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Human resources professionals employ variety of skills

As long as there is any kind of workforce, there will be a need for human resource professionals to perform the numerous tasks that keep employees working.

“HR people have job security,” said Dr. Robert Robinson of the University of Mississippi. “As long as we have employees, we will need HR managers. It doesn’t matter if the economy changes from manufacturing to service, there will be some type of jobs in human resources. It has a good growth rate nationally.”

Robinson, director of executive education and professor of several human resources courses, is proud of the HR program at his school. There is no HR major but students who want to work in human resources major in management with a concentration in human resources. He says the concentration works like a major.

Other concentrations are production and operations and administrative. The professor said there aren’t many students choosing the production and operations concentration and the majority of management majors choose the administrative route, something that prepares them to manage any business operation from fast food to service or manufacturing.

“We have the most comprehensive HR program in the Southeastern Conference and the most courses offered,” he said. “A few years ago we looked at the standardized test given for certification by the Society of Human Resource Managers (SHRM) and the courses we offered. That test is like the CPA for human resource managers and we covered only about half of the test material.”

Now, Ole Miss offers at least one course to cover each test segment and every functional area in human resource management. For instance, Robinson teaches labor relations, employee relations, principles of human resource management and human resource strategy.

“There’s a significant amount of regulations and compliance,” he said. “My specialty area is compliance and that’s a challenge. I have to update on a monthly basis.”
Although he does not have exact figures, Robinson said Ole Miss has a good number of students going the HR route. He said desired traits in HR professionals depend somewhat on what these workers do. An HR generalist does a little of everything and a specialist handles highly regulated, very technical tasks such as benefits.

“Certainly anyone going into HR should have a willingness to learn and eagerness to rise to a challenge,” he said. “Good people skills and the ability to get along well with line managers are helpful.”

Reacting to change

Robinson, who serves as faculty advisor for the Student Chapter of SHRM, said HR is not designed for the lazy and complacent. “They must react well to change,” he said. “The way you hired employees the last time may not be the way it’s done now. Good HR managers always sell the line managers on why things are done the way they are and why they change.”

A college professor for 17 years, Robinson said Ole Miss is offering more continuing education classes for people who work in HR in a way that won’t interfere with their workloads. Faculty members will travel in the state each semester to teach subjects such as harassment in the work place, leadership and motivation. He feels this continuing education will be helpful to those working in HR.

“Newly-hired managers may not have business degrees,” he said. “Ideally, the employer is better served if the HR manager was introduced to courses in college and is certified. Unfortunately, a lot of mid-size employers don’t have that luxury.”

An employee of the Southern Company, Pat Wylie of Gulfport is a staffing manager for Mississippi Power and Gulf Power. He manages six employees who are responsible for hiring and recruiting all workers for these two electric power companies.

Wylie came to HR by way of corporate communications and says he got on-the-job training that led to his current position. He got his first taste of human resources in 1993 when Mississippi Power engaged people not in HR to get involved with principle-centered leadership training.

“I was trained as a communicator by trade and that was one reason I was brought in as a trainer,” he said. “The company had a need for non-HR people to fill roles, and it’s not unusual to have people in them from other fields.”

Creative thinking is important to HR professionals, Wylie feels, and he’s always on the lookout for programs that will be beneficial to company employees. He sees HR departments having smaller staffs who use more of a variety of skills. Talent management is a new skill and entails the assessment of talent and what companies need.

“The job of being a human resources professional is becoming broader and we’re seeing people coming out with HR degrees with more skills and able to do more things,” he said.

Kelvin Mays is risk and safety manager at Ameristar Casino in Vicksburg. He came to this HR position after working in security there and at another casino. In his current job he is responsible for making sure the gaming facility stays compliant with the regulations of federal safety watchdog OSHA.

That’s no easy task with 1,000 employees and 5,100 guests in the casino each day. He serves as president of Ameristar’s safety committee that is made up of representatives from all departments and leads safety-checking walk-throughs every month.

“We also have a lot of contractors around with construction going on,” he said. “Safety compliance is hard to do.”

Mays, who spent 10 years in the Air Force, went through OSHA training sessions in Atlanta and Ameristar corporate training in Las Vegas when he moved into his current position.

“The company believes in promoting from within. If you show you can handle responsibility, they give you the opportunity to move up,” he said. “I wanted to do this because I am able to assist the casino and other team members better here.”

He feels his patience, communication skills and good relations with fellow employees are assets in human resources. Currently, the HR director at Ameristar is mentoring Mays in employee relations.

“I’m ready for that and think I will really enjoy it,” Mays said. “It will involve investigations and resolving issues between team members.”

Contact MBJ contributing Lynn Lofton at mbj@msbusiness.com.


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