Graduate-Level HR-Analytics Programs on the Rise

Organizations are increasingly seeing the need for HR professionals to use data to tell stories.
By: | February 11, 2019 • 4 min read
HR analytics

Anna Tavis has seen lots of changes during her long HR career, which has included stints as global head of talent management at Brown Brothers Harriman and head of executive talent at American International Group.

But the change she’s most excited about is the rise of HR analytics.

“HR is finally coming to the table with actual evidence for a lot of the things we’ve been talking about for the entirety of our existence,” she says. “Thanks to analytics, now we have proof.”

Tavis, who left the corporate world for academia several years ago, oversees a new graduate-level human resource program in HR analytics at New York University’s School of Professional Studies. The 30-credit program will begin this fall.

Master’s-level HR programs in analytics are becoming increasingly common. Rutgers University has introduced an HR-analytics course track as part of its Master of Human Resource Management program. Cornell University has begun offering an HR-analytics certificate, consisting of four courses. American University recently created an MS degree in HR Analytics and Management, a 30-credit program that can be completed in 20 months. Most of the programs have significant online components, which are intended to ease the burden for students with full-time jobs.

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“These programs are filling a void in the market,” says Shekar NV (Nalle Pilli Venkateswara), Willis Towers Watson’s senior director of talent management and organizational alignment.

NV himself teaches an HR-analytics course at the University of Virginia. The demand for HR-analytics professionals far exceeds the available supply, he says.

“I’ve personally headed the workforce-analytics function at some major companies and can assure you that it’s very hard to find people with the right skills,” he says.

Many of NV’s clients are grappling with problems that would benefit from HR analytics. Recruiting, for example, still takes too long and is often wasteful, causing companies to lose precious time in a climate of near-zero unemployment.

“Recruiting is prime for analytics,” he says. “It can help you determine the most efficient way to find the right people at the right time.”

One of the most important benefits of master’s-level HR-analytics programs is that they can teach graduates how to use data to tell stories and highlight critical issues, says NV.

“Effective storytelling this way is really hard because, in addition to the data and analysis skills, you also need a good understanding of the business,” he says.

At Villanova University, Robert Stokes helped the institution launch its first online graduate program in human resources. After he retired from Villanova in 2016, he was recruited to join American University, where he now oversees its new online master’s program in HR analytics.

American University’s program was spurred by the university’s HR advisory board, which initially wanted to create a broader online HR program for the university.

As the board members deliberated, it became increasingly clear that a focus on HR analytics was needed, says Stokes.

“There’s more attention on data-driven decisions, not just automating processes,” he says. “There’s a new emphasis by HR professionals on utilizing data to evaluate their success in, say, attracting qualified job candidates.”

The program includes an “immersion event,” held three times per year in the Washington area, in which students visit the headquarters of organizations such as Hilton to learn how they’re deploying HR analytics. “It’s kind of a high-touch experience for the students, faculty and staff,” says Stokes.

While the HR advisory board helps ensure that the program’s course offerings remain up to date, he says, some of the most vital input comes from the students themselves.

“Our students share with us the various tech platforms their companies are using,” along with how and why they may be looking to upgrade, says Stokes. They also share some of the other challenges their firms are wrestling with, he says.

“I had a student who said she was having turnover problems with a certain type of position at her organization,” says Stokes. He worked with the student to use analytics to determine the potential underlying causes and evaluate hypothetical solutions.

The majority of students in AU’s program are early in their HR careers, says Stokes. He encourages graduates to focus on how they can use data to improve the employee experience at their organizations.

“We’re not trying to turn them into data scientists, but more like HR professionals who understand that, with HR evolving, they can be a really important partner to the business,” he says.

At NYU, students enrolling in the new HR-analytics program—formally called the MS in Human Capital Analytics and Technology—will complete a seven-course core curriculum that focuses on data analysis and automation, along with the foundations of behavioral and organization sciences and applied research. Students will complete two short residencies in New York at the beginning and end of the program, with the rest of the material completed online. They’ll have the option of completing their studies within one year as full-time students or three-and-a-half years as part-timers, says Tavis.

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Tavis had an outside partner in creating the program: IBM, which lent her four data scientists who specialize in creating AI-based tools.

“Diane Gherson [IBM’s CHRO] and I have had multiple conversations on this topic,” she says. “She’s been an inspiration to me.”

Students in the analytics program will obtain knowledge they can’t get from other programs, including HR-focused MBA offerings at NYU, says Tavis.

“HR-education programs are still mostly focused on functional areas,” she says. “This will be what I call HR 3.0—evidenced-based HR management.”

The program will include an “experiential learning capstone” in which students will intern at New York-area companies to apply what they’ve learned.

Tavis says the program is open to students of all career levels, including senior HR leaders, as well as those just starting out. Students without an analytics background will be able to enroll in a “boot camp” this summer to learn the basics, she says.

Having analytical skills alone is not enough, says Tavis.

“We need to understand what questions to ask and be able to interpret what the data is telling us,” she says. “That’s what we’re building here.”

Andrew R. McIlvaine is senior editor for talent acquisition at Human Resource Executive®. He oversees coverage of talent acquisition and recruiting and also edits the weekly Recruiting Trends Bulletin e-newsletter and its associated website, RecruitingTrends.com. A Penn State graduate, Andy also spent two years in the U.S. Army prior to attending college and attained the rank of sergeant while serving in the Army Reserves. He can be reached at [email protected]