History of HR and the CIPD

Revised October 2015

The CIPD as we know it today started life in 1913 as the Welfare Workers’ Association (WWA). We’ve been helping people and organisations realise their potential for more than 100 years, and today we’re the voice of a worldwide community of more than 140,000 members.

The world of work has changed considerably since we were first founded, and we’ve changed our name several times to reflect the evolving role of what’s known today as the HR and L&D profession. We first became known as the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development in 2000, when we were granted a Royal Charter.

In 2013 we redefined our purpose as ‘championing better work and lives’ and we’re developing our Profession for the Future strategy to ensure HR remains a trusted and credible profession that fulfils this purpose as the world of work evolves.

The history of personnel management begins around the end of the 19th century, when welfare officers (sometimes called ‘welfare secretaries’) came into being. They were women and concerned only with the protection of women and girls. Their creation was a reaction to the harshness of industrial conditions, coupled with pressures arising from the extension of the franchise, the influence of trade unions and the labour movement, and the campaigning of enlightened employers, often Quakers, for what was called ‘industrial betterment’. As the role grew there was some tension between the aim of moral protection of women and children and the needs for higher output.

The First World War accelerated change in the development of personnel management, with women being recruited in large numbers to fill the gaps left by men going to fight, which in turn meant reaching agreement with trade unions (often after bitter disputes) about ‘dilution’– accepting unskilled women into craftsmen’s jobs and changing manning levels.

During the 1920s, jobs with the titles of ‘labour manager’ or ‘employment manager’ came into being in the engineering industry and other industries where there were large factories, to handle absence, recruitment, dismissal and queries over bonuses and so on. Employers’ federations, particularly in engineering and shipbuilding, negotiated national pay rates with the unions, but there were local and district variations and there was plenty of scope for disputes.

During the 1930s, with the economy beginning to pick up, big corporations in these newer sectors saw value in improving employee benefits as a way of recruiting, retaining and motivating employees. But older industries such as textiles, mining and shipbuilding which were hit by the worldwide recession did not adopt new techniques, seeing no need to do so because they had no difficulty in recruiting labour.

The Second World War brought about welfare and personnel work on a full-time basis at all establishments producing war materials because an expanded Ministry of Labour and National Service insisted on it, just as the Government had insisted on welfare workers in munitions factories in the previous conflict. The Government saw specialist personnel management as part of the drive for greater efficiency and the number of people in the personnel function grew substantially; there were around 5,300 in 1943.

By 1945, employment management and welfare work had become integrated under the broad term ‘personnel management’. Experience of the war had shown that output and productivity could be influenced by employment policies. The role of the personnel function in wartime had been largely that of implementing the rules demanded by large-scale, state-governed production, and thus the image of an emerging profession was very much a bureaucratic one.

Following the development of poor industrial relations during the 1960s a Royal Commission under Lord Donovan was set up. Reporting in 19681, it was critical of both employers and unions; personnel managers were criticised for lacking negotiation skills and failing to plan industrial relations strategies. At least in part, Donovan suggested, these deficiencies were a consequence of management’s failure to give personnel management sufficiently high priority.

In the 1960s and 70s employment started to develop significantly. At the same time personnel techniques developed using theories from the social sciences about motivation and organisational behaviour; selection testing became more widely used, and management training expanded. During the 1970s, specialisms started to develop, with reward and resourcing, for example, being addressed as separate issues.

Around the mid-80s, the term ‘human resource management’ arrived from the USA. The term ‘human resources’ is an interesting one: it seemed to suggest that employees were an asset or resource-like machines, but at the same time HR also appeared to emphasise employee commitment and motivation.

Today’s HR profession encompasses a number of specialist disciplines, including diversity, reward (including compensation, benefits, pensions), resourcing, employee relations, organisation development and design, and learning and development (the history of which is covered in detail in the next section of this factsheet).  The CIPD's Profession Map defines what the best HR and L&D professionals know, do and understand across ten key specialisms, in order to really make a difference and drive performance in the organisations in which they work.

Emphasis on training really grew in the latter part of the 19th century when concern grew that compared with other industrial nations (notably Germany) Britain’s labour force was of a poor standard, leading to a lack of competitiveness, a theme which would re-emerge continually during the 20th century.

The First World War demanded rapid production of munitions, so the Ministry of Munitions devised training schemes aimed at producing competent machine operators in under three months. In 1917, the emphasis shifted to skill training for (mainly) disabled ex-servicemen, to enable them to gain both employment and trade union membership.

After the First World War the Government was concerned about a possible shortage of skilled workers, while simultaneously there was concern to alleviate mass unemployment. So from 1925 The Interrupted Apprenticeship Scheme enabled those whose apprenticeships had been interrupted by the war to resume them. For women, training schemes were established to fit unemployed women and girls for domestic employment. The principal aim of virtually all the schemes was to mitigate long-term unemployment, which disappeared with the onset of the Second World War. In 1945, with the end of the war in sight, courses were again adapted to the needs of post-war reconstruction to provide training for the building industry.

