There’s no doubt the workplace is changing. From the assembly line to the boardroom, the rules and regulations that govern how employees are recruited, compensated, trained, retained and disciplined are constantly in flux. Technology platforms like Slack and Zoom are redefining communications dynamics in the workplace. The workforce is more diverse than ever, and increasing numbers of employees are choosing remote work (even before a pandemic completely transformed the workplace environment for many companies). Today, you are likely to see four generations at work in one place at one time: baby boomers, Gen Xers, millennials and Gen Zers. In the ever-changing, complicated workplace of the 21st century, it’s the job of the human resource management team to ensure that all these diverse employees stay on track and remain productive and engaged. One thing is clear: One-size-fits-all management of these human resources is simply not good enough.
It’s no surprise that human resources (HR) is a tough job. Nobody is more aware of that than Dr. Bill Heisler. Before taking up his role as Director of the Master of Science in Human Resource Management program at Troy University, Dr. Heisler worked as an HR executive for Newport News Shipbuilding, a 20,000+ employee company responsible for building aircraft carriers and submarines for the U.S. Navy.
Managing the day to day HR needs of any large organization is already complicated, but as workplaces evolve and the needs and motivations of both employees and management change, the role of the HR professional becomes even more challenging — and more critical to organizational success. As a result, today’s jobs in human resources require a combination of many skills beyond the traditional ones associated with HR.
“I think that the job is becoming a lot more complex,” says Dr. Heisler. “It used to be that people wanted to get into HR because they liked people. That’s fine, but today you also need to have math and statistics and many other competencies to be effective if you’re expecting to really move within the field.”
What Are Human Resources?
As Dr. Heisler explains, HR is the functional area within a business that is responsible for developing the most effective use of the organization’s employees — its human resources.
“I think that most companies recognize that people are what make their organizations work,” says Dr. Heisler. “A company can have strong financial and technological resources, but if you don’t have the right people — it’s still not necessarily going to be successful. The best organizations try to have the best people management processes in place to make sure that their other resources work effectively.”
The tasks of HR encompass the entire lifecycle of the employee relationship — from the moment a business identifies the need to fill a position all the way through to retirement. This means that HR professionals usually have to successfully manage the needs and expectations of several generations of workers within an organization, and this can present many challenges.
“How do you manage four very different generations of employees at the same time when they have different expectations and are looking for different rewards out of life?” asks Dr. Heisler. “There are a lot of multiple challenges. One of is that we’ve got a large population of older employees and those people are leaving the workforce. How do we transfer that knowledge successfully to the people who are left?”
Even the way organizations recruit people is changing, as HR managers adapt to different generational needs.
“In the recruitment area, it used to be that you went to the local newspaper and placed a job ad,” says Dr. Heisler. “Today, young people, Generations Y and Z, are looking for job opportunities on their cellphones. They even apply for jobs on their phones. Recruiters are texting responses back and forth to potential job applicants and keeping them in the loop. We haven’t operated that way before.”
Today, mastering new technology is becoming an increasingly important part of the HR manager’s role.
“A lot of the work of HR is becoming automated, particularly in areas such as benefits,” says Dr. Heisler. “We put a lot of information online for employees, but that means that we have more responsibility for thinking strategically about the information we share. That’s one of the big areas that we try to focus on in our program at TROY.”
Changing legislation is another area that keeps HR managers busy and can be a constantly moving target.
“There is so much new legislation being proposed,” says Dr. Heisler. “For example, there are proposals for paid leave in the United States for private industries. We haven’t had that before. What’s that going to mean to the HR function, and how do we accommodate that?”
Dr. Heisler likens the role of working in HR to walking a tightrope, balancing the individual employee’s needs with those of the broader organization.
“All of the HR functions need to be strategically focused,” says Dr. Heisler. “Where’s the company going? What are they trying to do? What are their needs going to be five years from now? As the job gets more complex, decisions get more data-focused. People coming into HR need to be more forward-looking and able to anticipate how the world is changing and how those changes will affect their organization.”
Dr. Heisler believes that businesses are increasingly looking to HR to guide the way as navigating these workplace changes becomes ever more complex.
