Industrial relations jobs focus on managing employment relationships. The term industrial relations is typically used in reference to unionized employment relationships, though the term has largely been replaced with employment relations, human resources or personnel. Regardless of the name used, the types of jobs in this field can be broken up into a variety of categories. Industrial relations jobs may manage relationships with union employees which often have different considerations than jobs that manage non-union employees. Depending on the industry, an industrial relations position may be office based or much of the work may be conducted in the field. These jobs may also vary based on the types of employees managed — professionals or trade workers — and they may vary based on the focus of the work — compensation, benefits, or recruitment.
Early industrial relations careers had their roots in unionized settings and focused on the implementation of unions, and employee safety and fair labor practices and policies. Modern industrial relations jobs may also focus on the employment relationships between union workers and employers, but other industrial jobs manage working relationships outside of an organized labor union. The primary difference between these two types is the different mechanisms by which conflicts are managed and changes are implemented. Union employees are typically protected by a detailed set of procedures spelled out in the labor contract and therefore these jobs in a unionized setting require a good working knowledge of labor union relationships generally, and the specific collective bargaining agreement in force. Non-unionized industrial relations jobs may have the opportunity to more easily implement new programs including performance management and recognition and retention programs.
Industrial relations jobs are typically located in an office setting, although in some companies, these staff members may be located near or on the production floor. Close proximity with the work often helps the industrial relations coordinator stay engaged with the work, the employees and the managers. All successful industrial relationships managers, whether they work on the production floor or in an office, usually have excellent communication and interpersonal skills. Computer, organizational, and mathematic skills are also important.
Jobs in this field may also vary based on the type of employees involved. Aside from the union distinction, trade workers may require different types of assistance than licensed professionals. Licensed professionals such as attorneys or physicians, for example, may need assistance keeping up on license requirements. Additionally, salaried professionals will require different compensation and benefits assistance than hourly workers.
Another way to categorize industrial relations jobs is based on the focus of the work. Some jobs may require the coordinator to manage all elements of the employment relationship. Others may require the industrial relations specialist to focus only on recruitment, compensation, or benefits.