Personnel, Training, and Labor Relations Specialists and Managers

Nature of the Work

Attracting the most qualified employees available and matching them to the jobs they are best suited for is important for the success of any organization. However, many enterprises are too large to permit close contact between top management and employees. Instead, personnel, training, and labor relations specialists and managers, commonly known as human resource specialists and managers, provide this link. These individuals recruit and interview employees and advise on hiring decisions in accordance with policies and requirements that have been established in conjunction with top management. In an effort to improve morale and productivity and limit job turnover, they also help their firms effectively use employees' skills, provide training opportunities to enhance those skills, and boost employees' satisfaction with their jobs and working conditions. Although some jobs in the human resources field require only limited contact with people outside the office, most involve frequent contact. Dealing with people is an essential part of the job.

In a small organization, one person may handle all aspects of personnel, training, and labor relations work. In contrast, in a large corporation, the top human resources executive usually develops and coordinates personnel programs and policies. (Executives are included in the Handbook statement on general managers and top executives.) These policies usually are implemented by a director or manager of human resources and, in some cases, a director of industrial relations.

The director of human resources may oversee several departments, each headed by an experienced manager, who most likely specializes in one personnel activity such as employment, compensation, benefits, training and development, or employee relations.

Employment and placement managers oversee the hiring and separation of employees and supervise various workers, including equal employment opportunity specialists and recruitment specialists.

Recruiters maintain contacts within the community and may travel extensively often to college campuses to search for promising job applicants. Recruiters screen, interview, and, in some cases, test applicants, and recommend those who are qualified to fill vacancies. They may also check references before an offer is made. These workers need to be thoroughly familiar with the organization and its personnel policies to discuss wages, working conditions, and promotional opportunities with prospective employees. They also need to keep informed about equal employment opportunity (EEO) and affirmative action guidelines and laws, such as the Americans With Disabilities Act.

EEO representatives or affirmative action coordinators handle this area in large organizations. They investigate and resolve EEO grievances, examine corporate practices for possible violations, and compile and submit EEO statistical reports.

Employer relations representatives who usually work in government agencies maintain working relationships with local employers and promote the use of public employment programs and services. Similarly, employment interviewers sometimes called personnel consultants help match jobseekers with employers. (For more information, see the statement on employment interviewers elsewhere in the Handbook.)

Job analysts, sometimes called position classifiers, perform very exacting work. They collect and examine detailed information about job duties to prepare job descriptions. These descriptions explain the duties, training, and skills each job requires. Whenever a large organization introduces a new job or reviews existing jobs, it calls upon the expert knowledge of the job analyst.

Occupational analysts conduct research, generally in large firms. They are concerned with occupational classification systems and study the effects of industry and occupational trends upon worker relationships. They may serve as technical liaison between the firm and industry, government, and labor unions.

Establishing and maintaining a firm's pay system is the principal job of the compensation manager. Assisted by staff specialists, compensation managers devise ways to ensure fair and equitable pay rates. They may conduct surveys to see how their rates compare with others and to see that the firm's pay scale complies with changing laws and regulations. In addition, compensation managers often oversee their firm's performance evaluation system, and they may design reward systems such as pay-for-performance plans.

Employee benefits managers handle the company's employee benefits program, notably its health insurance and pension plans. Expertise in designing and administering benefits programs continues to gain importance as employer-provided benefits account for a growing proportion of overall compensation costs, and as benefit plans increase in number and complexity. For example, pension benefits might include savings and thrift, profit sharing, and stock ownership plans, and health benefits may include long-term catastrophic illness insurance and dental insurance. Familiarity with health benefits is a top priority at present, as more firms struggle to cope with the rising cost of health care for employees and retirees. In addition to health insurance and pension coverage, some firms offer their employees life and accidental death and dismemberment insurance, disability insurance, and relatively new benefits designed to meet the needs of a changing work force, such as parental leave, child care and elder care, long-term nursing home care insurance, employee assistance and wellness programs, and flexible benefits plans, in which employees have the option of receiving cash instead of benefits. Benefits managers must keep abreast of changing Federal and State regulations and legislation that may affect employee benefits.

Employee assistance plan managers also called employee welfare managers are responsible for a wide array of programs covering occupational safety and health standards and practices; health promotion and physical fitness, medical examinations, and minor health treatment, such as first aid; plant security; publications; food service and recreation activities; car pooling; employee suggestion systems; child care and elder care; and counseling services. Child care and elder care are increasingly important due to growth in the number of dual-income households and the elderly population. Counseling may help employees deal with emotional disorders, alcoholism, or marital, family, consumer, legal, and financial problems. Career counseling and second career counseling for employees approaching retirement age also may be provided. In large firms, some of these programs such as security and safety are in separate departments headed by other managers.

