What types of HR specialism are there?

According to Sarah Chatterley, associate director at Search HR, the vast majority of HR professionals enter the profession as a generalist, having qualified as new graduates in the discipline or having progressed from an administrative role, moving from HR administration assistant to HR advisor through “on-the-job” experience.

Yet it is perfectly acceptable, even career-enhancing, to move to a specialist area such as employment law’ employee relations or learning and development before moving back to a generalist role. Other specialist options include organisational design, talent management, recruitment (both graduate and lateral hires), management information, payroll and reward.

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Even generalists can adopt a remit which will allow them career flexibility. Typical work for generalists is likely to vary according to the economic cycle. Chatterley says that the current focus areas, given the economic climate, are employee relations, staff retention and developing talent. Succession planning is also a hot topic, with companies looking to develop talent from internal resource as opposed to going out to market for additional recruits.

“The pressure to ensure return on investment through the employee base, driven by the last two years’ extreme economic conditions, has led to a more consistent focus on performance improvement/management initiatives, as well as staff development programmes,” Chatterley adds. “This in turn demands intervention and support for operations from the HR function and specifically the generalist workload.”

To provide an idea of the spectrum of HR roles we look at some specialist functions.

Key skills: Good numerical and IT skills are essential for would-be payroll specialists, says Colin Youle, a consultant with Jam HR Recruitment. The role also requires an organised and methodical approach and a high level of accuracy and attention to detail.

Qualifications: There are no minimum entry requirements for specialising in payroll, says Youle, but the following qualifications may be beneficial: Association of Accounting Technicians (AAT) NVQ level 2 in payroll administration; Institute of Payroll Professionals (IPP) practitioner certificate in payroll.

Typical salaries: Starting annual salaries are typically between £13,000 and £18,000 for a payroll administrator position. Managers’ salaries are between £18,000 and £40,000 per year depending on level of responsibility, size of team and organisation.

Key skills: Applicants are expected to be confident about gathering facts and statistics, preparing detailed analysis and making financial calculations for planning and other uses, says Youle. IT skills are essential, especially experience using databases, spreadsheets, word processing and accounts packages.
Qualifications: There are no minimum entry qualifications, but the Certificate in Personnel Practice (CPP) provides a practical grounding in basic personnel skills. 
Typical salaries: Starting salaries can vary between £22,000 and £40,000 per year, while senior managers earn more than £50,000 depending on level of responsibility, size of team and organisation

Business partner

The emergence of the “strategic partner” role in the late 1990s has influenced the design of strategic business partner or business partner roles in many organisations – although in practice (according to the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development’s (CIPD) business partnering research of 2010) there is a great deal of variety in terms of the nature and level of the work carried out by the job holder. Partners may adopt the role of “change champions” for example.

“The business partner role is a highly desirable route of progression,” says Chatterley, “which is seen as offering a true ability to partner the business leaders, and so ensure delivery of HR interventions that support the realisation of specific business objectives.”

Key skills: Applicants are expected to understand the business and have influence.

Qualifications: Graduate level and most probably CIPD qualifications.

Typical salary: Jobs equivalent to a head of department can expect an annual salary of around £80,000, but this is dependent on company profile and job remit.

Talent manager

Despite the economic downturn, the role of talent manager remains of prime importance, says Matt Brown, a director at recruitment consultancy firm YSC. This is especially true for companies who are operating in emerging markets. “They are trying to grow local talent but finding that this requires a measured and sophisticated approach,” he says.

Key skills: Applicants will find that they are up against stiff competition from other specialists such as business psychologists and operations directors. Applicants need business and strategic awareness and an insight into metrics.

Qualifications: Graduate level and most probably CIPD qualifications.

Typical salary: Depends on the size of the company but a department head in a global organisation can expect a six-figure sum.

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