HR graduate education redux

Holistic versus specialized programs, master’s degrees versus non-degree qualifications

Brian Kreissl

By Brian Kreissl

A few weeks ago, I started to examine the question of whether graduate education for HR professionals is a good investment, particularly in light of concerns about rising tuition fees, the fact people nowadays typically change careers several times in their lifetimes and uncertainty surrounding the future of the HR profession.

In terms of specific degrees, I primarily discussed MBA programs and how they can help HR professionals take their careers in a more strategic direction. They can also help those who want a more holistic overview of business in general — particularly important for those who think they may decide to move into another business discipline in the future. While few HR practitioners seem to leave the profession altogether, leaving that option open might not be a bad idea.

The future of the HR profession

I don’t believe we’re currently witnessing the demise of the HR function as we know it, but with constantly improving technology, cost cutting, outsourcing, offshoring and “downsourcing” transactional activities to line managers, there could be a need for fewer HR professionals in the future — particularly at the more junior levels — meaning HR really could become the strategic business partners we’ve always aspired to be.

This presents both opportunities and threats. It would be an opportunity for those who do manage to become more strategic, or who can capitalize on some of the above trends by learning specific skills that would increasingly be in demand.

For others stuck in highly routine, transactional work, however, this would most likely be a threat — especially if experienced HR practitioners are replaced with technology, or are outsourced, offshored, or have their work absorbed by line managers.

In such a scenario, a sound education in business fundamentals would be a good thing to have. It might also be beneficial to learn more about areas such as information technology, business process reengineering, operations management, project management, outsourcing, metrics, benchmarking, customer relationship management and call centre operations.

Which graduate program to pursue?

Regardless of whether or not we’re currently witnessing a fundamental restructuring of the HR profession, relevant graduate education might still be a good idea for some people. In determining which graduate program to pursue, important considerations include the individual's prior business and HR education/experience, whether she’s looking for a generalist or specialist career, and whether or not she has executive ambitions.

There are plenty of options other than an MBA that may appeal to certain HR professionals - depending on their interests and future aspirations. Leaving aside the question of whether the HR profession should be reserved for university graduates, there are many other post-degree options that don’t necessarily involve pursuing a master’s degree (and don’t require a bachelor’s degree for entry).

Probably the most well-known route to enhancing one’s HR qualifications is by obtaining the Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) designation. Many people who pursue the CHRP do so after completing a postgraduate diploma or certificate through a community college — proving there are other opportunities for enhancing one’s HR qualifications beyond the completion of a master’s degree.

But having completed my CHRP, I have to say it isn’t the be-all and end-all some people make it out to be. There are lots of things a CHRP won’t do.

It doesn’t give you a very broad background in business administration or general management. The CHRP also doesn’t teach you much about business strategy, employment law or the business of the organization you work for (recognizing, of course, that your “business” may be in the public or non-profit sector).

Several Canadian universities have recognized the need for more advanced training beyond the CHRP and/or a bachelor’s degree in human resources management. While some of these programs are at the master’s level, a few are non-degree advanced certificate programs.

To me, master’s degrees in human resources management (as opposed to MBAs with a focus on HR) are good for deepening one’s knowledge of HR. They might also be particularly helpful for someone who already has an undergraduate business degree (and therefore doesn’t have the same need to learn more about areas like marketing, finance and economics).

Of course, there are also specialized degrees and designations in HR-related disciplines that will help you further your career in one or more HR specialties. Such qualifications are particularly useful for those who want to work in employee/labour relations (Master of Industrial Relations (MIR)) or total rewards management (Certified Compensation Professional (CCP) or Certified Employee Benefits Specialist (CEBS)).

Brian Kreissl is the managing editor of Consult Carswell. He can be reached at [email protected]. For more information, visit

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