways are given the opportunity to examine, in some depth, human resource management issues and practices from a wide range of organisational contexts,' explains Dr Kenny.

CIPD accreditation is also a feature of the University of Sheffield's MSc Human Resource Management, which covers topics such as industrial relations and strategic management.

'The MSc HRM at Sheffield enables students to critically understand contemporary issues and problems in their organisational, strategic and international contexts,' explains Professor Jason Heyes, programme director. 'It aims to provide a personal, academic and professional developmental experience relevant to those who wish to pursue a career in HRM.'

What do human resources management graduates do?

Former students of the University of Sheffield's programme have undertaken projects in companies like Arnold Magnetic Technologies, Sheffield Teaching Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust and Weston Park Hospital Cancer Charity.

'If you want to build practical skills that are relevant to HR, it's important to do some work experience to complement your postgraduate degree,' suggests Sarah Koppen, career development executive at CIPD. 'Ideally this would be in an HR department, but any office or administrative role will be useful experience.'

Once you've got your degree and the experience to go with it, you could enter management or trainee positions in organisations ranging from multinational corporations to public sector bodies. However, you would also be well-placed to move into other areas of management or even embark on a PhD.

'I have recently been promoted,' says Rebecca, who submitted her work on line managers' development to the CIPD People Management Awards and was shortlisted for the prestigious Michael Kelly Outstanding Student of the Year (Advanced Level). 'This is in no small part down to the knowledge that I gained on the postgraduate course.'