Bridging the HR Curriculum Gap



In one of my most popular posts ever, I described the divide between what students are taught and what the workplace is actually like. It\’s obviously not an isolated issue, because many people have contacted me through comments and email to talk about the problem. The community is an amazing thing, and I truly believe we can get past this obstacle through a group effort. If the HR curriculum is not preparing people for the actual work to be performed, then there is obviously a disconnect between the business side and the education side of HR. How then can we bridge that gap?

To build the effectiveness of the HR curriculum-Business needs to get involved with education.

  • Tell us what we need to know to be successful. If anyone knows what the HR curriculum should be, it\’s the people who are working in the industry. Don\’t expect a professor who hasn\’t worked in the private sector in twenty years to know what skills are needed.
  • Set up an internship program. Get free workers for your business. Sounds appealing, right? But here\’s the catch—you actually have to do something with them. They\’re not there for coffee. They\’re there to learn. They will be running the company when enough years pass by, and you need to keep that in mind when you\’re giving them projects to complete.
  • Let us be flexible when we get there. Encourage creativity and innovation in your HR department. If you want to be great, you\’ll at least listen to what the younger generation has to say. Even if every single thing the person makes you tear up from the stupidity (you\’re the one who hired him/her!), there may be one golden idea that makes the rest worthwhile.

To build the usefulness of the HR curriculum-Education needs to get involved with business.

  • Build the HR curriculum around business needs. Go to the business community. Be involved with networking events outside the university. Find out what problems businesses are having and teach your students to solve those problems. And even if you don\’t know how to solve them, using the classroom to brainstorm solutions could lead to some amazing things.
  • Provide college credits for internships. If a student goes out there to work in a position that\’s related to what they\’re studying, then the learning outside the classroom could outweigh the learning inside the classroom in some cases. Why not allow them to get a little closer to graduation with some internship credits?
  • Assign more project work as opposed to only memorization. The first time I had an assignment at work, I memorized a page of facts and took a test. Wait a minute; that\’s not how it went at all. I had a project to complete, and I was “graded” on multiple factors. Let people be responsible for their own work and let the results speak for themselves.

If this gap in the HR curriculum is going to be bridged, then both parties need to be vigilant. Paying for an education that provides little long-term value is a waste of valuable time and money. HR professionals, push your company to work toward these goals. Students, push your university to work toward these goals. Together, we can transform HR education into a platform to launch people into stellar careers in the human resources field.

Read more in the HR education series.

18 thoughts on “Bridging the HR Curriculum Gap

  1. Alicia Arenas

    Ben, you really nailed it. Something has to change if the profession is going to get the respect it deserves. If I could choose a subject that should be mandatory especially for HR students, it would be a course about influence. It is scientific and so important for HR pros to learn. Thanks for the great post! ~ Alicia

    1. Ben Post author

      Thanks, Alicia. I know you’ve mentioned influence before at least once. I will try to work that into a future post, because I agree with its importance in the workplace (and life in general!).

  2. akaBruno

    1. What are your thoughts on the HR Curriculum that SHRM has created? Does it fit the guidelines you have proposed?

    2. Many colleges offer credit for internship. I’ve worked at 3 different school, and all three have offered credit. What percentage do not offer internship credit?

    3. What is the role of SHRM student chapter? Many of the activities they perform fit very well as a complement to the classroom material presented and work well with “getting involved with businesses” that you discuss.

  3. Ben Post author


    1. I plan to research that and post on it soon. Only found out about the thing recently!
    2. Maybe it’s not that they don’t offer it. Maybe it’s that they don’t promote it to the students as heavily as they should. It’s a wonderfully valuable tool for students (and the college gets some compensation for those credit hours even though nobody actually teaches a “class” on internships). I want people shouting it from rooftops. Or something. :-)
    3. The student chapter at my college was invisible. I didn’t know anything about them until I was almost finished w/school. I now know that they do get involved with the business community on some level, but I bet not all schools have student chapters. Or maybe they’re like mine was, and nobody even knew the thing existed?

    GREAT questions! Thanks for participating!

  4. akaBruno

    I believe that there are over 450 student chapters nationwide; of which most are sponsored by the professional SHRM chapter. These professional chapters help the students with internship opportunities, job shadowing, mentoring, speakers, etc.

    Student chapters should also submit merit awards highlighting their activities for the academic year.

    More details can be found here:

  5. Barry Brown

    Right on the money, Ben! Unfortunately, this same issue has been going on for AT LEAST 40 years. Seems like the twain shall never (seldom) meet. Amazing how something so simple on the surface is so difficult to execute.

