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Labor relations specialist is a fulfilling but competitive career path. To attain a job in this human resources-related field, you need a bachelor’s degree in a subject like labor relations, HR or business, preferably with some specialized coursework in employment relationships.

Work in the Field of Labor Relations

The vast majority of labor relations specialists work for labor unions. Jobs with labor organizations account for 78 percent of employment in this occupation, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Other labor relations specialists work for the government or in the management of companies and enterprises. The primary role of a labor relations specialist is to explain and oversee labor contracts, but within that responsibility are a lot of diverse job duties. Labor relations specialists interface with both company management and union representatives and run meetings between the two parties. They write proposals and rules that become the formal text of collective bargaining agreements and explain and clarify the meaning of communications between management and labor unions, the BLS reported. Labor relations specialists are responsible for ensuring that workers are treated appropriately according to union policies and agreements, which includes looking into employee grievances.

What Degree Do People With a Job in Labor Relations Have?

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Jobs in labor relations often appeal to detail-oriented individuals who are great listeners and communicators. You must have the drive to stand up for workers’ rights, the capacity to understand complex formal contracts and the tact to calmly and diplomatically address contract negotiations and worker grievances. Labor relations specialists can earn high wages, with a median salary of $63,200, but the job outlook for this occupation is unfortunately not positive. In fact, due to a decrease in labor unions, the BLS expects jobs for labor relations specialists to decline by eight percent, or 6,300 jobs. If you really want to work as a labor relations specialist, having a combination of a bachelor’s degree, specialized professional certificates and work experience will give you the best chance of breaking into this competitive occupation, according to the BLS.

Everything from compensation to benefits, along with policies and practices of labor unions and company management, fall under the domain of a labor relations specialist, the BLS reported.

Labor and Employment Relations Degrees

Labor relations is a specialized area of business operations, so it stands to reason that the corresponding degree would be specialized, as well. An undergraduate degree in labor and employment relations aims to give students a comprehensive understanding of the relationship between management and employees as well as the tools to effectively manage and improve that relationship. Coursework might include studies in labor economics, employment relations, industrial-organizational psychology, current and historical issues in labor and employment and ethics in human resources management. Labor relations degree programs often emphasize the study of laws as they relate to the employment relationship. Contract negotiation is also a crucial part of these specialized degree programs, according to the BLS.

Industrial relations and management, a related degree path, tends to emphasize a blend of studies in human resource management skills, interpersonal relations and conflict management, advanced operations management and labor law.

Human Resources Degrees

Although labor relations specialist is a human resources role, studies in this field tend to be too specialized for many career paths. Considering that this shrinking job only employs 81,100 total Americans as it is, it’s no surprise that labor relations degree programs are scarcer than more general degree programs in human resources. Fortunately, a degree in HR is perfectly acceptable for this career path, the BLS reported.

Human resources majors usually take classes in human resources management strategies, staffing, organizational development, training, compensation and benefits administration and leadership and management skills. Core business studies round out your knowledge of the business world by exposing students to introductory coursework in accounting, finance, economics and marketing. Students should strive to complete one or more internships to help them acquire real HR experience before they graduate.

While not required to work in labor relations, choosing a program that meets the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM)’s guidelines can help you ensure that you are getting a comprehensive HR education and put you on the path to easier certification.

Business Degrees

Labor relations specialists have to understand both sides of the employment relationship. While studies in general business offer fewer specialized skills in labor relations, they equip candidates with a broader understanding of the business world. Having more extensive studies in management, business administration, finance and accounting can help you better understand where management is coming from in their interactions with labor unions. This knowledge can help you establish a more effective rapport with business leaders, ultimately to the benefit of employees.

A business degree has the benefit of being more versatile than a human resources or labor relations degree, an attribute that is particularly valuable when you know that opportunities in your intended occupation are declining and you may need to be adaptable.

Professional Labor Relations Certificate Programs

If you’re torn between wanting a specialized education that will give you the best shot at a labor relations career and wanting a degree with a little more versatility and flexibility, professional certificate programs could be the bridge that connects your goals. The BLS reports that these programs, which are shorter than full degree programs but feature specialized studies, can help improve an aspiring labor relations specialist’s career opportunities.

The topics of certificate programs in labor relations include contract administration, collective bargaining, mediator training and negotiation, arbitration and conflict resolution

 Additional Resources

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What Classes Will I Have to Take for a Degree in Human Resources?

What Is the Difference Between a Human Resources Degree and a Business Degree?