Training is supervised by training and development managers. Increasingly, management recognizes that training offers a way of developing skills, enhancing productivity and quality of work, and building loyalty to the firm. Training is widely accepted as a method of improving employee morale, but this is only one of the reasons for its growing importance. Other factors include the complexity of the work environment, the rapid pace of organizational and technological change, and the growing number of jobs in fields that constantly generate new knowledge. In addition, advances in learning theory have provided insights into how adults learn, and how training can be organized most effectively for adults.

Training specialists plan, organize, and direct a wide range of training activities. Trainers conduct orientation sessions and arrange on-the-job training for new employees. They help rank-and-file workers maintain and improve their job skills and possibly prepare for jobs requiring greater skill. They help supervisors improve their interpersonal skills in order to deal effectively with employees. To help employees prepare for future responsibilities, they may set up individualized training plans to strengthen existing skills or to teach new skills. Training specialists in some companies set up programs to develop executive potential among employees in lower level positions. In government-supported training programs, training specialists function as case managers. They first assess the training needs of the client, then help guide the client through the appropriate training method. After training, they either refer the client to employer relations representatives or help them get a job.

Planning and program development is an important part of the training specialist's job. In order to identify and assess training needs within the firm, trainers may confer with managers and supervisors or conduct surveys. They also periodically evaluate training effectiveness.

Depending on the size, goals, and nature of the organization, trainers may differ considerably in their responsibilities and in the methods they use. Training methods include on-the-job training; schools in which shop conditions are duplicated for trainees prior to putting them on the shop floor; apprenticeship training; classroom training; programmed instruction, which may involve interactive videos, videodiscs, and other computer-aided instructional technologies; simulators; conferences; and workshops.

The director of industrial relations forms labor policy, oversees industrial labor relations, negotiates collective bargaining agreements, and coordinates grievance procedures to handle complaints resulting from disputes under the contract for firms with unionized employees. The director of industrial relations also advises and collaborates with the director of human resources and other managers and members of their staff, because all aspects of personnel policy such as wages, benefits, pensions, and work practices may be involved in drawing up a new or revised contract.

Industrial labor relations programs are implemented by labor relations managers and their staff. When a collective bargaining agreement is up for negotiation, labor relations specialists prepare information for management to use during negotiation, which requires familiarity with economic and wage data as well as extensive knowledge of labor law and collective bargaining trends. The labor relations staff interprets and administers the contract with respect to grievances, wages and salaries, employee welfare, health care, pensions, union and management practices, and other contractual stipulations. As union membership is continuing to decline in most industries, industrial relations personnel are working more with employees who are not members of a labor union.

Dispute resolution that is, attaining tacit or contractual agreements has become increasingly important as disputants attempt to avoid costly litigation, strikes, or other disruptions. Dispute resolution also has become more complex, involving employees, management, unions, other firms, and government agencies. Specialists involved in dispute resolution must be highly knowledgeable and experienced, and often report to the director of industrial relations. Conciliators, or mediators, advise and counsel labor and management to prevent and, when necessary, resolve disputes over labor agreements or other labor relations issues. Arbitrators, sometimes called umpires or referees, decide disputes and bind both labor and management to specific terms and conditions of labor contracts. Labor relations specialists who work for unions perform many of the same functions on behalf of the union and its members.

Other emerging specialists include international human resources managers, who handle human resources issues related to a company's foreign operations, and human resources information system specialists, who develop and apply computer programs to process personnel information, match jobseekers with job openings, and handle other personnel matters.

More personnel, training, and labor relations specialists and managers will be needed as employers devote greater resources to job-specific training programs.

Working Conditions

Personnel work is office work. Generally, the work setting is clean, pleasant, and comfortable. Many personnel, training, and labor relations specialists and managers work a standard 35- to 40-hour week. However, many work longer hours for example, labor relations specialists and managers when contract agreements are being prepared and negotiated.

Although most personnel, training, and labor relations specialists and managers work in the office, some travel extensively. For example, recruiters regularly attend professional meetings and visit college campuses to interview prospective employees.