“It’s small steps and one at a time, but I think that people are beginning to recognize the importance of HR to the success of the company,” says Dr. Heisler. “In a sense, HR becomes the conscience of the organization. They are the ones who, with company management, are developing policies to protect their employees while strategically looking out for the company at the same time. HR also has to be sensitive to employee needs because they are interested in keeping them engaged in the company, retaining them, and seeing that they are doing the work effectively. So there’s the balance that they need to achieve between emphasis on the employee and emphasis on achieving company goals.”
Dr. Heisler believes the true value of HR comes into its own in times of crisis. Events in 2020 are certainly proving the point. “Situations like right now with COVID-19, really bring HR to the forefront in terms of employee health and safety,” he says. “I think managers are looking to HR professionals and asking, ‘How can you help us?’ We have to be ready to meet the challenges.”
Making the Strategic Leap into Human Resources Management
The Master of Science in Human Resource Management program at TROY is designed to develop the skills that graduates need to make the strategic decisions that businesses increasingly demand from today’s HR managers.
Lucy-Jane Baxley graduated from TROY in 2021 with a MSHRM and knows first-hand the skills this degree develops. “The program is excellent and on point,” she says. “It provides a solid foundation across all aspects of HR and challenges even the experienced HR professional to understand more deeply how human resources can serve as a strategic partner for the business.”
Taking that strategic leap often means developing competencies in business areas not normally associated with jobs in human resources.
“HR cannot work autonomously,” says Dr. Heisler. “It has to work in conjunction with line management, and that’s where HR needs to develop various business competencies in addition to HR skills. You are going to have to be able to work with people at all levels of the company from the executives, down to the people working on the assembly line.”
Baxley, who currently works at USAA as a full-time HR Program/Project Manager, says the program broadened her understanding of business and leadership in general, as well as increased her knowledge of relevant legislation, change management, learning and development, and the whole gamut of HR practices.
“The program provides a broad and deep foundation across all aspects of HR, which enabled me to better understand how all the pieces fit together,” Baxley says.
Dr. Heisler believes the most successful HR managers take the time to get to know how the business they work for operates.
“The first thing that I tell students — and I did it myself — is to get out in the company,” he says. “Get out and walk around. Take people to lunch. Go out with people who work in different functions and find out what they do. Find out what’s going on and try to understand from their perspective what they are trying to do. I found that to be extremely valuable in terms of the work that I was involved in.”
Dr. Heisler even suggests that students may want to start this process before they have graduated.
“I think that people really need to research a company — and they can do this, even before they become employed, if they use the online facilities that are available to them,” says Dr. Heisler. “It’ll help them get that job in the beginning if they can show that what they have in the way of talent can be of value to the company. You show value by demonstrating that you know what the company is trying to do.”
Is the Human Resources Degree Online Master’s a Right Fit for You?
According to Dr. Heisler, students in the Master of Science in Human Resource Management program at TROY typically fall into one of two groups. Some students currently work in HR and want to get a master’s degree to advance further in the field. Then there are those who were not business undergraduates and want to get into HR as a new career.
“Nearly all of our students are employed full-time,” says Dr. Heisler. “They are typically in their 20s, 30s and 40s. Some of them are a little bit older and looking at HR as a transition for a career change. We get a lot of military people who are thinking of retiring and maybe moving to an HR job when they get out. They may have done some HR work in the military and are looking to make that switch to a civilian role.”
TROY’s program is offered 100% online and on demand; classes are asynchronous, meaning that students do not have to “attend” classes online at a set time and they can access lectures, course materials and discussion boards when it is most convenient to them. This allows students to balance their studies with their professional and personal lives. It also creates opportunities for students in different global time zones to join the program.
“TROY has been recognized consistently as among the better universities in the southeast of the United States. That’s primarily where we draw our people from, but we also have students located as far afield as Korea and Japan,” says Dr. Heisler. “The asynchronistic online study works well in that environment, but they do have to do some synchronistic work during their virtual group activities, so they need to be prepared for that.”
The master’s program operates over a five-term academic year. Students can enroll in the program’s online option in any term, meaning they are never much more than a couple of months away from starting to work on their career goals.
