Ever wondered how the role of HR changes across different industries? We teamed up with a HR professional with 25 years of experience to get an insider’s look at the HR world across three different industries: construction, nonprofit and consulting.

Author: Johnny Duncan

I have worked in the field of human resources for over 25 years, beginning in 1995 as an intern for a HR consulting firm. HR was not initially my field of choice as I initially wanted to enter the world of business. After earning my undergraduate degree, I headed straight into an MBA program.

However, after my internship experience, I felt a pull towards human resources and changed direction to earn an MA in Human Resources Management instead. It was absolutely the right decision for me. I’ve greatly enjoyed my career working across multiple different industries.

I’ve worked in the nonprofit sector at a domestic violence shelter with 53 employees. I’ve worked at a national electrical company in the construction sector with 170 employees, and I’ve also done various work in consulting, both for others and my own endeavors. I wanted to share my experiences with others who may be thinking about which industry could be the best fit for a career in HR.

HR in the Nonprofit World

An HR professional in the nonprofit world can expect to not only provide resources for employees to keep them in compliance but also for volunteers and independent contractors—with many of them dedicated to working long hours without reward, for the cause.

Working as an HR professional in a nonprofit business has a set of challenges not found in other industries. This is partly because many of the people working in nonprofits have a passion for the cause, but not for the business side of the cause.

There are three key things to consider when deciding if an HR career in the nonprofit sector is right for you:

1. Working Conditions

Generally, if you choose an HR career at a nonprofit, it is because you believe in the cause and want to help the organization succeed. Because budgets and resources may be tighter, you may really enjoy the nonprofit sector if you get excited about being scrappy and have a DIY mindset.

Due to limited budgets, it’s common for HR professionals to face smaller and shared workspaces in a nonprofit setting. From sharing an office to an actual desk, the on-site perks typically tend to be a bit limited. While not a deal-breaker for most, it is important to consider this reality as a common expectation for the industry.

2. Compensation and Benefits Tend to Be Limited

Because money in the nonprofit sector goes towards helping the cause, the position of HR manager or someone handling HR issues is rarely compensated at standard rates compared to other industries. HR professionals may be responsible for upwards of 50 people, however, the salary is oftentimes not comparable to the workload.

Lower compensation tends to be a factor across the majority of positions within a nonprofit and is not exclusive to HR. This can, however, also add to the workload of an HR representative as employees may be more likely to express frustration or disapproval of fewer benefits and compensation. Larger workloads do create opportunities to take on unexpected or additional responsibilities, further building your skillset and even improving your resume.

According to a recent survey of 200,000 Californians between 2015 and 2019, HR professionals working in the nonprofit sector received an average salary of $61,400. In comparison, the for-profit sector average came in at $70,100.

3. Lack of Time To Implement All Desired Initiatives

Nonprofits can be extremely busy. If an HR professional wanted to hold training sessions, roll out new health insurance packages, or address possible safety or harassment situations, there are often challenges in finding the time to do so.

The time required to execute the day-to-day responsibilities of managing multiple employees can often take over the time required to enact large scale projects. However, at the end of the day, working in the nonprofit sector can truly make people feel like they are making a difference in the world by playing a part in the overall function of the cause.

HR in the Construction World

One of the key differences between working for a nonprofit and a for-profit such as the construction industry is that there are a lot more resources available to the HR department. Although there still may be some limited resources, even during downturns in the construction industry, a good company finds a way to survive.

There are always going to be unique challenges, but in most larger and reputable companies, the HR department is held in high regard.

Some of the challenges in the construction industry for HR include:

  •     Managing turnover
  •     Ensuring safety training
  •     Documentation of I-9s
  •     Holding workers’ compensation claims down
  •     Providing training as required by the insurance company

Serving as an HR professional in the construction industry can be rewarding and definitely a wonderful training ground for anyone new to HR. The pay in the construction industry can be much higher than in some other sectors. Most HR positions in the construction industry pay in about the medium percentile as outlined by the US Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).

HR in the Consulting World

Working as an HR consultant provides opportunities that working in construction or for a nonprofit just cannot do. For one, an HR consultant has the freedom to either serve as a generalist, providing insight and wisdom to various businesses covering a broad scope of issues, or a specialist, offering services for just one or a couple of HR disciplines.

There is no right or wrong way, but many successful consultants tend to limit what they offer to a minimum of services and are therefore viewed as experts in those categories.

One of the biggest challenges of being an HR consultant is that there is no business or entity handing down projects to work on. The consultant must shake a lot of bushes to get the business that they need to survive. The good news is that over time, through the hard work of networking and developing a good name in the business world, the work does come.

Another challenge is that the consultant doesn’t have the administrative support that they may be used to. In the beginning, the consultant must wear the hat of secretary, accountant, salesperson, and receptionist.

The good news is that the pay for consulting work is typically higher than it is when working for someone else. The tasks of a consultant include advising management on the administration of human resources policies and procedures, developing, revising, and implementing HR policies and procedures, and conducting audits of HR activities to ensure compliance, among other things. Consultants can typically make between $94,000 to $200,000 per year, depending on location and specialty.


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Author Bio: Johnny Duncan is a 25-year HR veteran with an MA in Human Resources Management. He served as an HR advisor to a nonprofit, then an HR manager for a domestic violence shelter. He later served as HR Director for an electrical company for 15 years before starting his own HR consulting firm.