Cornell University

Scheinman Institute on Conflict Resolution

456 ILR Research Building, 607-255-9298

Careers in Conflict Resolution

Conflict resolution is an expanding field of professional practice, both in the United States and around the world.  The escalating costs of conflict for both organizations and individuals has led to the increased use of arbitrators, mediators, and other neutrals, including fact-finders, facilitators, and ombudsmen to resolve such conflicts.  The expansion of the field has also resulted in the need for managers, union representatives, attorneys and advocates, administrators, and consultants to acquire the skills and expertise necessary to handle disputes effectively.

Arbitrators, mediators, and other third-party neutrals have always been heavily used in collective bargaining--that is, in disputes between unionized employees and their employers.  A more recent trend has been the growing use of arbitrators, mediators, and other neutrals to resolve disputes between employers and employees who do not have union representation.  The use of third-parties to resolve these types of disputes is often called alternative dispute resolution or ADR.  The so-called "ADR revolution" has significantly increased the demand for third-party neutrals in workplace disputes and in disputes in other arenas. 

The generation of neutrals that entered the field 30 and 40 years ago is reaching retirement age.  So, while the demand for neutrals continues to grow, the pool of professionals is beginning to shrink.  The time is ripe for a new generation of neutrals to move into the field, and the Scheinman Institute is dedicated to educating and training this new generation.  Through our courses, programs, and training efforts we are able to help students who want a career as a professional neutral.  But becoming a neutral is not simply a matter of completing a degree or a training program.  To get a foothold in the field, newcomers need to gain the acceptance and trust of the parties in disputes.  The Scheinman Institute helps students obtain acceptance by connecting them--through internships, apprenticeships, and field experiences--to its large network of successful neutrals.

In addition to serving as an arbitrator or mediator, some third-party neutrals work as fact-finders and facilitators.  Some professional neutrals have practices devoted to the use of just one third-party technique, while other neutrals use a variety of techniques in their practices.  Many government agencies and a growing number of corporations use the services of an ombudsman.  An ombudsman is a type of neutral employed by an organization to investigate and help resolve complaints by employees and others.   

Managers and union representatives, who often serve as advocates for the parties in disputes, seek to enhance their conflict resolution skills by enrolling in our courses and programs.  They want to become "conflict competent," and find they can do so by obtaining an ILR degree or completing a certificate program in one of the Scheinman Institute's many training programs. 

Attorneys typically serve as advocates in disputes, and the Scheinman Institute's programs help attorneys polish their ability to represent their clients.  The Scheinman Institute and the ILR School do not offer a J.D., but we work closely with Cornell's Law School.  For example, we have a joint program that allows a student to obtain a J.D. from the Law School and a master's degree, with a concentration in conflict resolution, from the ILR School.

A growing number of organizations have developed sophisticated dispute resolution programs that are often called "conflict management systems."  These programs are sometimes managed by an ombudsman and sometimes by administrators who head up a specialized function in the organization responsible for managing the system.  These specialized functions may have names like "Resolve" or "Redress."  The Scheinman Institute works closely with many organizations that have such programs, and we help train the administrators and staff of these units. 

The development of ADR programs and conflict management systems requires skilled professionals who understand how to design, implement, and assess these activities.  The Scheinman Institute is well known for its work on systems design, and we educate and train students who can work as managers and administrators in organizations with such programs.  In the wake of the development of these innovations in dispute resolution, the demand for consultants with expertise in such matters has expanded significantly.  The Scheinman Institute has provided consulting services to corporations and government agencies that wanted to establish dispute resolution systems, and many of our students have gained valuable experience working on these projects.  Well-known management consulting firms have entered this field, and there has been a veritable explosion of start-up consulting firms that provide advice on system design.  

Students who study conflict and dispute resolution often obtain jobs that do not seem directly related to their education and training, but they always tell us that they use the interpersonal and behavioral skills they acquired in their studies virtually every day in the work they perform.  Experience demonstrates that an education in conflict resolution is useful in almost any profession a student chooses to pursue.