But the quality of the training was generally considered poor: although the experience of the war stimulated interest in training and formalised to some extent training techniques, it did not change attitudes.

The post-war years were a period of full employment, and the consensus remained that employers should bear the major responsibility for training their employees; and training, in most cases, still meant time-served apprenticeships which were regulated by industry-wide national agreements between employers and unions, formed by the widely varying custom and practice of each industry. 

Unemployment rose rapidly from the mid-70s and various schemes were developed to train young people and to reduce unemployment. One such major outcome was the Youth Opportunities Programme (YOP) which began in 1978 and offered unemployed school leavers work experience, training and work preparation courses.

In 1987 the National Council for Vocational Qualifications (NCVQ) was established to design and implement a new National Vocational Qualification (NVQ; SVQ in Scotland) framework to bring order and structure to qualifications, including accreditation for what had already been accomplished.

From 1989 Training and Enterprise Councils (TECs) were established in England and Wales, and Local Enterprise Companies (LECs) in Scotland and Northern Ireland. They were legally autonomous bodies that controlled the public funds allocated to them, could raise private funds and were employer-based. Their aim was to make training policy sensitive to local needs and therefore have a real impact on business growth.

In 2003 the Government issued its skills strategy White Paper2 with the aims of ensuring that employers had the skills to support the success of their business, and that employees had the necessary skills to be both employable and personally fulfilled. The White Paper spoke of building a new skills alliance where every employer, employee and citizen played their part, by integrating what already existed and focusing it more effectively.

This was followed by the Leitch Review of Skills published in 20063. It proposed to tackle the continuing problem of low skills by (among other recommendations) proposals for the UK ultimately getting to a position where 95% of adults would achieve a Level 2 qualification, and supporting a new ‘pledge’ for employers to voluntarily commit to train all eligible employees up to Level 2. Progress would be reviewed in 2010, and if improvement was ‘insufficient, introduce a statutory entitlement to workplace training to Level 2 in consultation with employers and unions’. The consensus among both governments and skills experts is that despite years of supply increase, employer demand for skills has been neglected or even ignored. The supply of public expenditure has dried up and the assumptions behind much of the policy have been challenged by experts like the SKOPE institute at Cardiff University.

In these difficult times there has been an increasing emphasis on increasing the productivity of the workforce. Skills utilisation is key and the CIPD was part of this approach with our involvement in a Scottish Government pilot project of 2008-09.  For young people and those without basic skills, the Level 2 fixation has been jettisoned. Government increasingly places its faith in apprenticeships though there is ongoing debate about quality.

Skills development is a critical aspect of L&D but the neglect of what goes on inside the workforce is one of the major fallings of policy in recent years. CIPD’s vision of L&D is about individual and organisational learning. In that sense, it’s about developing the core of coaching, learning and development, change and knowledge management and linking these to personal development and sustainable organisation development. It’s also about developing management and leadership capability given their pivotal role in everything which reinforces and undermine performance and personal development. CIPD continues to support L&D in all its forms.

The CIPD as we know it today started life in 1913 as the Welfare Workers’ Association (WWA) with a membership of just 34 people. In total, 29 of the founding members were women, reflecting the predominant concern of welfare work which had emerged in just a small number of companies between 1890 and 1914 with the working conditions of female employees in factories.

In 1916, the appointment of welfare workers was made compulsory in Ministry controlled establishments and by the end of World War 1, it has been estimated that around 1000 welfare workers had been appointed, 600 of whom were in membership of the WWA..

A parallel development was an increase in the appointment by firms of ‘Labour Officers’, mostly men, to assist in the management of recruitment, discipline, dismissal and industrial relations at plant level amongst unionised male workers. An important role of these newly emergent Labour Officers was to interpret the complex legal framework governing the employment of civilians in wartime production, in particular the rights of workers to challenge the circumstances of their dismissal at Munitions Tribunals. Many Labour Officers came from engineering and works management backgrounds with direct experience of shop floor life.

From 1917-1924 the association went through five changes of name. Against a background of wartime growth in the employment of welfare officers, local welfare worker associations had emerged across the country with no connection to the WWA. Concerned at the splintering of the welfare movement, the WWA adopted a new constitution with a branch structure that incorporated the local associations and renamed itself the Central Association of Welfare Workers (CAWW) in 1917. By 1924 the name had changed to the Institute of Industrial Welfare Workers (IIWW) by 1924.

The 1920s saw emergence of a ‘labour management’ movement which had its origins in the appearance of Labour Officers during the war. Labour Officers and Managers had little sympathy with the exclusive focus on welfare pursued by the IIWW and very few joined it. Moreover, they often held more senior positions in their organisations, whilst most welfare workers held more junior roles.

