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What Is Human Resources?

Human resources is a term that refers to the people component of organizations. HR includes full- or part-time employees, or even gig workers.

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What is human resources?

Human resources is a term that refers to the people component of organizations—the people the company calls upon to create and deliver products and services and achieve strategic objectives. These people could include full- or part-time employees, or even gig workers. Most organizations, but especially service organizations, consider employees to be their most valuable resource.

Human resources is also used to refer to the function within organizations responsible for people-related activities from talent acquisition, to benefit administration, to training and development, and more. 

The history of human resources

The HR department has been around since the early 1900s, and it’s changed a lot—from managing payroll, to enforcing equality laws, to the modern strategic business partner it is today. 

From a position as “rule enforcer” which many HR practitioners are still trying to overcome, most HR professionals today serve in a more strategic and collaborative role within their organizations. HR has risen to a C-level role in many organizations with the emergence of the title Chief Human Resource Officer (CHRO). 

The pandemic has also played a role in elevating the role of HR professionals as it has served to heighten the awareness of the importance of this role especially in an environment of remote and hybrid management and significant issues related to employee relations that have emerged during the pandemic—from protection from the virus, to mental health concerns, to rapidly growing turnover that many companies are experiencing. 

Jobs in human resources

The human resources function is a broad one with many types of jobs available for those interested in the profession. Indeed.com breaks down 12 of the most common human resources jobs, ranging from employment specialists and human resources assistant to labor relations specialists, to recruiters, managers, and directors.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) outlines nine competencies that HR professionals need to have. The profession has moved well beyond considering “people skills” to be a key HR competency, to include competencies related to business acumen and global and cultural effectiveness. In addition, while not on SHRM’s list of competencies, an emerging need in the HR profession is the need for strong people analytics skills. Fortunately, there are tools to help HR practitioners harness the power of the data available to them today. 

People analytics, driven by access to big data, can help organizations make more informed decisions to help not only attract and keep top talent, but to deploy that talent across the organization most effectively. 

Human resources certification

SHRM has an accreditation process for HR professionals to achieve certification through testing and ongoing reporting of activities including training and professional contributions to the field.  

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