Which Human Resource and Workforce Development Career is Right for You?

June 9, 2022

Most of us sit down and plan for the future. It's a lifelong task. We try to make certain that we have the support and resources we need to meet our basic daily needs and fulfill our aspirations and goals. We try to develop the resilience necessary to weather life's ups and downs. We may have a specific vision for the future, so we work to translate that into practical strategies for making it happen. We strive to succeed today, but we also look toward the future.

Businesses and organizations are no different – except that their planning efforts and future thinking tend to happen on a much larger scale and with a much larger footprint. That means they rely on human resource and workforce development professionals to translate leadership's plans and visions for the future into strategies for organizational success today, and in the long run.

A human resources manager explains responsibilities to a job applicant.

Mandel G. Samuels, teaching assistant professor of Human Resource and Workforce Development Education at the University of Arkansas, explains that workforce development is the alignment of the organization's workforce with an organization's vision, mission, and strategic goals and aspirations.

"Your job as the HR manager is to say, 'OK, what competencies will be needed in order for the organization to accomplish its strategic goals?'" says Samuels. "Do we have those competencies in-house already? Or do we need to develop them? Do we have people on staff now that we can upscale, or do we need to look externally?"

Samuels explains that HR professionals then need to develop training and development programs to get their workforce where they need to be.

"HR professionals work with senior management teams to improve the workforce's skillset," says Samuels. "When this process is carefully aligned with the organization's needs, everyone wins."

"HR professionals work with senior management teams to improve the workforce's skillset. When this process is carefully aligned with the organization's needs, everyone wins."

Mandel G. Samuels, teaching assistant professor

Developing an organization's skill set applies not only to current employees; organizations also need to be thinking about keeping those skills in place when inevitable changes in the workforce occur. Another area HR and workforce development professionals focus on is succession planning in organizational culture.

"If someone leaves their job, do you have anybody ready for business continuity?" says Samuels. "A lot of companies don't do that. And so when somebody leaves, they find themselves in trouble when all the institutional knowledge walks out the door."


Preparing for Business Disruption

Adapting to changing business conditions – and building resilience in an organization – is another skill that HR managers need to develop. The COVID-19 pandemic offers a great example of why HR managers, and the companies they work for, need to be ready for the unexpected. Shifts can be seismic and they can affect a business in many different ways, from technology challenges to how and where people can work.

"All of a sudden, you have everybody working from home," says Samuels. "What does that do to your servers? Then there's the question of security. People are now logging-in from home, and you don't know what type of security they have on their home networks."

Samuels also highlights an issue that many HR professionals may overlook.

"We make the assumption that everybody has fast internet access, and that's not always true," says Samuels. "Where I am in Northwest Arkansas, you've got four major cities, but go ten miles out to the east or west, and there may not be a stable internet signal. If people in remote areas do have internet access, it's not always high speed. That makes it difficult for them – and their employers – to function."

The pandemic also forced many HR directors to re-think how they can develop an increasingly physically remote workforce.

"You can run a lot of employee development programs and talent development strategies online to improve organizational efficiency," says Samuels. "But connecting with people on a personal level is also important. You've got to reach out and understand where people want to go in their careers and encourage them. We talk to our students about how to assess the needs of employees and build plans to support them."

Photo of Mandel G. Samuels

Mandel G. Samuels

Not all events impacting a business will come out of the blue like a catastrophic public health crisis. Instead, some challenges will slowly creep over the horizon, but in plain view.

"Self-driving vehicles are on the horizon," says Samuels. "Are you going to have self-driving vehicles 10 years from now? If so, what happens to all the drivers you now have? Do those vehicles still need to have a person in the vehicle, even though it's self-driving? If so, what competencies do they need? What do we do to get them ready for that?"

Samuels explains that business disruption is always going to happen. How and when an organization responds is key to long-term success.

"HR directors need to understand their businesses and be ready to address these issues before they become problems," says Samuels.


Online Degree Completion Program

Samuels explains that the online bachelor's degree in Human Resource and Workforce Development Education is considered a degree completion program.

"A lot of our students are non-traditional," says Samuels. "Many will have started school but never finished. They'll have completed their freshman or sophomore years somewhere else and then, due to all manner of different reasons, find themselves unable to continue. Often, they will already be in an HR position, but they can't get promoted because they don't have a degree."

According to Samuels, the online program allows students to continue working and taking care of their families and other responsibilities while continuing with their studies. And it gives them access to a top-quality degree they might not otherwise be able to achieve.

"We work with a lot of people who tell us they can't go back to school because they just can't physically get to classes every day," says Samuels. "We have all the resources they need from a Research 1 institution. So, they get access to the library, tutoring, anything they need, really, and it's all online."

Samuels also highlights how the program is asynchronous, allowing students to choose when to work on their assignments.

"Obviously, there are deadlines, but our students can manage their time and do the coursework around their work and family commitments."

However, Samuels points out that flexibility doesn't mean the program is an easy choice.

"A lot of potential students ask me if the degree program is difficult," says Samuels. "I tell them that every degree, whether it's online or on campus, is difficult. You must be willing to put in the time and the effort to make it happen. Online students do have to make sacrifices. If you like to get together with friends every other week, you might only be able to do it once a month now. Nobody is just going to hand you a degree."


