Degrees of HR Analytics

American University has now joined the ranks of colleges and universities offering advanced degrees in HR analytics, but experts differ on their overall value.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017
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Among the responsibilities performed by HR professionals, there's one critical task many can't accomplish.

Collecting, exporting and analyzing data from proprietary systems is a struggle for many in the field. To better equip HR professionals to contribute at a strategic level, some universities are offering short courses or certificate programs on analytics, including analytics courses in HR management graduate programs, and developing graduate programs in HR analytics.

This fall, American University is launching an online masters' of science program titled "Human Resources Analytics and Management Resources," as well as a related certificate program, says Bobbe Baggio, the school's associate dean of graduate programs and online learning in Washington.

The two-year graduate program includes 12 deep-dive courses, while the certificate program offers four of the same courses that are transferrable to the graduate program.

"The degree is not meant to make people data analysts," says Baggio. "Part of our challenge is to come to market with an analytics program . . . with a heart. We want people to understand what they're looking at, to understand both the design of the analytics project and the results and implications of it."

Not many schools offer advanced learning in HR analytics. Here's a sampling:

Cornell University: e-Cornell's online course, "HR Analytics for Business Decisions," takes six to eight hours to complete over a two-week period.

The school also offers an onsite master's degree program called "Industrial Labor Relations (MILB)", says John Hausknecht, Cornell's associate professor of HR studies in Ithaca, N.Y. Students learn how to frame talent problems from a quantitative or data standpoint, form a data versus opinion foundation by performing basic analysis of HR data and "tell a story" involving HR data.

"It gives HR a common language for how to express talent related problems in quantitative terms," says Hausknecht. "The capacity to understand data and interface with the analytics team and frame questions so that those units can do the work that's most important are the key competencies that will be required for the CHRO."

Texas A&M: This 16-month, onsite HR management graduate program includes an analytics course, says Kaitlyn Newman, director of both the program and the Center for HR Management at the university's Mays Business School in College Station, Texas.

"The HR analytics course is a game changer [in terms of] how HR adds value to a business," she says, adding that part-time enrollment is considered on an individual basis. "It teaches them what questions to ask, how to gather data, export it, analyze it and use it. What questions they need to be asking are a big part of it."

Pepperdine University: In January 2016, the school launched a graduate HR program that includes a course called "HR Analytics and Insights." The onsite program is offered two nights a week for roughly 20 months. Half of its courses address business disciplines such as financial accounting and managerial economics, explains Mark Allen, practitioner faculty of organization and management, and academic director of the program.

"Our intent is to give people practical education they can use on the job," Allen says, explaining that the course focuses on the tools and skills needed to make evidence-based linkages between HR and organizational performance, including data analytic techniques and interpretation. "In order for HR to contribute at the table and be accountable like every other function at the table, they need to use analytics."

New York University's Stern School of Business: The school is currently designing a two- or three-day course called "HR Analytics," for executives that will examine best practices for leveraging data and analytics to drive successful strategies, says Naomi Diamant, a clinical assistant professor of management communication and assistant dean of global executive education programs.

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As more HR professionals advance their skills in data analytics, not everyone is convinced that graduate degrees will become mandatory.

"I don't think it will be a requirement to have the degree, but I do think it will be a requirement to have the skills," says Matthew Stevenson, a partner in the workforce-analytics and strategy group at Mercer in Washington. "What we found most folks struggle with is not so much the analytic methods, which have been around for decades, but more with data hacking or how to get data out of the systems so you can look at it."

Mercer analysts offer mixed reviews of analytics courses or programs, he says, explaining that some are too basic, targeting HR generalists.

Ironically, HR's greatest challenge doesn't even involve data, but rather knowing what questions to ask so HR can better understand how to analyze its workforce, Stevenson says.

However, this data science capability needs to be spread across the entire enterprise, says Bill Pelster, a principal in the human capital consulting practice at Deloitte in Seattle.

"The real value of HR data is when it's combined with broader enterprise data," he says. "To actually get HR insights, you need to pull data from the enterprise and synthesize it in a way that's broader than just HR."

Meanwhile, none of his HR clients attend certificate courses or graduate programs. But he suspects that will change with the next generation of HR leaders who will need competencies to harvest, interpret and use data across the enterprise to make complex business decisions. He says advanced learning can help them fill in the gaps, develop a foundation of data science and round out their business capabilities.

"HR professionals are moving toward a model of continuous development," says Pelster. "Right now, it's about understanding data science. It will be a brand new topic tomorrow. That's why micro-certifications and programs are so prevalent and important for your career."

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