Anne-Marie Kuiper first stepped on campus in 1998 as an exchange student from the Netherlands with a dream of one day managing a five-star hotel.
“It’s amazing how life has its own journeys,” she muses.
Surrounded by stacks of labor reports, journal articles, and graphs of workforce trends, Kuiper’s office today is a far cry from the Ritz-Carlton. Her employer, Summit Academy OIC in North Minneapolis, is a vocational school that provides students with skills in high-demand fields such as construction, carpentry, information technology services, and community health, and helps them transition to the workforce.
Kuiper’s first contact with Summit Academy took place as a graduate student, a decade after she arrived at the U as an undergrad. But her major was the same: human resource development, commonly known by the acronym HRD.
“She came to interview me for her thesis,” recalls Louis King, Summit’s President and CEO.
Although Kuiper’s initial exposure to HRD stemmed from her interest in hospitality management, she holds a master’s degree in American studies focused on urban poverty among African Americans. A course in international HRD, taught by Gary McLean, co-founder of the program at the University, helped her see a bridge between her two areas of interest.
“The course took a much broader societal view of the role HRD can play in improving the economic, political, social, and cultural well-being of a community or a society,” Kuiper recalls. She didn’t have to look far to identify a community where she could apply those insights. “I’m at the University of Minnesota, focusing on HRD as a way to improve the economic livelihood of communities that are struggling with persistent poverty, and I’m five minutes away from one of the poorest neighborhoods in the Twin Cities. It’s no accident that I’m here. It is paramount that work is done right here in this neighborhood to address the disparities that we face.”
As part of her dissertation research, Kuiper assisted MADDADS with their efforts to build community, address violence, and reduce crime in the neighborhood, conducting outreach on buses and listening to people’s stories.
Not one for self-promotion, Kuiper recalls that King was initially hesitant to meet with her. There’s a history of researchers reaching out to study the North Minneapolis community without working to improve things when their work is finished.
“At one point, I was able to interview him, and he asked me about HRD,” Kuiper remembers. “I explained that my focus was in vocational training; it became clear that we had a lot of overlapping interests, and there was a potential for me to make an impact at Summit Academy.”
Operating from the fundamental belief that “the best social service program in the world is a job,” the school offers programs that can be completed within 20 weeks at no cost to the students.
King’s recollection of their first meeting is more enthusiastic.
“I was struck by her skill set, her knowledge of my profession,” he says. “She was quick—she came out of an academic environment, but she was quick to grasp the practical applications and implications of the facts beyond an exercise in thought.
“When she described HRD to me,” King continues, “it was clearly related to what I had learned in the military and what I was doing at Summit. It wasn’t a stretch at all; it just gave a name to what I was doing. It was clear [speaking with Kuiper] that I was part of a bigger body of thought. I decided to hire her.”
Today, as Summit Academy’s director of strategic development, Kuiper researches workforce supply and demand at local, state, national, and international levels to identify areas where Summit’s programs can make the greatest impact. On a day-to-day basis, she spends a lot of time reading, interpreting, synthesizing, and contextualizing labor reports; developing strategies for the school in response to those data; and pitching those strategies periodically to Summit’s leadership and advisory board.
“It’s so common to view poverty as this insurmountable problem,” says Kuiper, “but when you provide people with education, marketable skills, and social networks at no cost, you will see things change pretty drastically.”
While her success and expertise speak for themselves, Kuiper often has to explain how her field relates to her day-to-day work.
“I often refer to HRD as human capital development,” she says. “It takes the conversation to a broader discussion around the education and training of people at large, not just individuals in an organization. The true strength of HRD is at this much broader, bigger scale—its relevance to the economic vitality of a region, a local setting, or even globally.”
OLPD offers ten different programs with tracks in HRD.
- • BS in human resource development
- • Certificate in adult education
- • Certificate in human resource development
- • PhD in organizational leadership, policy, and development (track in human resource development)
- • MA in organizational leadership, policy, and development (track in human resource development)
- • MEd in human resource development
- • MEd in adult education
- • Certificate in adult education
- • Certificate in adult literacy
- • Certificate in human resource development
Discovering human resource development
Ask a person on the street about HRD, and you’ll most likely hear a description of a benefits counselor or payroll supervisor.
