A #SHRM19 Interview with University of Illinois


This is a 2019 SHRM Annual Conference and Exposition (#SHRM19) interview is with the University of Illinois School of Labor & Employment, which offers graduate programs in HR and employment relations. Below is a quick Q&A with the assistant dean Becky Barker.

Who is the University of Illinois School of Labor & Employment!? Tell us everything, just as you would someone approaching your booth and asking you this question at #SHRM19 in Las Vegas.

The School of Labor & Employment Relations (LER) at the University of Illinois is consistently considered as one of the top human resource and employment relations graduate programs in the country. The School has a tradition of multidisciplinary research and teaching excellence in human resource management, employment relations, labor economics, organizational behavior, psychology, law, and related fields. Our Master of Human Resources and Industrial Relations (MHRIR) is available both on-campus and online, and our world-class faculty teach in both programs. This ensures that students in both programs have the same high caliber education.  Our graduates are highly sought after and we are proud to have CHRO’s and thought leaders in companies such as Zillow, HPE, Chamberlain Group, Niantic, Raytheon, Trifacta and Vantiv, just to name a few.

Let us in on the magic. What’s it like to work in the School of Labor and Employment? Do you utilize your resources to educate your employees?  

Working at the School of Labor and Employment Relations is an incredible adventure. Personally, I love the fact that I get to recruit folks that will become leaders in the field of HR/IR. It is amazing to me the things that our graduate accomplish once they leave our program. Of course, we set them up to be successful, as our curriculum is constantly being enhanced and updated to keep up with all of the continued change in the world of work. Since we are in the Education realm, it is very important to us that we give our employees professional development opportunities that are meaningful to them. Some utilize their ability to obtain additional schooling at the University of Illinois. Others prefer to enhance their skills with professional conferences or research. There is no “one size fits all” when it comes to education and professional development and we are lucky to work in a unit that recognizes the need to continue to grow our students and employees.

What are the biggest challenges companies face when educating their employees? How do they overcome those challenges?

Honestly, access seems to be one of the biggest challenges that companies face. What employees need or want isn’t readily available to them in their immediate area. Another challenge is cost. We recognized this and that is why we decided to put our top MHRIR program online. But, we needed to be sure that this product and education was just as rigorous and held to the same standards as the on-campus MHRIR, and still be affordable. I think that we succeeded! Companies are learning that their employees may want more than just a seminar on compensation, or an all day diversity training, and they have recognized that employees want the opportunity to learn from reputable leaders in the field and to add value to themselves through the training/coursework. This is where we come in! Many of our students in the online program are able to utilize tuition reimbursement programs in their companies.

What do you wish more HR professionals and recruiters knew about online education?

I wish more HR professionals and recruiters knew how accessible online education can be. But, they also need to recognize that not all online education is equal. Look at who is teaching the courses. Do they use faculty or contract out the classes? Are there ways you can develop a culture of peer learning and teamwork in the class? While it is impossible to replicate and on-campus learning environment, look for online education that might have a synchronous component or an IT platform that allows for break-out discussions and feedback. It was important to us that we created the program online with the same faculty and courses, so that an alum from the online program is no different from one that attended on-campus, with regard to rigor and knowledge learned. Technology has allowed us to do some much more in the online space and this has allowed HR and IR professionals, that are location bound, to enhance their skill set and move into that next position.

How important is it to stay educated in today’s business world?  

It is very important. The world of work is constantly changing. New challenges are going to be faced by HR with legalization of marijuana, tighter restrictions on immigration and H1B visas, introduction of more automation into factories, and retention of high potential employees (just to name a few). Keeping up with employment trends, new research and benchmarking, with like companies, is going to be really important. At LER, our faculty are on the cutting edge of research in all aspects of the employment relationship and we continue to educate leaders in the workplace.

For anyone who won’t be able to make it to the U of I booth in Las Vegas, what do you want them to know?

For those that want to take their career to the next level, the School of Labor and Employment Relations can help you do that. At LER, our curriculum is outstanding and nimble, allowing us to teach the HR andIR basics, but also topics that are emerging. You will find classes in compensation and training alongside data analytics, change management  and social networks in HRM. In addition to teaching the course materials, our professors challenge you to think about things from multiple perspectives. That is the best thing about a multidisciplinary approach. This allows our graduates to align the HR strategy with the business strategy and really help to drive change and keep the company successful by utilizing their best resource-humans. For those looking for an exceptional graduate program, they need to look no further than the School of Labor and Employment Relations at the University of Illinois!

Visit the U of I School of Labor & Employment booth #2062 at #SHRM19!


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