Title page for ETD etd-10262009-160146

Document Type Master's Dissertation
Author Janse van Rensburg, Aletha Huma
URN etd-10262009-160146
Document Title Human resource management as a profession in South Africa
Degree MPhil
Department Human Resource Management
Advisor Name Title
Prof J S Basson Supervisor
  • Human Resource
  • HR
  • South Africa
Date 2009-09-01
Availability unrestricted

1 Introduction

The 2004 drafting and the 2006 revision of a proposed Bill (“The Human Resource Professions Act”) by the South African Board for Personnel Practice (SABPP) has initiated much discussion on the merits of regulating the Human Resource (HR) profession.

One of the key points raised in these debates, is whether in fact HR can be regarded as a profession. This is, in essence, the problem being addressed in this study. Losey (1997:147) unequivocally states that “human resource management is a profession”. Ulrich & Eichinger (1998:1) point out that “HR must become more professional”. Leading authors in the HR field (Armstrong 2000:23; Losey, Meisinger & Ulrich 2005:xix; Ulrich & Brockbank 2005:243) and various institutions (Harvard, Cornell, American Business Association) use the term “HR professionals” in their writings as a matter of course.

2 Purpose of the study

For the purpose of establishing whether human resources can be regarded as a profession, the following goals have been set:

2.1 The goal of the study is to firstly describe and document the historic development of professional human resources in South Africa with specific reference to the history of the establishment of the SABPP, as a contribution to professionalization of HR in South Africa.

2.2 To identify, secondly, the foundational principles or pillars of professionalism and the ethical professional conduct issues (including values) which are embraced by internationally recognised professions.

3 Research questions

The following research questions were considered:

o How did professionalism within HR emerge historically in the South African context?

o What are the foundational principles or pillars on which professionalism stand?

o What are the ethical professional conduct issues (including values) which are embraced by internationally recognised professions?

o What are the ethical professional conduct issues (including values) that should drive HR in South Africa?

To achieve these objectives the study progresses as follows:

o The study will firstly focus on the South African human resource (HR) environment. The history of the establishment of the South African Board for Personnel Practice (SABPP) as the standards body for HR in South Africa will be documented for the first time. The writer is in a unique position, having been the Registrar and CEO of the Board since 1989, to do this work. Permission has been obtained to access documents such as the minutes of meetings, newsletters and correspondence files. Interviews will be undertaken with some of the founding members who still recall the events. The Board was established in 1982 and recording this history from documents not in the public domain presents an opportunity to safeguard information that may otherwise be lost to the HR community. The current functions and focus of the SABPP are also recorded.

o Four professions, the legal, the engineering, the medical and the accounting professions were selected for more detailed examination, as they are internationally recognised and have been practised for millennia. Background information on current burning issues within these professions will be looked at and also their value systems and how their regulating bodies operate, both locally and internationally. Their recognition of a specified body of knowledge as appropriate subject matter will be confirmed. The important elements of their professional values and ethics will be identified and will form the basis of the questionnaire that will be sent out.

o The next step will be to examine the way in which HR is positioned internationally in order to establish to what extent HR has been professionalised globally or may be moving towards professionalism. The history, levels and criteria, recognised body of knowledge and codes of conduct of HR in three countries will be examined, by looking at their main HR bodies. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) in the UK, the Human Resource Certification Institute (HRCI) in the United States and the Canadian Council of HR Associations (CCHRA) have been selected for this purpose. The conduct issues and values addressed in their codes of conduct will be used in the questionnaire.

It is hoped that this study will support the process of professionalising human resources in South Africa and indeed, the regulation of the profession.

While this study covers many aspects of professionalism, its core focus is on the values and attitudes lying at the very heart of all major professions. Emerson once said (1917:96) “What you are stands over you the while, and thunders so that I cannot hear what you say to the contrary.” (own emphasis). Or a more contemporary quote from Elvis Presley: “Values are like fingerprints. Nobody’s are the same, but you leave ‘em all over everything you do” (Meisinger 2005:4).

Copyright © 2009, University of Pretoria. All rights reserved. The copyright in this work vests in the University of Pretoria. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the University of Pretoria.

Please cite as follows:

Janse van Rensburg, AH 2009, Human resource management as a profession in South Africa, MPhil dissertation, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, viewed yymmdd < http://upetd.up.ac.za/thesis/available/etd-10262009-160146/ >

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