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Companies realizing impact HR pros can have on bottom lines

High employee turnover can be very costly for companies in terms of costs for hiring and training replacements and lost productivity in the interim. Many companies are now focusing on a proactive approach to hiring and retention, which is helping the market for human resource (HR) professionals these days.

Skilled HR executives who can help retain valued employees are a major benefit to businesses today.

According to the national Human Resource Professional Registry, the demand for HR graduates has increased by approximately 35% over the past three years in major metropolitan areas, and the coastal regions.

“However, that demand seems to be destined for a slight cyclical plateau in reference to the economic growth spurt created by Katrina-related rebuilding,” said Jan Lennon, manager of Multi Staffing Services in Hattiesburg.

Lennon said some HR graduates are being hired for dual-purpose positions. They may be hired as safety administrators, benefits administrators or payroll administrators, in addition to holding some HR responsibilities. The entry position may be a stepping stone to the HR field they are seeking eventually.

Lennon said there is a growing corporate social responsibility ethic with an increased focus on employee safety and security.

“Retention of talent is becoming a strategic objective,” she said. “There is an increased burden on employers to react proactively to a lack of workforce readiness, general recruiting, screening and hiring. Payrolling is being outsourced more to enable HR managers to focus on more strategic, high-level activities in their organizations. And organizational performance is being tied to talent management and an evaluation of their knowledge, skills, and abilities.”

Bi-lingual HR managers are in demand especially in professions such as poultry processing and construction. In fact, Lennon said some employers are sending HR managers (paid for by the employer) to educational outlets to learn a second language, rather than hire additional personnel who may be bilingual.

“However, an HR graduate who has conversational bi-lingual abilities definitely has the upper hand in today’s job market,” Lennon said.

Hiring for the HR profession overall is good because companies are realizing more and more the importance and need for doing HR well and doing it strategically, said Dr. Kristl Davison, clinical assistant professor of management, University of Mississippi.

“Also, there are a lot of opportunities for people getting bachelor’s or master’s degrees in HR to become consultants themselves,” Davison said. “Some aspects of HR are being outsourced — a lot of the paperwork, for example.”

HR professionals can have many different types of specialties. But Davison said one of the biggest skills needed in HR, no matter what level a person is employed at, is strong communication skills, both written and verbal.

“You tend to do a lot of reports and a lot of communication with employees,” she said. “Definitely, you want people who have a strong customer service orientation. Fundamentally, it is a job where you are helping employees. But you also must have tough mindedness because there are some difficult decisions that have to be made.”

Those tough decisions can include everything from firing people to delivering a job performance report that is disappointing. Davison said it is also sometimes necessary to tell managers in other parts of the company that what they are doing is wrong, illegal or won’t give a good outcome.

“You need to be able to tell people in a polite way that they need to do something else,” Davison said. “Part of that involves making sure you are standing up for appropriate ethical principals. Sometimes that requires you to stand up to others.”

Most entry-level jobs only require a bachelor’s degree. There are various exams available for certification such as the Society of Human Resources Management, Professional in Human Resources exam.

“Students can take that while still taking course work,” Davison said. “That can help when job hunting if you have passed a certification exam. Having that on your resume certainly would give someone with bachelor’s degree a leg up over other individuals. Then other specialized certifications such as in training and development or compensation can also be very helpful.”

Like most jobs, hiring for HR professionals is dependent on the marketplace and the economy. Increasing government regulations regarding employment law are another factor contributing to companies electing to hire HR professionals.

“One thing in terms of skills someone coming out with a degree should possess is a great knowledge of legal issues, employment laws and discrimination laws,” Davison said. “That is absolutely crucial. Those are some of the most critical areas and areas that get companies in the most trouble. If someone with a degree can sell his or her knowledge of legal issues and other skills like capabilities of doing job analysis, knowledge of other areas of HR learned through their degree, that helps in being able to tell employers what skills you have and what you can do for the company.”

A couple of other characteristics that HR professionals need are attention to detail and time management.

“Strong consulting, coaching, computer/software, communication (written and oral), and organizational skills are essential,” said Ann Bell, director of the department of human resources management at Mississippi State University. “The ability to think independently, adapt to change, understand and interpret state and federal regulations, and manage projects is critical.”

Bell said normally employers are looking HR employees that have three to five years of work experience in the following areas: recruiting, including screening, selection and on boarding; compensation and benefits administration; training and development; performance management; employee relations; equal employment/affirmative action; safety, and, health and employee services.

Contact MBJ contributing writer Becky Gillette at 4becky@cox.net.

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