“That’s human resource management,” clarifies HRD professor Ken Bartlett. “HRD, in comparison, is focused on making people and organizations better tomorrow than they were today.”
HRD is an interdisciplinary field that combines insights from psychology, sociology, economics, organizational development, and education to explore the human aspects of how organizations run. Among other things, HRD professionals design training and development programs, identify system and business process needs, forecast necessary staffing changes, and improve employee engagement and performance.
HRD is often referred to as a “discovery” major because many students either don’t know it exists until they encounter it by happenstance, or they harbor only a partial understanding of the field. According to Bartlett, it’s common that students attracted to HRD either know or have been told they’re good at teaching, but they don’t want to be a classroom teacher. HRD is a path to the many ways that education and human development play a role in people’s lives after they leave a formal school or college for the last time, helping them to have the right skills in the right places to be able to do their jobs and contribute in their communities.
Students in the HRD program study training and development, organization development, leadership development, career development, and similar topics. A common misperception—even among prospective and newly enrolled students—is that HRD is wholly focused on corporate environments. In reality, the field addresses a broad range of contexts.
“I think people in HRD sometimes feel like their only options are to be a consultant or work for a Fortune 500 company,” Kuiper says. “That’s a very limited, narrow scope.” She adds that many people aren’t aware that HRD is what she does, citing a visit to an HRD class to talk about her work.
“There were students passionate about youth development who wanted to do something in the community,” she says. “They had not thought of HRD as a vehicle that they could use to make an impact in those ways. Whether you’re interested in algebra or education or politics, you can use HRD to drive real change.”
Joshua Collins, associate professor and coordinator of the HRD program, has observed the interests of students changing during their course of study, becoming more interested in the learning part of HRD and opening to a variety of types of organizations as potential employers.
“We have that orientation to organizational life that prioritizes individual learning, career development, capacity building, [and] has an understanding that people’s lives outside of the workplace impact lives inside of the workplace,” says Collins. “We take that into account as we think about appropriate measures for their individual learning and career development. That people-first mentality within organizations is what differentiates HRD and makes us unique.”
From a management perspective, this is precisely what makes HRD so valuable: by working to improve their employees’ knowledge, skills, and talents, organizations increase productivity and employee job satisfaction while reducing turnover. However, Collins is quick to point out that it works both ways: a people-first approach to organization development also promotes social justice.
“If you’re interested in business and management and HR functions of organizations,” he says, “and the reason that you’re interested in those things is that you really value people in terms of their stories, lives, and individuality, then HRD is a great place to explore your interests.”
The core faculty of the HRD program has always been small, but it’s diverse. Fields of expertise include adult learning and education; international human resource development; critical human resource development; organizational diversity, equity, and inclusion; employee well-being and engagement; and organizational change and culture.
The faculty also bring perspectives from their countries and regions of origin, which include Canada, Eastern Europe, New Zealand, South Korea, and the United Kingdom, as well as from their experiences consulting and teaching HRD courses in Europe, Latin America, and Asia.
“This is my dream team,” says Bartlett.
Minnesota, a place for HRD
“This was my dream institution when I was going through my doctoral studies,” says Collins, noting that there’s not a major HRD program in the country without a U of M grad on its faculty. “We’re known as a field leader and field shaper.”
The program traces its history at the University back to the late 1940s, with the formation of the Distributive Education Department and the business education program. In 1974, business education programs were moved to the Department of Vocational and Technical Education. Changing demands in the field led to the creation in 1981 of a new program, training and development in industry and business. The name was changed to human resource development when the adult education program joined the department in 1993. HRD now resides in the Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development.
Over the years, thousands of students not only from Minnesota but also from around the world have completed HRD programs at the University. McLean has retired from the faculty but continues to work as a global consultant and professor based in Minneapolis.
“All of the HRD programs in South Korea—13 the last time I counted them—are staffed primarily by graduates of the University of Minnesota’s HRD program,” he says. The same is true in Thailand, where he and Bartlett teach courses as visiting faculty.
Very few peer institutions are located in a large, vibrant metropolitan area with a research university of Minnesota’s caliber, and a big metropolitan setting means much more than business.
