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Personnel, Training, and Labor Relations Specialists and Managers

Attracting the best employees available and matching them to the jobs they can do best is important for the success of any organization. But many enterprises are too large to permit close contact between management and employees. Instead, personnel and labor relations specialists and mangers provide this link--helping management make effective use of employees' skills, and helping employees find satisfaction in their jobs and working conditions. Although some jobs in this 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 can handle all aspects of personnel administration. In contrast, in a large corporation, the top human resources executive-- usually an executive vice-president--develops and coordinates personnel policies and programs. These policies are implemented by a director of personnel relations and a director of industrial relations.

The director of personnel relations, also referred to as personnel manager, oversees several departments--each headed by an experienced manager--concerned with basic personnel activities--employment, compensation, benefits, education and training, and employee welfare.

Employment managers oversee the hiring and separation of employees. These activities require a range of specialists.

Recruiters maintain contacts within the community and may travel extensively-- usually to college campuses--to search for promising job applicants. Recruiters talk with applicants, and recommend those who appear qualified to fill vacancies. They may administer tests and check references. 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.

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.

Job analysts, sometimes called position classifiers, do 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 ones, 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.

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 account representatives, manpower development specialists, or personnel consultants-- help match jobseekers with employers.

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 laws and regulations.

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 in importance as pension and benefit plans increase in number and complexity. Familiarity with health benefits is a top priority at present, as more and more firms search for ways to respond to the pressures posed by the rising cost of health insurance for employees and retirees.

In addition to health insurance and pension coverage, many firms offer their employees dental insurance, accidental death and disability insurance, auto insurance, homeowners' insurance, stock options, profit sharing, and thrift/savings plans. Benefits analysts and benefits administrators handle these programs.

Training or, more broadly, human resource development is supervised by education and training managers. Increasingly, management recognizes that training offers a way of developing skills, enhancing productivity, 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 where new knowledge is constantly generated. In addition, advances in learning theory have provided insights into how adults learn, and how training can be organized to be most effective for adults.

Training specialists are responsible for planning, organizing, and directing 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 skills. They help supervisors improve their interpersonal skills and 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 designed to develop executive potential among employees in lower echelon positions.

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, there may be considerable differences in trainers' responsibilities and in the methods they use. Training methods include on-the-job training; "vestibule" 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.

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; van-pooling; employee suggestion systems; child care; and counseling services--an area of rapidly growing importance. 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 may also be provided.

The director of industrial relations formulates labor policy, oversees industrial labor relations, and negotiates agreements resulting from disputes involving the firm. The increased attention to employee benefits and working conditions and proliferation of government labor regulations have greatly expanded the scope of labor relations activities-- which formerly concerned only the employees and managers of the firm. The duties of the director of industrial relations include advising and collaborating with the director of personnel relations and other managers and members of their staff, since 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 provide background information on behalf of management's position, 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.

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 has also 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 known as umpires or referees, decide disputes and bind both labor and management to specific terms and conditions of labor contracts.

Working Conditions

Personnel work is office work. Generally, the work setting is clean, pleasant, comfortable, and free from excessive noise. Personnel and training specialists and managers usually work a standard 35- to 40-hour workweek. Labor relations specialists and managers, however, may work longer hours--particularly 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 424,000 jobs in 1990. They were employed in virtually every industry. Specialists accounted for 252,000 positions; the rest were managers. About 10,000--mostly specialists--were self- employed working as consultants to public and private employers.

The private sector accounted for nearly 9 out of 10 salaried jobs. Labor unions--the largest employer--accounted for more than 1 out of 10 salaried jobs. Other important employers include management, consulting, and public relations firms, educational institutions, hospitals, banks, personnel supply agencies, and department stores.

Approximately 1 out of 10 salaried personnel, training, and labor relations specialists and managers worked for Federal, State, and local governments in 1990. They handled recruitment, interviewing, job classification, training, salary administration, employee relations, mediation, and related matters for the Nation's million of public employees: Police officers, firefighters, sanitation workers, teachers, hospital workers, and many others.

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 personnel administration or industrial and labor relations, while others look for college graduates with a technical career 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 and labor relations. Others offer degree programs in personnel administration or personnel management. Some offer degrees or certificates in training and development or compensation and benefits. Depending on the school, preparation for a career in human resource management may be obtained in departments of career administration, education, instructional technology, organizational development, human services, communication, or public administration.

Because an interdisciplinary background is appropriate for work in this area, a combination of courses in the social sciences, career, and behavioral sciences is useful. In some industries, a background in engineering or science is recommended. Prospective personnel specialists should take courses in principles of management, organization dynamics, and human relations. Other relevant courses include career administration, public administration, psychology, sociology, political science, economics, and statistics. Courses in labor law, collective bargaining, labor economics, labor history, and industrial psychology provide a valuable background for the prospective labor relations specialist.

Graduate study in industrial or labor relations is becoming 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 degree in dispute resolution provides an excellent background for mediators, arbitrators, and related personnel.

