The Master of Business Administration (MBA) is widely perceived as the graduate degree to acquire if you’re in business. But if you’re interested in human resource management or industrial relations (HR/IR), doing an MBA presents a particular set of challenges.
One problem is that MBA programs are expensive. At many universities, the pricing of these programs is based on the assumption that the student’s employer will subsidize the cost – which may not always be true. The cost of an MBA program is an issue for many potential students, but cost may be a particular challenge for HR/IR practitioners – especially those whose education might not be subsidized – because HR jobs tend to pay less than other business-related jobs.
Another problem is that many MBA programs have a broad curriculum, without any subject-based concentrations. Or, if concentrations are offered, they may only consist of a few courses, making it difficult to acquire in-depth expertise in the subject. Many students admitted to MBA programs don’t have an undergraduate degree in business – and that means the MBA curriculum has to cover all the functional areas of business, because students may not have already been introduced to these. And many programs have limited content in their concentrations, or no concentrations at all, because students want to complete their program within a strict timeframe. Most MBA programs are two years or less, and there just isn’t room in the curriculum in that time to cover core subjects and offer specialized studies.
And yet another problem is that, unfortunately, the content of MBA curriculums may reflect the lower status of HR/IR functions in business in general. The HR function is struggling for relevancy, and even the introduction of the Certified Human Resource Professional (CHRP) credential has not increased the legitimacy of the HR profession. Anecdotally, I’ve been told that some MBA students don’t even want to take an HR course, because they think having an HR course on their transcript will be perceived as them being unsuitable for executive-level jobs. That’s an extreme opinion, admittedly, but it does point to the reality that HR positions are generally not the source of candidates for executive promotions.
So what does an HR/IR practitioner do if they want to acquire a graduate degree? Realistically, it depends on what they want to achieve with that degree. An MBA will definitely enhance a resume, provide good exposure to every area of business operations, and facilitate networking that could lead to promotions or other opportunities. But if acquiring more advanced skills in HR/IR is a more important goal, then something other than an MBA degree may be a better choice.
Non-MBA programs that have a significant HR/IR focus may take a while to find, because they’re not always associated with business schools. So here are a few examples of graduate degrees that may be more suitable than an MBA for HR/IR practitioners whose main goal is to develop their professional expertise. I admit that this is a highly selective list – it’s programs that I’m familiar with either through having had students take these programs, or through knowing faculty members who teach in these programs. But even this selective list does demonstrate that there are a range of alternatives to the MBA.
- The Master of Employment Relations (MER) program at Memorial University. This is a multi-disciplinary program offered jointly by Memorial’s Faculties of Arts and Business. It’s a one-year program and has options for part-time study.
- The Master of Industrial Relations (MIR) program at Queen’s University. This is one of the oldest and best-regarded HR/IR programs in North America. The degree can be completed in one year of full-time study, but it also has options for part-time study. There is also a joint MIR-JD degree program offered with Queen’s law school.
- The Master of Industrial Relations and Human Resource Management (MIRHR) program at the University of Toronto. This too is a well-established and very well-regarded program. The degree requires two years of full-time study, but applicants with an undergraduate degree in business or an employment-related field of study can qualify for advanced standing and complete the program in one year. There are options for part-time study as well.
- The Master of Human Resource Management (MHRM) program at York University. This program is based in the York School of Human Resource Management, part of the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies. Its courses are scheduled like those in most executive MBA programs, offered on compressed schedules on weekends, and the degree can be completed full-time in one year or part-time in two years. York University’s law school, Osgoode Hall, also offers a professional LLM (master of laws) degree program with a specialization in labour relations and employment law. The courses in this two-year, part-time program are also offered on a compressed schedule, and participation via videoconferencing is available for some courses.
- The Master of Science in Human Resources Law program at St. Louis University School of Law. This new program, launching this fall, is designed for working professionals to gain expertise in the legal aspects of HR/IR practice without taking a law degree. The program can be completed in one year of full-time study, or on a part-time basis.
If anyone wants to let me know about other programs like the ones I’ve mentioned here, please add a note in the comments section below, or send me an email through this blog’s “contact” page. Happy studying!