The IPD grew out of early industrialists’ interests in their employees’
welfare. Personnel Today examines how it has developed over the decades and
examines its landmark initiatives and achievements
The miseries endured by industrial workers in the 19th century
are unimaginable for most of us, protected as we are by decades of enlightened
laws and practice. That all started with the pioneering activities of female
welfare workers, who in the years before the first world war were employed by
some factory owners to take account of employees’ conditions.
The main impetus for change came from a handful of employers, men like Jesse
Boot and Seebohm Rowntree, who were often from prominent Quaker families with
strong philanthropic traditions. They and others helped bring welfare workers
together as an association in 1913, effectively laying the foundations of the
Their initiative might have quickly withered but for the outbreak of war,
which created a need for hundreds more welfare professionals to supervise
munitions workers. These came together with the pre-war membership in 1917 to
form the Central Association of Welfare Workers, which by the following year
had 600 members with branches all over the country.
In 1919 it became the Welfare Workers Institute, with a mission to
"promote the well-being of the workers in securing, in co-operation with
employers and employed, the best possible conditions of work".
But the new profession struggled to survive in harsh conditions during the
next two decades, which were characterised by depression, strikes and
unemployment. By 1927 membership had dropped to 420, of whom only 15 were men.
Priorities shifted during this period, as unions became a powerful force in
the workplace. In 1931 the name changed again to the Institute of Labour
Management, as members became increasingly involved in negotiations for
national agreements and procedures. Men started to appear at senior levels and
there was a growing recognition of the need for learning routes and
Again the intervention of war brought about rapid and decisive change for
the profession. Unemployment, then standing at about 1.5 million, disappeared
and management had to compete for skilled workers for war production. Normal
industrial relations were suspended and the role of personnel and welfare
officers grew in response to the need for mediation in disputes.
In 1942 the institute redefined personnel management as "that part of
the management function which is primarily concerned with the human
relationships within an organisation", dealing with issues such as
recruitment, selection, training and education.
By the end of the war the institute had nearly 3,000 members, and the
profession of personnel manager was secure. In 1946 it changed its name again
to the Institute of Personnel Management, and this stuck for almost half a
century. Growth continued with the Labour governments’ programme of
nationalisation, as the new public companies were required by law to be
"good employers and to introduce joint consultation", creating the
need for thousands of new personnel specialists.
For the first time personnel came to be seen as a career for men, and
courses and conferences were provided to help members meet the new demands on
In 1955 the institute created its own examination scheme, restricting full
membership mainly to those who took a recognised course of training in
personnel management. By 1962 it had a members’ journal with a circulation of
In the 1970s and 80s the IPM worked against a background of high
unemployment and industrial strife. It was also a period of unprecedented state
intervention and the institute was called on to comment on a number of
consultative papers, wielding particular influence over the question of
In 1981 it moved to its present home on the edge of Wimbledon Common and
initiated the publication of the magazine Personnel Management, now called
A related development was a growing emphasis on faster and more effective
training in industry, which led to the founding of the Institute of Training
and Development. However by the early 1990s it was clear that the two bodies’
functions overlapped, causing growing confusion. Discussions between them led
in 1994 to the formation of a single entity, the present IPD,(see feature,
The past decade has seen an increasing focus on the concept of human
resources as a major element in business strategy. The IPD has played a major
role in this, introducing theorists such as Michael Porter, Gary Hamel, CK
Prahalad and Sumantra Ghoshal to HR audiences.
Now with a membership of 100,000 and about to receive chartered status, it
can claim to have played a crucial role in the creation of an essential plank
of British industry.
Very low pay but a wealth of experience
Michael Foreman recalls his years as director of the IPM between 1953
"In those days the IPM was small and tended to hire people as directors
for a short period. They didn’t pay much but it was tremendous experience. We
were based in Hill Street in Mayfair, with 400 members, a staff of 12 and a
budget of £25,000. A lot of my time was taken up with co-ordinating the 35
branches around the country, dealing with policy and administration.
"At that time there were only half a dozen personnel directors at board
level, but change was beginning to happen, and companies were having to think
about development and training.
"Industrial relations pressures made the personnel function
particularly critical. There was a shifting emphasis from blue collar
industrial relations to management of managers, with very different concerns
relating to matters such as performance, pay, recruitment and development.
"When I arrived the IPM depended on subscription income, which at £5
left us strapped for cash. But we managed to double that through training and
conferences. We had the biggest conference in the country, as we still do,
getting 1,000 people for the first time. And a whole range of courses was run
by the training officer on my staff.
"A big change during my time was the introduction of entry by
examination. Before that it had been entirely by interview and assessment. We
sponsored courses in personnel development at the LSE and Manchester College of
Technology (now Umist).
"My predecessor had started international conferences and we maintained
those at Cambridge each year. The UK was leading Europe in personnel management
at that time – Germany and Italy were in a muddle, and France hadn’t thought
about it much. However Sweden and the US had made some headway, and we had
delegations from them which thickened the mixture. And very soon various
countries began founding their own Institutes of Personnel Management."