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Human Resources

Human Resources

Personnel choice? When you make the leap to the civilian workplace, maybe human resources could be the career for you

What’s involved?

Human resources (HR) is a huge field that covers everything and anything to do with people as a business resource. It includes such diverse areas as recruitment and selection, training and development, remuneration and benefits, conditions and opportunities, retirement and redundancy, outplacement and counselling (see ‘Factfile: The day job’ for more).

It’s an area of constant change, with legal, cultural, ethnic and other diversity issues presenting new challenges daily. Legal changes could deal with areas such as:

  • sexual discrimination
  • disability
  • maternity, paternity, adoption and parental rights
  • religious rights
  • working hours and patterns
  • ageism.

There is no ‘correct’ model of best personnel practice because organisations operate in different areas, in different places and at different stages of development. The whole business of people management is very complex because there are no universal solutions. People answer back and interact with management decisions; other resources don’t do that. There has been a shift of power, backed up in many instances by legislation, from employer employee, with the latter expecting more from both work and life than was previously the case. 

The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) is the principal UK body that represents the human resources function. It is Europe’s largest HR development professional body. Other organisations cover specific personnel areas like recruitment, outplacement, counselling and personal development, but the CIPD takes the lead in people management as a whole. It was formed by an amalgamation of the Institute of Personnel Management and the Institute of Training and Development, and now offers a range of academic and vocational standards and qualifications for the aspiring professional in this field.


The day job

The areas dealt with on a day-to-day basis by the HR professional can vary enormously, depending on the size of the company they work for. Bigger organisations may employ several people to cover specific HR-related issues, while smaller ones could have just one person to deal with the entire HR function. HR-type roles within a company may include:

  • human resources management 
    – compensation and benefits manager
    – employee benefit consultant
    – employee relations officer
    – equal opportunities officer
    – human resources officer
  • recruitment 
    – recruitment consultant
    – recruitment manager
  • training 
    – IT trainer
    – training and development officer.

So you can see that this is a pretty wide-ranging employment sector!

Skill up while serving

Many people in the Armed Forces see themselves as trained and experienced in personnel issues and the development of the skills of their workforce. Does that sound like you? There is no doubt that this is largely true, and that the recruitment, selection, career management and appraisal processes demonstrate a genuine commitment to people and responsiveness to change. However, many people have also found that the gap between military and civilian practice is greater than they imagine – and it can also be difficult to manage 21st-century expectations in a Service environment.

In areas like leadership, recruitment, training and personal development, the Services’ record is a strong one and they could fairly claim to be among the market leaders. However, the unique demands of Service life leave many Forces personnel unfamiliar with such topics as disabilities, trades unions, job-sharing and some of the finer points of employment law.

Some military courses in all three Services are accredited by the CIPD (for further details, contact the CIPD direct – see ‘Useful info’). These will also stand you in good stead if you are thinking of a career in HR when you leave the Forces (don’t forget that you can use your ELC – see below – to work towards qualifications at level 3 and above while serving and for up to five years after you leave). Additional modules may be required in order to achieve CIPD membership at the appropriate level, which may well call for some extra work and effort. Not every youngster at the start of their military career will see this as a desirable thing to do, but those who make the effort will acquire a transferable qualification – as well as one that will be increasingly useful within a military career. Note, too, that the CIPD is not ‘officer only’. There cannot be a senior NCO who could not easily complete an appropriate N/SVQ at the right level, simply by using the paperwork and experience available in everyday Service life.

The mixed workforces and more civilian-style working environments that the more technical parts of the Services have managed for years clearly call for a different approach than that adopted by units firmly focused on operations. Manning branches and posting authorities, despite the occasional internal bad press, also largely follow today’s civilian best practices. Expectations are managed as far as possible, to keep them realistic; there is consultation about postings where possible and within the constraints of operations; and individuals can consult with a career manager if they wish – although, as in civilian life, they may not necessarily like what they hear.

Get qualified!

It’s essential to have the right skills to work in HR, but it’s a competitive area, so qualifications are important, too (see below).

Skills in demand

Useful skills for a career in HR include:

  • strong interpersonal skills (e.g. empathy, tact, discretion)
  • ability to get on with a range of different people
  • capacity for teamwork
  • excellent organisational and administrative skills
  • good time management 
  • proficiency in IT/using computers.

Course choices

As for qualifications, there are bachelor’s degrees, higher national diplomas (HNDs) and higher national certificates (HNCs) in human resources available via UK universities and colleges, many of them linked with other subjects like business studies, technology or a language. There are also many shorter courses on the subject in general, or specific aspects of it, on offer through local colleges and independent course providers. There are training centres close to most major military concentrations, and qualifications can also be obtained through distance and flexible learning programmes, which are well suited to a Service lifestyle.


Professional HR standards aim to encourage the following ten competencies:

  1. personal drive and effectiveness
  2. people management and leadership
  3. business understanding
  4. professional and ethical competence
  5. continuing learning
  6. adding value through people
  7. analytical and intuitive/creative thinking
  8. customer focus
  9. strategic capability
  10. communication resourcing and interpersonal skills.

There are several routes to becoming a qualified HR professional.

  • A CIPD qualification is the most popular way and is available for a range of people – from those with little or no experience to others in more senior positions. All qualifications are nationally recognised and lead to a professional grade of membership.
  • A professional assessment of competence is appropriate for people with five years’ managerial-level experience who can have their competence professionally assessed.
  • Affiliate membership (non-studying) is an individual grade that is open to all, and allows access to member services without having to demonstrate professional knowledge and competence.
  • The award of a CIPD qualification or a relevant NVQ/SVQ within the past ten years qualifies the holder for direct admission and could lead to a professional grade of membership.
  • A relevant postgraduate-level qualification could qualify the holder for accreditation of prior certificated learning (APL).

The CIPD provides library and information services, training courses leading to qualifications, CPD, and the chance to network with others at national and regional events. Members also receive its magazine, People Management (published in print ten times a year, and also available online and as an app), which not only contains a large number of job advertisements, but also provides up-to-date information on industry developments, career opportunities, courses, and so on.

The CIPD provides library and information services, training courses leading to qualifications, CPD, and the chance to network with others at national and regional events. Members also receive its monthly magazine, People Management, which not only contains a large number of job advertisements, but also provides up-to-date information on industry developments, career opportunities, courses, and so on.


Many Service leavers have found that gaining a CIPD qualification means that they can be confident in their knowledge of modern personnel and development management. It is also an invaluable tool in translating Service skills and experience into terms that a civilian employer will understand and value. Indeed, a look at employment pages and national advertisements confirms that many organisations regard CIPD qualifications as essential for work in this field.

Use your ELC

Under the ELC scheme, a wide range of learning can be taken, provided it is offered by an approved provider listed on the ELC website and is at level 3 or above. For full details of how to make the most of your ELC, refer to the in-depth features elsewhere on this website.

To see our full list of HR training providers and courses 

Click here


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