Personnel, training, and labor relations specialists and managers held about 474,000 jobs in 1992. They were employed in virtually every industry. Specialists accounted for 281,000 positions; managers, 193,000. About 10,000 mostly specialists were self-employed, working as consultants to public and private employers.

The private sector accounted for about 85 percent of salaried jobs. Among these salaried jobs, services industries including business, health, social, management, and educational services accounted for nearly 4 out of 10 jobs; labor organizations the largest employer among specific industries accounted for 1 out of 10. Manufacturing industries accounted for over 2 out of 10 jobs, while finance, insurance, and real estate firms accounted for about 1 out of 10.

Federal, State, and local governments employed about 15 percent of salaried personnel, training, and labor relations specialists and managers. They handled the recruitment, interviewing, job classification, training, salary administration, benefits, employee relations, and related matters of the Nation's public employees.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Because of the diversity of duties and level of responsibility, the educational backgrounds of personnel, training, and labor relations specialists and managers vary considerably. In filling entry level jobs, firms generally seek college graduates. Some employers prefer applicants who have majored in human resources, personnel administration, or industrial and labor relations, while others look for college graduates with a technical or business background. Still others feel that a well-rounded liberal arts education is best.

Many colleges and universities have programs leading to a degree in personnel, human resources, or labor relations. Some offer degree programs in personnel administration or human resources management, training and development, or compensation and benefits. Depending on the school, courses leading to a career in human resources management may be found in departments of business administration, education, instructional technology, organizational development, human services, communication, or public administration, or within a separate human resources institution or department.

Because an interdisciplinary background is appropriate for work in this area, a combination of courses in the social sciences, business, and behavioral sciences is useful. Some jobs may require a background in engineering, science, finance, or law. Most prospective personnel specialists should take courses in compensation, recruitment, training and development, and performance appraisal, as well as courses in principles of management, organizational structure, and industrial psychology. Other relevant courses include business administration, public administration, psychology, sociology, political science, economics, and statistics. Courses in labor law, collective bargaining, labor economics, labor history, and industrial psychology also provide a valuable background for the prospective labor relations specialist. Knowledge of computers and information systems is important for some jobs.

Graduate study in industrial or labor relations is increasingly important for those seeking work in labor relations. A law degree seldom is required for entry level jobs, but many people responsible for contract negotiations are lawyers, and a combination of industrial relations courses and law is highly desirable. A background in law is also desirable for employee benefits managers and others who must interpret the growing number of laws and regulations. A degree in dispute resolution provides an excellent background for mediators, arbitrators, and related personnel. A master's degree in personnel, training, or labor relations, or in business administration with a concentration in human resources management, is desirable for those seeking general and top management positions.

For many specialized jobs in this field, previous experience is an asset; for managerial positions, it is essential. Many employers prefer entry level workers who have gained some experience through an internship or work- study program while in school. Personnel administration and human resources development require the ability to work with individuals as well as a commitment to organizational goals. This field also demands other skills that people may develop elsewhere computer usage, selling, teaching, supervising, and volunteering, among others. This field offers clerical workers opportunities for advancement to professional positions. Responsible positions sometimes are filled by experienced individuals from other fields, including business, government, education, social services administration, and the military.

Personnel, training, and labor relations specialists and managers should speak and write effectively and be able to work with or supervise people of all levels of education and experience as part of a team. They must be patient to cope with conflicting points of view and emotionally stable to deal with the unexpected and the unusual. The ability to function under pressure is essential. Integrity, fair-mindedness, and a persuasive, congenial personality are important qualities. try level workers often enter formal or on-the-job training programs, in which they learn how to classify jobs, interview applicants, or administer employee benefits. Next, they are assigned to specific areas in the personnel department to gain experience. Later, they may advance to a managerial position, overseeing a major element of the personnel program compensation or training, for example.

Exceptional personnel, training, and labor relations workers may be promoted to director of personnel or industrial relations, which can eventually lead to a top managerial or executive position. Others may join a consulting firm or open their own business. A Ph.D. is an asset for teaching, writing, or consulting work.

Though not widespread, some organizations offer certification examinations to members who meet certain education and experience requirements. Certification is a sign of competence and can enhance one's advancement opportunities. (Several of these organizations are listed under sources of additional information.)

Job Outlook

The number of personnel, training, and labor relations specialists and managers is expected to grow faster than the average for all occupations through the year 2005. As in other occupations, job growth among specialists is projected to outpace job growth among managers. In addition, many job openings will result from the need to replace workers who leave this occupation to transfer to other jobs, retire, or for other reasons. However, the job market is likely to remain competitive in view of the abundant supply of qualified college graduates and experienced workers.