Non-Traditional Classes for Non-Traditional Students

Samuels explains he has tailored his classes to the specific needs of his non-traditional students. His students aren't expected to download or stream online lectures.

"I write an assignment, give them all the criteria and set a deadline," says Samuels. "Then I make myself available to students to discuss any issues or ideas they might have. We have office hours, of course, but because these are non-traditional students, I try to be flexible so they can reach me in the evenings or on weekends."

According to Samuels, his students don't miss attending lectures.

"I've actually asked students over the years if I did lectures, would they watch?" says Samuels. "They say, 'I've got my family, I've got my work, and I've got to read the textbook anyway, so I'm not going to spend another 30 to 40 minutes watching a video.'"

Nevertheless, Samuels does expect that students in the program will apply themselves.

"Nobody is being spoon-fed," says Samuels. "There are no multiple-choice or matching questions in my classes. Instead, students work hard to solve a problem. They come to me if they have any questions via email or video chat."

Once students have completed their assignments, he provides individual feedback.

"I expect students to read their personal feedback and then use that information to improve on the next assignment," says Samuels. "Since this is an HR and workforce development program and most students are already working in careers in human resources development, I tell them to use their experience in the workforce and apply that in answering the questions."

Students in the program can usually expect to graduate in two years. However, there is a built-in element of flexibility to help students struggling to balance work, life and study.

"Some students will take one class per semester, others take two," says Samuels. "It's really up to the individual student and everything else they have going on in their lives."


Proud To Get a Great Education – and Be a Razorback

Regardless of whether a student studies for their degree online or on campus, the end product is the same according to Samuels.

"A degree from the University of Arkansas ONLINE comes with all the benefits of a qualification from a top-rated, Research 1 university," says Samuels.

Being a student at the flagship university for the state also comes with some bragging rights when it comes to sporting prowess.

"If you're from the state of Arkansas, you just want to be a Razorback," says Samuels. "Our online students are just as proud to call themselves Razorbacks as the students attending classes on campus. And of course, they all benefit from the same high-quality education they should expect from a good program that carries an established reputation from a major institution."


Career Opportunities in Human Resource and Workforce Development

Ultimately, the Human Resource and Workforce Development Education program is geared toward HR managers and directors aiming for a seat in the C-suite.

According to Samuels, job titles in the industry vary dramatically depending on the organization. But typical senior roles might include roles like chief learning officer, director of HR, or executive vice president of HR. Other training and development job titles include training and development manager, training facilitator, program evaluator, and corporate learning specialist.

As you might expect in such senior roles, graduates of the program can command a significant salary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, human resource managers earn a median wage of $121,220 per year. Opportunities are increasing, with the BLS projecting a 9% growth rate for the field, adding some 14,800 new jobs over the next decade.

Anecdotally, Samuels also sees a growing number of trade publications and events targeting senior human resource development professionals.

"It's a growing industry," says Samuels. "I think as workplace solutions and technology continue to evolve, and remote working and globalization become the norm, it's a skill set that more organizations are going to need."


Turning a Personal Passion Into a Career

No one understands better than Samuels that development and education go hand in hand – for companies and individuals. As a high school student, Samuels never doubted that he would go to college.

"I grew up in a household where my mother had a college degree," says Samuels. "Not going to college was never an option. It was expected. I was never asked if I was going to college. It was always, 'Where are you going to college?'"

It wasn't until many years after graduating with a degree in radio, television and film that Samuels realized his experience wasn't universal. This insight took him from a career in television and AV management, working for major television broadcasters and large corporations, to the world of education.

It was after Samuels moved to Arkansas to take a job as the University of Arkansas' director of media services that he first came into contact with a community where there was little discussion of higher education as a route to a better future.

"I was on a mission trip to the southeast region of the state," recalls Samuels. "There were so many things going on during that mission trip. There was a food drive, a clothing drive, and I also helped with a sports camp where I was able to have conversations with a lot of young people. A recurring theme in those conversations was that they didn't have much hope for their future. So, my thought process was, how can I help these young people? That led me into teaching."

Samuels went on to study for an MBA and a doctorate in higher education before moving into a teaching position at the University of Arkansas College of Education and Health Professions.

In many ways, Samuels sees his work as a professor as an extension of the good work he began on the mission trip.

"Hopefully, I'm inspiring students by encouraging them, motivating them and challenging them to reach for higher goals," says Samuels. "Working on those team leadership skills is all part of the talent development process."

Samuels must be doing something right because he regularly receives news from former students sharing their success stories.

"Just last week, I got an email from a student who graduated in December. She didn't have a lot of confidence in herself when she started the program and was worried about getting a job. So, we met periodically throughout her time in the program, and I just encouraged her to believe in her abilities and develop those leadership skills. At the end of the day, as an educator I want to take these students and help them fulfill their dreams. The great news is she was offered an amazing job last week out in California. It was just wonderful to hear."

Mandel G. Samuels, teaching assistant professor

Visit the online Bachelor's Degree in Human Resource and Workforce Development Education program page to learn how to reengage with your education and develop your career in the human resource development field.

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