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‘Employee champion’ or ‘business partner’? The views of aspirant HR professionals Dennis Nickson, Scott Hurrell, Chris Warhurst, Kirsty Newsome, Dora Scholarios, Jo Commander and Anne Preston University of Strathclyde Abstract This paper focuses on the perceptions, expectations and experiences of full-time students studying a CIPD-accredited Postgraduate Diploma/MSc in Human Resource Management. Drawing on survey, focus group and interview data the paper considers students perceptions of the role of HR, how their views changed during the course of the academic year, their initial thoughts on pursuing an HR career and early experiences as HR practitioners. The results suggest that at the point of exiting the course students tended to view the HR function in a more strategic manner, as opposed to the employee champion role, and this strategic orientation was also apparent in the views of the nascent HR professionals. In considering pedagogy and practice the paper seeks to engage with debates emerging about the nature of CIPD‟s „professional project‟, whilst also signalling the need for further longitudinal research to assess continuity and change in the HR profession. Contact details Dennis Nickson Scottish Centre for Employment Research Department of Human Resource Management University of Strathclyde Glasgow G1 1XU e-mail: d.p.nickson@strath.ac.uk

„Employee champion‟ or „business partner‟? The views of aspirant HR professionals

Introduction This paper focuses on the perceptions, expectations and experiences of full-time students regarding the study and practice of the CIPD-accredited Postgraduate Diploma/MSc in Human Resource Management at the University of Strathclyde. Specifically, it reports on-going longitudinal research with three cohorts of students (2005/06, 2006/07 and 2007/08). The project examines why students want to become HR practitioners, what they expect of human resource management (HRM) education, the applicability of that education to practice and their actual experience as HR practitioners both new and developing. The research is also timely in picking up on a number of themes emerging from major research emanating from CIPD considering the changing HR function (CIPD, 2006; 2006a; 2007; 2007a); and relatedly emerging trends and issues with regard to HR careers and the career paths of HR professionals (CIPD, 2005; 2006b). For example, in one of the earlier scoping documents CIPD (2006: 1) notes how „the project aims to consolidate and extend existing knowledge of the HR function, the changes affecting it, the reasons for the changes and the implications for further development of the successful contribution of HR professionals‟. Similarly the research reported in this paper is seeking to explore four primary research questions:

What are participants‟ perceptions of HRM whilst in education and in employment? What are participants‟ expectations of HRM whilst in education and in employment?

What are participants‟ experiences of HRM whilst in employment? What are participants‟ reflections on HRM education when in employment?

The paper reports some initial, indicative findings from research undertaken with the 2005/06 and 2006/07 cohorts, drawing on survey, focus group and interview data. These findings concentrate primarily on students‟ perceptions of the role of HR, how their views changed during the course of the year, their initial thoughts on pursuing an HR career and early experiences as HR practitioners.

Controversies in HRM and the CIPD’s ‘professional project’ The term „HRM‟ has been in vogue for over 20 years with controversies raging about what the term actually means in theory and practice. Storey (2007: 7) believes HRM „seeks to achieve a competitive advantage through the strategic deployment of a highly committed and capable workforce using an array of cultural, structural and personnel techniques‟. It is this concern with strategic integration and input which is the most...
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