“We’re going continuously,” says Dr. Heisler. “It’s a ten-course program. Most people take one course a term because it’s a fairly rigorous program. It typically takes students two years to get through the program, although some students choose to do two courses at a time. It can be done in a year if they are prepared to really work at it.”
Baxley worked at USAA while taking classes online to complete her master’s at TROY. She chose to take one class at a time and completed her degree in that two-year time frame. She found the class on workforce planning and staffing relevant to the program she supports at USAA and the class on organization development and change challenging. “It really stretched my understanding of effective change management,” she says.
Why TROY for HR?
Dr. Heisler highlights three primary reasons students should consider TROY to study for their master’s in Human Resource Management — and they all focus on quality and accessibility.
First, the college is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). “AACSB is the gold standard accreditation for business schools,” says Dr. Heisler. “That should be your primary indicator of quality when selecting a business school.”
Second, the program is aligned with the Society for Human Resource Management’s (SHRM) educational objectives for university HR programs. “The SHRM has the pulse of the industry,” says Dr. Heisler. “They are interested in developing people to be future HR leaders, and they’ve come up with a whole set of objectives, curriculum and guidelines that people in the field need. We also encourage our students to seek professional certification after graduation. If they already hold a certification, our courses provide professional development credit they can use for recertification.”
Third, the program has received recognition from a variety of sources. Most recently, according to Dr. Heisler, it was named one of the top-ranking programs in the country by Intelligent.com, a student-centric Seattle, WA-based blog that seeks to enable students to make intelligent choices in their educational pursuits.
Finally, Dr. Heisler highlights TROY’s commitment to providing its students with high quality and affordable education.
“We keep getting recognition for our program from various sources in relation to affordability,” he says. “I think affordability is a key for TROY. TROY’s tuition for this program is just under $500 a credit hour — so the whole program would probably cost you less than $15,000. Other so-called ‘affordable’ master’s programs are much more expensive.”
Dr. Heisler is also quick to praise his fellow faculty members’ level of engagement with their students, which is optimized in the master’s online program by capping class size to a maximum of 30 students.
“It’s not just about being responsive to students in a timely fashion,” says Dr. Heisler. “It’s also about providing extensive feedback. This is very important in online education because you don’t always get the opportunity to talk with students as much as you would in a traditional setting. With this in mind, we tend to give them a lot more feedback on their work when they submit their assignments. This level of responsiveness is critical for success in teaching a human resources degree online.”
Jobs in Human Resources
According to Dr. Heisler, the opportunities for graduates of the master’s program to advance their HR careers are “rather good!”
“If you look at the Department of Labor’s Occupational Outlook Handbook, it says that HR has a bright outlook. That means the field is expected to grow rapidly in the next several years and will have large numbers of job openings,” says Dr. Heisler.
Graduates taking their first step into the profession could find themselves in roles such as HR coordinator, HR analyst, recruiter or trainer. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), graduates entering the profession as specialists at this level can expect to earn a median pay of about $60,000 per year.
“If you have some experience, you could easily get an HR manager’s job right at the beginning,” says Dr. Heisler. “That could be as an employment manager, training and development manager, compensation manager, or HR generalists. Our program gives people enough exposure to each of those areas to find out which ones they are best suited for and which ones they like the most.” These management-level positions offer a significant increase in earning’s potential with BLS data showing median pay levels of over $115,000 per year. And these positions are often bonus-eligible.
Dr. Heisler highlights HR careers in the health care industry as presenting an exciting opportunity for human resources professionals. He also promotes his own area of specialty in compensation management as a particularly lucrative career path.
“It’s not for everyone, but if you like working with numbers, this field will be exceptional for you,” he says. “The compensation field pays better than a lot of other HR jobs.”
Learn More About Human Resource Management at TROY
Whichever area of human resources management you choose to pursue, it’s a career field where you can make a hands-on difference to the success of an organization and its most important resource — the people who work there.
“Learning about staffing and workforce planning helped me better support the program I’m responsible for at USAA,” Baxley says. “Additionally, exposure to business and leadership fundamentals enhanced my understanding of the business leaders I support, and studying change management enabled me to better prepare and effect positive changes within the organization,” she adds.
To learn more about TROY’s HR master’s program or to speak with a faculty member about enrollment, please visit the Master of Science in Human Resource Management page on our website.