    1. Ben Post author

      Ouch… Well, maybe we can finally get it right if the drums beat loud enough! Thank you for contributing. I appreciate it!

  6. China Gorman

    Hey Ben: You really need to talk with the folks in SHRM’s Knowledge Development Division. We now have over 100 college and university programs aligned with SHRM HR curriculum template — and AACSB has signed on to it as well. Send me your email and I’ll give you the contact info. We’d love your help getting the word out!

    1. Ben Post author

      That’s great news! Like I told akaBruno, I’m going to be writing on that soon. Look for an email from me shortly! And thank you for taking the time to comment. I truly appreciate it!

  7. Pingback: Carnival of HR – July 22, 2009 « Infohrm’s Weblog

  8. RMSmithJr


    I submit that there needs to be some reciprocity between the business and HR curriculum. Along my way to nearly completing a BM degree (I was transferred before program completion.), there was never a single course that transfered from BM to HRM degree requirements.

    I will say that the BM course work that I completed was uniquely useful – Strategic Planning, Business Law I & II, Accounting I & !!, Statistics, et al have served me well. There were no equivalents in the eventual HRM degree completion.

    1. Ben Post author

      I was on my way to a management degree before I decided on HRM. Our degree program seemed light on HR subjects and heavy on management subjects. Don’t know whether it was a good thing or not, but I led the strategic business project in our capstone course. I had an accounting student, and HR student, and a management student acting as “yes men.” :-) HR could be SO awesome if it was able to lead like that all the time. Thanks for the comment!

  9. thealphafemme

    Ben – you are right on, with a great perspective. I have two biz degrees. Undergrad in Business Management and an MBA with an emphasis in HR… I pursued both while making my mark in corporate HR and while I hope there are some degree programs that are stepping up; I also teach at the adjunct level and am often asked to present as a guest speaker at other universities and am still amazed at:
    1) the people who are teaching HR who’ve never practiced and
    2) the curriculum is still very theory based and light on reality… (as was even the emphasis part of my MBA)
    At least the business management curriculum in many universities has embraced the case study, facilitation, and practical application models… and I always encourage people who are seeking an HR career to pursue a business degree vs. an HR degree… it has made all the difference in the world for me to know how my company runs, the financials, strategy, marketing, etc…


  10. Ben Post author

    Thank you for the GREAT comment. The whole conversation started with the “What are We Learning” post way back when, and it’s something that always gets people talking on both sides of the issue. Thanks for stopping by!

  11. Taylor

    This post is a little old, but it really hit the mark on some information I’ve been trying to find out. I recently obtained a job as an HR Assistant for a Regional Health System and I’m curious into continuing a career in HR-possibly physician recruiting or recruiting for a marketing firm? I used to be a journalism major with an emphasis in advertising/strategic communications with a completed sociology minor, but as i’m finishing up I”m realizing I’d like to change my major into something more business oriented.

    Carrie-based on your advice this sounds like a good idea…but my creative skills are something that I”m already seeing as an asset in my job performance. Without knowing me too well, does anyone have any input on a good business emphasis? The university I’m attending has a good business school with a Human Resource Management major…but I’m hesitant. I don’t want to limit my skillset with such a narrow major….but I also don’t want to limit myself by going the other direction.


  12. Amanda

    Taylor: It sounds like we have similar skills. I was a public relations/communications major, but have worked in HR since graduating college (now 10+ years ago).

    I would suggest that you look at all the concentrations/majors and minors available within the business school, as well as the communications school. More and more schools are willing to work with students to create a hybrid program that allows students to take a mix of both types of courses. If you’re concerned about majoring in HRM, you might think about a more general business major where you take the HRM courses as electives. Alternatively, you could stay in the communications program and perhaps pick up a minor in business.

    It might also be advantageous to talk to some of your professors, as well as co-workers about what they majored in. I think you might find that prospective employers are less concerned about your actual major and more concerned with relevant work experience and internships.

  13. Taylor

    Thank’s for the sound advice! Coming back to this a few months later, its so interesting to read! As I continue in the workforce and try to juggle obtaining a degree, I learn more and more every day just how important work experience is–and not the lable of your degree. (Which if anyone is interested, I’ve decided with Health Communication and a minor in Human Resource Management–a lovely combination!

    1. Ben Post author

      Hey, Taylor! Glad I was able to help (if only just a little bit!). Let me know if there’s anything more I can do to help you as you’re getting off the launch pad. Communications+HRM sounds like a fantastic combo! :-)

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