Both undergraduate and graduate students seeking a degree in HRD are required to complete an internship amounting to a minimum of 180 hours. These usually focus on a specific program or task that lends itself to analysis and resolution during the timeframe. Program faculty maintain relationships with a wide range of organizations in the Twin Cities and around the state to suit student interests: for-profit, non-profit, government, and consultants.
“All of the internships are practice oriented,” says Dave Christesen, who joined the program’s faculty in 2008 after more than 20 years as an executive at Travelers insurance company. “It’s a time for students to compare theory and practice, which is a very important part of all HRD coursework.”
Internships are valuable not only for HRD students but also for the organizations in which they serve and learn. Christesen cites recent student internships that span every sector: large corporations, such as Ecolab and United Health; other departments and offices within the U (agriculture, dentistry, learning abroad, TRIO); non-profits, such as community health clinics and daycare centers; the State of Minnesota; the Minnesota Organization Development Network, a consulting project; and small businesses, including family farms.
For Kuiper, the fact that the University’s HRD program is situated within a college of education instead of a business school is a key.
“If I had ended up elsewhere, it’s pretty safe to say I would not be working in this environment,” she says. “CEHD uses a much broader societal lens and allows students to work across disciplines. It provided the opportunity for me to think big.”
Bartlett agrees about the importance of location in a college of education and human development as broad as CEHD. It allows scholars to leverage shared expertise related to learning, learning across the lifespan, technology in learning, educational psychology, and measurement—across departments and programs.
“If you’re looking to hire someone with an MBA, you go to a school of management,” said Bartlett. “If you’re looking for someone who understands learning, has a deep understanding of some of the current and contextual issues in organizations, somebody who is deeply committed to diversity and equity issues, then the HRD graduate from our program can really rise to the fore. A fantastic example is Anne-Marie. She really is changing lives through the application of HRD to historically underserved and disadvantaged populations. Her research and work benefit the entire community.”
Two factors ensure that human resource development will continue to be a field in transition: the impact of technology, and changing social demographics.
Kuiper, who sits on multiple local and regional collaboratives, is keenly aware of how these factors intersect.
“HRD will have to be in the center of conversations concerning the impact of technology on our workforce and economy,” she says. “For example, when I look at the impact automation will have on any job that is routine and non-cognitive, low-income jobs are going to be some of the first to be eliminated. Who’s going to be most impacted by that?”
All of Minnesota’s population growth is among people of color, she notes. She sees HRD’s role in helping businesses recruit and retain them as a key state-level trend in the field.
“Hundreds of thousands of jobs are at risk,” agrees McLean. “HRD needs to keep ahead of these changes to prepare organizations and the workforce.”
As an expert in the subfield of critical HRD, Collins pushes to contextualize these factors.
“A lot of organizations are very concerned with workplace civility,” he says, “but they often use that term to refer to workplace climates where people aren’t getting into fights. The way policies are written, someone might say something racist, and the person who calls them out in a public forum gets equally punished. I would argue that’s not ‘civility’—the anti-racist should maybe even be rewarded for doing that very difficult work of calling out racist behaviors.”
Collins clarifies that, increasingly, the question of developing human resources hinges on a need to make moral or ethical arguments to promote social justice.
“Diversity and inclusion in the workplace should matter regardless of how they may or may not impact the bottom line,” he says. With racial and ethnic minorities in the United States on track to become the majority by 2040, organizations that fail to develop their workforce with these factors in mind are especially vulnerable. It’s no coincidence that Summit Academy aims to address these issues head-on.
The way theory and practice intersect in this manner is one of the aspects of HRD that Kuiper enjoys the most. She believes more people are needed with the ability to be both broad and narrow in focus.
“It’s one of the few fields that gives you the opportunity to dive into multiple disciplines and connect the dots in a way that works with your interests, where you see there is a need, with your passion,” she says.
When asked about Kuiper’s impact at Summit, King agrees.
“She’s definitely brought rigor to our analysis, to our work,” says King. “The academic environment is oftentimes separated from the world of CTE [career and technical education]. She’s absolutely incredible, the energy and integrity she brings, her strong work ethic and great ideas. She has helped take our organization to another level.”
Learn more about human resource development in the Department of Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development.
Story by Alex Evenson | Feature photos by Jayme Halbritter | Fall 2019