For many specialized jobs in this field, previous experience is an asset; for managerial positions, it is essential. Personnel adminstration and human resource development require the ability to work with individuals as well as having a commitment to organizational goals. They also demand skills that may be developed in many ways-- computer usage, selling, teaching, supervising, and volunteering, among others. In fact, the majority of personnel and labor relations jobs are filled by people previously employed in another occupation. This field offers clerical workers opportunities for advancement to professional positions. However, more responsible positions may be filled by experienced individuals from other fields, including career, 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 eduction 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.

Entry level workers usually enter formal or on-the-job training programs, where 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.

Some workers leave for a more responsible job in another organization. Exceptional employees 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 career. A Ph.D. is an asset for teaching, writing, or consulting work.

Job Outlook

The number of personnel, training, and labor relations specialists and managers is expected to grow faster than as the average for all occupations through the year 2000. Most job openings will result from replacement needs. Rapid employment growth is expected in management and consulting as well as personnel supply firms as careeres 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. Fast growth is also expected in health care, residential care, and related industries to provide for a rapidly growing elderly population. Relatively little growth is anticipated in public personnel administration.

Demand for personnel, training, and labor relations specialists and managers is governed by the staffing needs of the firms where they work. A rapidly expanding career is likely to hire additional personnel workers--either as permanent employees or consultants--while a career that is reducing its operations with require fewer personnel workers. 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.

Other factors stimulate demand for personnel, training, and labor relations specialists and managers. Legislation setting standards in occupational safety and health, equal employment opportunity, and benefits has substantially increased the amount of recordkeeping, analysis, and report writing in the personnel area. Data gathering and analytical activities will increase as employers continue to review and evaluate their personnel policies and programs, but that probably will not generate many additional jobs because of offsetting productivity gains associated with the automation of personnel and payroll information.

Corporate recognition of the importance of human resource development will spur demand, however. Much greater investment in job-specific, employer-sponsored training and retraining is anticipated in the years ahead--a response to the increasing complexity of training programs, productivity concerns, the aging of the work force, and technological advances that can suddenly leave large numbers of employees with obsolete skills.

Although the number of jobs in this field is projected to increase through the year 2000, most job openings will result from replacement needs. The job market is likely to remain competitive in view of the abundant supply of college graduates and experienced workers with suitable qualifications.


The median annual salary of personnel, training, and labor relations specialists and managers was $30,000 in 1990. The lowest 10 percent earned under $16,300, while the highest 10 percent earned over $54,000. Median earnings of managers were $35,600; for specialists, $27,500. Salaries vary widely and depend upon the size and location of the firm and the nature of its career.

In 1990, according to a comprehensive survey conducted by Abbott, Langer, and Associates, the median annual salaries for selected personnel and labor relations occupations were: Labor relations managers, $52,500; training and organizational development managers, $51,400; compensation and benefits managers, $49,200; safety specialists, $34,700; EEO/affirmative action specialists, $34,600; and benefits planning analysts, $32,300.

In the Federal Government, starting salaries of personnel, training, and labor relations specialists depended upon education and experience. In 1990, persons with a bachelor's degree or 3 years' general experience in the personnel field generally started at $16,300 a year. Those with a superior academic record or an additional year of specialized experience started at $19,100 a year. Holders of a master's degree started at $24,700, and those with a doctorate in a personnel field started at $30,000. There are no formal entry level requirements for managerial positions. Applicants must possess a suitable combination of education attainment, experience, and record of accomplishment.

In the Federal Government, the average annual salary of personnel, training, and labor relations specialists and managers was $38,200 in 1990.

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; and teachers.

Sources of Additional Information

For general information on careers in personnel and industrial relations, send a self- addressed, stamped, legal-sized envelope to:

American Society for Personnel Administration, 606 N. Washington St., Alexandria, VA 22314.

Information on accreditation of generalists and specialists in the personnel and human resources field is available from:

Executive Director, Personnel Accreditation Institute, 606 N. Washington St., Alexandria, VA 22314.

For information about careers in employee training and development, contact:

American Society For Training and Development, 1630 Duke St., Box 1443, Alexandria, VA 22313.

For information about careers and certification in employee compensation, contact:

American Compensation Association, 6619 Scottsdale Rd., Scottsdale, AZ 85253.

Information about careers and certification in employee benefits is available from:

International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans, 18700 W. Bluemound Rd., Broookfield, WI 53005.

For information about careers in arbitration and other aspects of dispute resolution, contact:

American Arbitration Association, 140 West 51st St., New York, NY 10020.

For information about academic programs in industrial relations, write to:

Industrial Relations Research Association, 7226 Social Science Bldg., 1180 Observatory Dr., Madison, WI 53706.

Information about personnel careers in the health care industry is available from:

American Society for Healthcare Human Resources Administration, 840 North Lake Shore Dr., Chicago, IL 60611.

For information about personnel and labor relations careers in government, contact:

International Personnel Management Association, 1617 Duke St., Alexandria, VA 22314.


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