By the late 1920s, members of the labour management movement had become a loosely connected group and aspired to form their own professional association, quite separate from the IIWW. As a result, in 1931 the IIWW changed its name again to the Institute of Labour Management (ILM) reflecting the changing nature of the function.  Its journal Welfare Work became Labour Management. By 1939, 40% of the ILM’s membership of nearly 800 was male, and out of an estimated total of 1800 practitioners in the country as a whole, 44% were in ILM membership.

In 1946 the Institute changed its name to the Institute of Personnel Management. Though involvement in industrial relations and industrial training had begun to emerge in the period prior to the Second World War, in the post-war conditions of full employment both these areas of personnel work expanded considerably.

In 1955, the Institute moved towards restricting entry into full membership via examination and introduced an education scheme which could be run externally by colleges in preparation for the national exam. This initiative did much to pave the way for an expansion in the number of colleges offering courses in personnel management in the years ahead.

In 1994, the Institute of Personnel and Development was formed through the merger of the Institute of Personnel Management with the Institute of Training and Development.
Having achieved unity amongst the personnel, training and development traditions within a single institute, the newly formed IPD set about securing chartered status, an aspiration which had long been a matter of discussion within the former IPM. Chartered status was granted in 2000 and the CIPD came into existence from 1 July of that year. On 1 October 2003, the CIPD awarded chartered status to over 37,000 full Members, Fellows and Companions of the Institute.

In 2009, the CIPD’s Profession Map was launched.  The Map is a dynamic and ‘live’ set of standards, created by the profession for the profession and sets the benchmark for what successful and effective HR and L&D people do and deliver across every aspect and specialism of the profession.  Furthermore the Map enabled changes to the CIPD qualifications structure, more direct routes into membership, including the launch of Experience Assessment in January 2010.

Today the CIPD is the voice of a worldwide community of around 140,000 members committed to championing better work and working lives. We’re independent and not-for-profit and hold a highly respected Royal Charter.

Through our expertise and research, we provide a valuable point of view on the rapidly changing world of work. And for our members we’re the career partner of choice, setting professional standards and providing the expertise to drive the HR and L&D professions forward.

We’re creating a new definition of what it means to be an HR professional through our Profession for the Future strategy. This will be described in a new framework of professional standards that will ensure HR remains a trusted and credible profession that can have a real impact on work and working lives. At a time of unprecedented change, we have the vision, the agility and the strength to make a real difference for our members, for businesses, for the economy and for all working people.

  1. ROYAL COMMISSION ON TRADE UNIONS AND EMPLOYERS`ASSOCIATIONS. (1968) Report. London: HMSO. Cmnd 3623. Chairman: the Rt. Hon. Lord Donovan.
  2. DEPARTMENT FOR EDUCATION AND SKILLS. (2003) 21st century skills: realising our potential. Cm 5810. London: The Stationery Office.
  3. LEITCH, S. (2006) Prosperity for all in the global economy - world class skills: final report: Leitch review of skills. London: The Stationery Office.

Books and reports

CHARTERED INSTITUTE OF PERSONNEL AND DEVELOPMENT. (2015) HR outlook: winter 2014-15: views of our profession. London: CIPD.  

FITZGERALD, R. (1988) British labour management and industrial welfare. London: Croom Helm.

From personnel management to human resource management: how did this field of work develop? In: TYSON, S. (2006) Essentials of human resource management. 5th ed. Oxford: Butterworth Heinemann.

MACKAY, L. and TORRINGTON, D. (1986) The changing nature of personnel management.
London: Institute of Personnel Management.

MCGIVERING, I. (1970) The development of personnel management. In: TILLETT, A. et al. (eds). Management thinkers. Harmondsworth: Penguin.

NIVEN, M.M. (1967) Personnel management: 1913-1963. London: Institute of Personnel Management.

REID, M.A., BARRIGNTON, H. and BROWN, M. (2004) Human resource development: beyond training interventions. 7th ed. London: Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development.

RUSSELL, A. (1991) The growth of occupational welfare in Britain: evolution and harmonization of modern personnel practice. Aldershot: Avebury.

SHELDRAKE, J and VICKERSTAFF, S. (1987) The history of industrial training in Britain. Aldershot: Avebury.

SLOMAN, M. (2007) The changing world of the trainer: emerging good practice. Oxford: Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann.

Visit the CIPD Store to see all our priced publications currently in print.

Journal articles

ARMSTRONG, M. (1987) Human resource management: a case of the emperor's new clothes? Personnel Management. Vol 19, No 8, August. pp30-35

BEAGRIE, S. (2004) Events that changed human resources. Personnel Today. 2 November. pp22-24,26.  

Changes in personnel. (1995) IRS Employment Review. No 598, December. pp4-9.  

GRANT, D. and OSWICK, C. (1998) Of believers, atheists and agnostics: practitioner views on HRM. Industrial Relations Journal. Vol 29, No 3, September. pp178-193.

KEEP, E. (2012) The great skills debate. Training Journal. May. p11.

CIPD members can use our online journals to find articles from over 300 journal titles relevant to HR.
Members and People Management subscribers can see articles on the People Management website.

This factsheet was last updated by CIPD staff.