Most new jobs for personnel, training, and labor relations specialists and managers will be in the private sector as employers, increasingly concerned about productivity and quality of work, devote greater resources to job-specific training programs in response to the growing complexity of many jobs, the aging of the work force, and technological advances that can leave employees with obsolete skills. In addition, legislation and court rulings setting standards in occupational safety and health, equal employment opportunity, wages, and health, pension, family leave, and other benefits will increase demand for experts in these areas. The increasing cost of litigation related to labor-management disputes may spur demand for labor relations workers to help resolve these disputes out of court. Increasing demand for international human resources managers and human resources information systems specialists may spur additional job growth. On the other hand, widespread use of computerized human resources information systems could make workers more productive, thus limiting job growth.

Employment demand will be particularly strong in management and consulting firms as well as personnel supply firms as businesses increasingly contract out personnel functions or hire personnel specialists on a contractual basis to meet the increasing cost and complexity of training and development programs. Demand should also increase in firms that develop and administer the increasingly complex employee benefits and compensation packages for other organizations.

Demand for personnel, training, and labor relations specialists and managers also is governed by the staffing needs of the firms where they work. A rapidly expanding business is likely to hire additional personnel workers either as permanent employees or consultants while a business that has experienced a merger or a reduction in its work force will require fewer personnel workers. Similar to other workers, employment of personnel, training, and labor relations specialists and managers, particularly in larger firms, may be adversely affected by corporate downsizing and restructuring. On the other hand, as human resource management becomes increasingly important to the success of an organization, some small and medium-size businesses that do not have a human resources department may employ workers to perform human resources duties on a part-time basis while maintaining other unrelated responsibilities within the company. In any particular firm, the size and the job duties of the human resources staff are determined by a variety of factors, including the firm's organizational philosophy and goals, the labor intensity and skill profile of the industry, the pace of technological change, government regulations, collective bargaining agreements, standards of professional practice, and labor market conditions.


According to a 1993 College Placement Council salary survey, bachelor's degree graduates who majored in human resources, including labor relations, received starting offers averaging $22,900 a year; master's degree recepients, $30,500.

The median annual salary of personnel, training, and labor relations specialists was about $32,000 in 1992. For managers, the median annual salary was over $37,000. However, salaries varied widely. The lowest 10 percent of specialists earned around $17,000, while the highest 10 percent of managers earned nearly $64,000.

According to a 1992 survey of compensation in the human resources field, conducted by Abbott, Langer, and Associates of Crete, Illinois, the median annual salaries for selected personnel and labor relations occupations were: Industrial/labor relations managers, $70,000; corporate training directors, $63,900; compensation specialists (executive, managerial, and professional jobs), $40,200; EEO/affirmative action specialists, $33,800; personnel research specialists, $29,400; and benefits specialists (clerical jobs), $24,200.

According to a survey of workplaces in 160 metropolitan areas, personnel specialists with limited experience had median earnings of $25,100 a year in 1992, with the middle half earning between $22,500 and $28,000 a year. The most experienced personnel specialists had median earnings of $76,900, with the middle half earning between $67,200 and $84,300. Personnel supervisors/managers with limited experience had median earnings of $51,100 a year in 1992, with the middle half earning between $47,200 and $56,400 a year. The most experienced personnel supervisors/managers had median earnings of $105,000, with the middle half earning between $94,800 and $123,900.

In the Federal Government in 1993, persons with a bachelor's degree or 3 years' general experience in the personnel field generally started at $18,300 a year. Those with a superior academic record or an additional year of specialized experience started at $22,700 a year. Holders of a master's degree started at $27,800, and those with a doctorate in a personnel field started at $33,600. There are no formal entry level requirements for managerial positions. Applicants must possess a suitable combination of educational attainment, experience, and record of accomplishment.

Labor relations specialists in the Federal Government averaged $50,400 a year in 1993; personnel managers, $48,200; equal employment opportunity specialists, $47,200; position classification specialists, $45,000; and personnel staffing specialists, $42,600.

Related Occupations

All personnel, training, and labor relations occupations are closely related. Other workers with skills and expertise in interpersonal relations include employment, rehabilitation, and college career planning and placement counselors; lawyers; psychologists; sociologists; social workers; public relations specialists; and teachers. These occupations are described elsewhere in the Handbook.

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Reprinted with Permission of U. S. Department of Labor


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