Believe it or not, the principles behind human resources can be traced right back to the prehistoric ages. It is thought that our ancestors developed processes for the selection of tribal leaders, and of course, passed knowledge on health, safety, hunting and gathering down through generations.
A more advanced form of human resource management is known to have come about in China in 1115BC, when the Chinese began using employee screening techniques for recruitment. They were followed by the Greeks, who developed apprenticeship schemes in 2000BC; their model proved so successful that it is still in use today!
Our modern history of human resources in Britain began with the industrial revolution in the late 18th Century. With our focus turning from agricultural to industrial production and the emergence of large factories, a more structured approach to employees and their working conditions became necessary. Although the industrial revolution resulted in the creation of many more jobs, it also widened society’s class divides and presented the problem of unfair pay and hazardous working conditions. Not only this, it brought in a record number of immigrants, who helped fill the many new vacancies but also needed some support in adjusting to their way of life. A growing need for HR professionals suddenly became clear.
Perhaps the first formal HR title was that of the ‘welfare officer’ in the late 19th Century. The welfare officer’s focus was solely on the protection of women and girls in the workplace, who were recruited initially to meet the growing demand for industrial workers, and later in larger numbers to, controversially, fill the gaps left by men who had been called up to fight in the First World War.
As the War ended and Britain regained its workforce, many factories expanded and ‘employment managers’ were introduced to handle recruitment as well as issues surrounding employee conduct and pay. The idea was subsequently taken up by large companies in the newer sectors of industry in the 1930s, as the economy re-established stability.
The Second World War dealt Britain’s economy a further blow, and the placement of welfare officers became compulsory in all factories producing war materials, at the insistence of the National Service and Ministry of Labour. The service that these professionals provided became invaluable, so the term ‘personnel management’ came into play as the war ended in 1945; it was used as an umbrella term for welfare work and employment management.
Personnel management techniques evolved in the 1960s through to the 1980s, as employment strategies developed. Innovative new positions and professional specialists emerged, which in turn meant that screening and management training had to be fine tuned. When the term ‘Human Resource Management’ arrived from the US in the mid 80s, it was quickly adopted by many companies, and as a result specific disciplines of HR began to unfold.
Today, HR professionals have a wealth of employment legislations to contend with, as well as their traditional recruitment, training and personnel duties. The HR sector has grown so significantly in recent years that most mid-size to large companies now have a dedicated HR department. Human Resources qualifications are widely sought after and competition within the sector itself is ever growing!