What is Industrial and Labor Relations?

Before presenting the traits best suited to the job title, we need to understand what the occupation involves.

Some sources reverse the name to labor and industrial relations. Depending on the college program, both are evident. Others prefer a newer adaptation by using the term – employment relations instead of industrial relations. Both encompass a multidisciplinary field that studies the relationships between employers and employees, as well as labor and trade unions. Some academics see industrial relations indigenous to unionized workers, whereas employee relations apply to non-organized labor.

The Labor and Employment Relations Association (LERA), founded in 1947, promotes the exchange of issues and developments for individuals in industrial relations and human resources. Professionals engaged in education, employment law, human resources, management, public policy, and union administration make up the diverse membership.

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How do I enter this field?

There are undergraduate programs; for example, the Rutgers School of Management and Labor Relations offers a Bachelor of Arts or Science. The former degree is a joint program with the School of Arts and Science. The B.S. requires three credits of quantitative reasoning and six of science or technology.

PennState World Campus has an online 123-credit B.S. in Labor and Human Resources, which allows students to specialize in Human Resources or Labor and Employment Relations. The HR option covers staffing, training strategies, HR management, and employment relations. A sample of topics in the Labor choice is contract administration, collective bargaining, dispute resolution practices, and labor unions.

What traits apply?

Industrial or employee relations is a broad vocation that incorporates management, economics, wage administration, dispute resolution, employer staffing needs, performance standards, and many more. One’s education will prepare graduates for entry-level positions; however, some of the skills to excel may not come from your college degree(s). The profession demands stellar soft skills accompanied by the personality to be authoritative and passive, as the need requires.

Employee relations and HR jobs embrace those who are comfortable conversing with all levels within the company or organization. Also, candidates will need to be public speakers. Anyone with stage fright would benefit from taking extracurricular classes in public speaking or locate opportunities to gain proficiency in this area. Toastmasters’ clubs are an inexpensive and positive setting to practice.

Ethics are also important as in HR or employee relations; you will be likely dealing with confidential information. Hand-in-hand with this trait is a sense of discretion and trustworthiness in the administering of employee policy and adhering to state and federal employment laws.

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Sensitivity can be an admirable quality, but this is not always the case dealing with contentious issues between management and workers. Circumstances will arise when the job demands a thick-skinned approach to the negotiations. Not all decisions dictated by the executives of the corporation are popular. A positive attitude and serene nature may be necessary when you are the conveyor of company policies.

Those exposed to union negotiations might be one in a group of representative for either the employer or the union. A firm knowledge of the factors and demands of both sides is imperative. If you have a speaking role in such a meeting, you want to present confidence and respect in your presentation style. Listening skills are also an asset during the opening stages of the negotiations when both sides make their proposal. As mentioned above, passivity can be a valuable trait when it’s best to listen, digest, and evaluate.

What does a personality test reveal?

The Myer-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is a personality test used to recognize what personality traits suit specific areas of employment. There are 16 types categorized by the M-B criteria. One of these goes by the initials – ESFP or Extraversion + Sensing + Feeling + Perceiving. Some scholars believe that this personality type will have a natural penchant for HR roles and related jobs. In other words, these positions require those who are people-persons—individuals who are at ease in a group of people in social and professional settings.

There are counselors, therapists, and consultants certified to administer the MBTI test. You can take the test online, after which there is a 20-30 minute review session via telephone or Skype. You may purchase a detailed career report for $19.95 at the Center for Applications of Psychological Type (CAPT).


A potpourri of traits and skills are necessary to enter the field of labor relations and HR. Not all personality types are amenable to a vocation that demands a combination of hard and soft skills. Few professions may be as reliant, for success, on your temperament, psyche, character, and disposition.

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