Rachel Cooper specialises in developing senior HR professionals through postgraduate CIPD Level 7 programmes. Here, she shares her advice for developing your business acumen and achieving an HR leadership role.
Realising the role of HR in the workplace
I have been a tutor since 2006; I've been working on CIPD programmes during that time. My background is actually in accounting and finance, and I worked in the aerospace industry for a manufacturer of components in the 1980s and 90s.
I worked as a line manager and took on a lot of front-line HR responsibilities. I was also involved in the job evaluation committee, which we had at the time. This was all an eye opener in terms of the role and importance of HR.
I got to realise how important the employment relationship is to all parties involved and how, without trust and goodwill, the organisation and the individual would be hard-pressed to achieve their ambitions and aspirations.
I have since those days spent some time at home bringing up a family (again a source of insight into HR particularly regarding negotiation and disciplinaries!) and also went on to study for an MBA. I am an academic member of the CIPD and have enjoyed my time working on the academic side of HR, gaining knowledge and understanding both through study and through working with students.
Getting ahead with CIPD qualifications
The importance of qualifications cannot be understated.
It is through any field of study that we gain an understanding and awareness of a wide variety of views and concepts. Then, we can broaden our scope and make more sense of the world so that we can go on to achieve great things in a practical sense.
The field of human resource management is a broad and dynamic field of study and also broad in the sense of practical experience and application. Employers look to CIPD as a source of credible qualifications where learning and skills can be proven through the holding of a CIPD qualification.
Depending on your level of practical experience and prior academic study, you will start at either Level 3 or Level 5 with CIPD. Moving onto Level 7 makes good sense where you see yourself becoming a leader at a strategic level, with HR as your specialist profession.
As I mentioned earlier, I have been lucky enough to work with many CIPD students. This has been at all levels of seniority; both in the classroom face-to-face as well as online at a distance. HR professionals’ experiences and know-how is impressive, and the students I work with hold a wide variety of skills and abilities.
Many students are familiar with the practicalities of HR management and it is always exciting to see how theory often helps them to look at issues from different perspectives, and to develop innovative and credible solutions.
Aspects of their working lives may be opened to new ways of looking at the challenges, and study often assists with confidence levels to help make decisions at all levels in organisations to move things forward.
It is rewarding to all parties when students progress through the stages to end up studying for a professional qualification at Master’s Level, Level 7. It is a great satisfaction to achieve this level and opens up all sorts of working opportunities for you.
To work towards a senior HR role my advice would be to study at Level 7; this will help to give you confidence in making decisions at the highest level. You will have the chance to look at HR from many aspects, but also you will get the chance to develop your all-round business skills.
Developing yourself comprehensively in the organisation
The context of the organisation is hugely important. The core modules at Level 7 ensure that you will develop your HR skills to the highest professional level, but also your all-round business acumen will be developed and tested.
This allows you to make contributions as part of the senior leadership teams in organisations. You are likely to always have your HR professionalism at your core, but as you study you will become more of an all-round business professional. This gives you the opportunity to progress in the widest sense as an individual, and also help the organisation achieve its goals and drive it forwards in today’s ever-changing world.
Studying at this level is a challenge in its own right and you will most likely be in demanding work positions too. Working with tutors and using the materials and texts, as well as academic journal sources will allow you to develop your skills and knowledge appropriately.
Studying at a distance allows you to flex your study around other commitments to fit with the other demands on your time. To achieve Level 7, you will need to be able to think critically and evaluatively - analysing situations and developing ideas and thoughts based on your academic study to offer recommendations about a way forward.
When studying for your qualification, you will use case studies to help with the practical application of this, but you will also take this thinking into the real workplace. This is what will help you to stand out from others.
Creating robust strategies
Not just accepting things as given to you, but challenging in a positive and constructive way to ensure a robustness of thinking with an ability to make the best possible decisions. This is what is always essential in an ambiguous and ever-changing world.
I believe wholeheartedly that studying is enlightening; I have found the periods of study in my career as being inspiring and developmental in a way that is hard to achieve otherwise.
Enjoy the process. It is a special time to be reading and learning from the great minds both in HR and in wider fields too. You will be amazed at how your thinking will develop and change, giving you a new perspective on the way the world works.
It also equips you with the tools and thinking skills to accept the challenges that you will inevitably face in your career. I wish you good luck and great success; this does come through attention to detail, discipline and focus on your goals.
Want more advice from our experienced tutors? Read our previous blog from CIPD Tutor Julie Heslington.