Celebrating 40 Years with the CIPD
Q. Congratulations on your 40 years of membership with the CIPD; how did you get into HR in the first place?
A. HR was my chosen profession, not something I just fell into. When I was studying I made a conscious decision to study economics with a view to going into HR as I felt that would provide the best grounding. I’ve been in HR ever since, both in-house and now for Capita. I’ve worked in the public, private and voluntary sectors. After completing my degree, I joined the CIPD then I became an FCIPD in 1994 and I did a Master’s degree in HR - and I’m still studying now.
Q. What was HR like when you took your first role?
A. When I joined, it was ‘Personnel’. The focus was on compliance, record keeping, payroll, employee grievances and risk management. Most HR functions have now moved on from this, there is still an element of risk management but a lot of what we used to do can now be outsourced, hence allowing HR to focus elsewhere.
Q. What are the biggest changes you have seen during your 40 years’ experience?
A. The biggest change is technology. Employees can now do so much of what HR used to do via self-service, a lot of the transactional work has been removed from HR. The other thing I’ve witnessed is a pendulum swing from generalists to specialists. We used to all be HR generalists but now you need a range of specialists which has led to more outsourcing, and the building of strategic alliances with external partners in order to access that expertise.
Q. Where does HR need to go next?
A. HR needs to be closer to the business, it can’t sit alone. For example, when it comes to providing analytics, the business isn’t looking for a pattern of absence rates, it wants recommendations and a way forward. Rather than trying to create answers from your data, accept that it will just give you more questions and it’s your expertise that will provide the answers!
HR also needs a clear strategy for outsourcing. It’s no longer efficient to have all HR functions in house. The relationship with an external HR provider needs to be owned at a senior level and the contract needs to be fool-proof and accountable. When employees phone up, they need to feel they’re talking to a colleague, not an external company so the relationship needs to be strong and well-managed.
Q. What advice would you give to someone considering a career in HR?
A. HR comes second to business. I’d advise them to study business or economics to get a grounding that means they will be able to operate as a business partner, not only as an HR partner. Study modules that include strategic planning and analysis of data as this is where the future of HR lies.
I’d also advise getting some broad business experience outside HR, a scheme where you can get experience in different departments is ideal. I was part of a BP training programme that included time in corporate planning, operations, time in the refineries and terminals all with the intention of building a career in HR. If you don’t get this broad experience, there’s a risk you’ll not be able to see the full corporate picture.
I’d also advise anyone in HR to keep learning, specialisms are becoming more and more important.
Q. Why should someone choose a career in HR?
A. There are only two functions that are easily transferable between sectors and organisations and those are finance and HR. You can move around and you can still engage with your chosen profession in any arena. As an ex-boss said to me, the two most important people you employ are the HRD and FD – one keeps you out of court, and the other out of jail!
HR can be very rewarding, yes there will be some tough times and downsides such as redundancies and outplacement, but it’s your job to help organisations through people. If you do things the right way, especially during difficult times, you’ll turn it into a positive experience.
Q. Has the CIPD commemorated your achievement?
A. Yes I received a personal letter from Peter Cheese and a certificate from the CIPD thanking me for my long-term membership and continued service to the HR and L&D profession.
Q. What’s next for you?
A. I’ve just completed a post graduate Certificate in Employment, as part of LLM in Employment Law and Practice and I’ll graduate from de Montfort University this summer. I think it’s so important to keep learning and keep your knowledge up to date. Especially in the consulting world, you need to bring added value and subject matter expertise in order to be able to sell the capability of Capita.
Tennent Hunter is Head of HR Services at Capita HR solutions, Belfast.