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RecensionsBook Reviews

The Handbook of Human Resource Management Education: Promoting an Effective and Efficient Curriculum, Edited by Vida Gulbinas Scarpello, Thousand Oaks, Calif.: Sage Publications, 464 pp., ISBN 978-1-412954-90-7.

  • Helen Lancaster

…more information

  • Helen Lancaster
    Griffith University

Article body

In this comprehensive reference book on Human Resource Management (HRM) Education, the editor combines a wide-ranging mix of thought-provoking articles, research and pedagogical papers from thirty-five authors, each with an academic background shaped by varying practical experiences in HRM.

The book openly confronts a recognized difference between educational qualifications and the demands of the field by clearly addressing various forms of and issues in HRM education at both undergraduate and graduate levels, including behavioural sciences, competencies, globalization of education, micro- and macro-organizational concepts and stakeholder views.

Acknowledging that there are gaps between academicians and the HRM profession, the book includes articles which address some topics usually neglected in HRM education. One such chapter offers a model of knowledge transfer in HRM based on the integration of practice, research and education. This approach offers a solution to some of the editor's own criticism of the gulf between traditional and multidimensional approaches to HRM education. The model bridges the gulf between those barriers which prevent research-based knowledge from being applied to HRM practice, and those which preclude changes in HRM practice from influencing research and education.

The editor is unapologetic about the emphasis on academic input, detailing the credibility these particular academic authors enjoy because of their various experiences in organizationally relevant issues, a focus Scarpello suggests is lacking in HRM generally. Of equal significance must be the fact that academicians might be best placed to understand curricula and training issues applicable to HRM needs.

The various chapters of this book cover training and practice from the historical and current perspectives, accounting for the variety of education programs on offer – undergraduate, graduate and international; in face-to-face, distance and online delivery models. Roughly half of the book analyses different approaches, emphases, and components in HRM education. It is in this first section that we find a chapter devoted to “What We Should Know but (Probably) Never Learned in School” (by Klein et al.), reporting on HR education in psychology departments. Crossing the divide between academia and practice, this research reviewed the relevant academic literature and interviewed professionals, in the process developing five themes which they argue address the disconnect between “what is taught in, and what is desired from,” Masters-level programs. The authors challenge academic and business to take up these themes in a joint effort to bridge the gaps.

The latter half of the book focuses on practice, comprising research findings and articles which address micro- and macro-organizational concepts, stakeholder views, and issues of success and failure relevant to HRM. This section includes some cases where research and practice have converged. For example, in “Some Psychological Concepts Essential for Human Resource Managers,” Murray and Dulebohn cover psychological theories they believe have already influenced or have potential to impact successfully on HRM practice. In a practical approach, the theories are individually assessed for their HRM implications, and applied to the principal activities of HRM – staffing, compensation and performance management – thus offering realistic and useful illustrations of successful theory-practice relationships.

In another example of a practical nature, Scarpello relates HRM management directly to the organizational context, demonstrating the need for HRM practice to match the needs of the organization. “Fundamentals of Organizing” describes implications which the organizational structure may have for HRM personnel, functions, policies and processes.

Given its focus on the divide between education and practice, the book offers an illuminating section reporting stakeholder views of HRM education. Through interviews, focus groups and surveys, three chapters describe research projects which convey the assessment of HR executives, employees, unions and accreditation bodies on HRM education and its fit to their various needs. Shore, Lynch and Dookeran explore the opinions of the business community in “HR Executives' Views of HRM Education.” Coming from an alternative angle, in “Labor Stakeholder Views of HR Professionals,” Graham and McHugh canvassed union leaders and unionized workers for their views on the strengths and weaknesses of HR professionals with whom they work. One of the comments they report from a union leader, “I think we can learn from each other absolutely” encapsulates the message which this editor conveys throughout the book.

It is entirely appropriate therefore that the following chapter explores “Strategic Partnerships between Academia and Practice.” Describing the essential problem – that academicians dictate courses of study, faculty expertise significantly influences the content, and university processes are too slow to respond as HR practice may shift – Cohen seeks to learn what knowledge is required when starting a career in HR. With such a direct question asked of practitioners, academicians and students, the data reported in this chapter provide an effective foundation on which HRM curricula might be developed. They show common denominators described by the informant groups, and the author prescribes clear steps for action to address the gap between education and the field.

Possible constraints for success which confront HRM educators and practitioners are discussed in three chapters. In one of them, “Why Human Resources Managers Fail as Players in the Strategic Management Process,” Bereman and Graham focus on the lack of involvement of HR professionals in strategic management. This may be seen as an extension of the gap between education and practice – effectively, as Bereman and Graham indicate, corporate executives tend not to appreciate the range of skills available among HR personnel. Similarly, in “Why Knowledge of Core Business Functions is Crucial for HR Managers,” Theeke suggests that management need to better appreciate the skills and breadth of training which HR managers bring to the organization.

From their various perspectives, the chapters in this book point to the need for an approach to HRM education which is more integrated with professional practice. This is demonstrated by highlighting the gaps between graduates and business expectations, between HRM curricula and the workplace, and between HR managers and perceptions of what they may offer the organization. In the positive context contrived by this editor, all are cavities rather than chasms, potentially breached by collaboration and cooperation between the HR profession and the HRM education sector.

This is a book which actually does what it sets out to do – aids in the discussion on curriculum appropriate for HRM education, whilst at the same time informing HR professionals and offering selection criteria for positions in the field. But it goes further than that. Whilst it may be aimed particularly at the education professional with a view to curriculum considerations, it also provides for the student of HRM an excellent overview of relevant issues, and an awareness of the need to be constantly open to research findings and to apply them as organizational needs evolve.

Among the extensive references available in HRM education, this book stands out as one focused on bridging the divide between education and the profession. It places useful and relevant cases before both sectors, challenging them to reduce the differences between training and practice.