The Center for Human Resources has been a leading academic contributor of relevant research concerning domestic and international human resources and labor relations issues for close to a century. It was founded in 1921 as the Wharton School's Industrial Research Unit (the first research center ever established at a business school) to study the economic and social problems of business. Under the direction of Professors Anne Bezanson, the first female member of the standing faculty of Penn's Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, and Joseph Willits, a Wharton dean, the Unit began its growth into worldwide attention for its pioneering studies of industrial relations, for its analysis of the problems and economics of specific industries; for its entrepreneurial histories; and, later, for its research into pricing history, labor migration and mobility, and productivity.
The Unit, which underwent a number of configurations over the years and was renamed the Center for Human Resources in 1990, has conducted a varied research program to reflect the contemporary human resources concerns of each decade. The outcomes of its research over the years have had an impact on issues ranging from the nation's definition of unemployment to the establishment of affirmative action to changes in employee benefits. A major grant from the Ford Foundation in the 1960s and 1970s funded a groundbreaking series of studies on the status of black workers industry by industry which collectively became known as the Negro Employment in American Industry series and which had enormous impact on government policy and employment policy.
Under Peter Cappelli's direction, the Center has continued its legacy of hands-on, cutting edge research, including a five-year research program with the U.S. Department of Education that advanced the idea of improving the connection between school and work and collaborative work with the National Planning Association that was the first to document the shift of business risk onto employees. Current research focuses on talent management. The Center also continues its mission, begun in the 1940s, to promote the exchange of ideas between executives in the fields of human resources and employee relations and the faculty who teach and research in these fields and to disseminate research findings through an active program of conferences, interactive meetings and seminars, and publications.