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The world of work is changing dramatically, and attracting and retaining talent in one of the tightest job markets seen in decades is key. According to the National Australia Bank, almost one in five people (19%) are looking to change jobs, and a further two in five workers (43%) are keeping up to date with new opportunities, despite not currently considering leaving their current jobs.
In the driving seat, shaping the future of HR in Australia, are a group of 20 dynamic young professionals who have been recognised as HRD’s Rising Stars 2022.
“I think what got me where I am is that I’m passionate about that people experience – more than just the classic HR performance management role”
Rosie Hanlon, Hilton
The awards acknowledge not only the responsibility that now rests with the Rising Stars but also the values they embody, which will shape new ways of engaging with work; place a greater emphasis on achieving work-life balance; and drive improvements in equity, diversity and inclusion.
Oscar Gibbins, associate consultant at Peoplecorp, says, “In HR, individuals who have good people skills and genuinely like helping people can move up quickly through the ranks, and it becomes a pretty appealing job to go into.”
One 2022 Rising Star, Rachel Speirs, senior people partner, diversity and inclusion at Yarra Valley Water, says, “Among my cohort and Gen Z, people want to feel that their work is meaningful, and they are contributing to something bigger.”
This is a trend that James Hunt, senior consultant – HR recruitment at HR Partners by Randstad, has noticed among younger HR professionals. “When you've got fewer years of experience, they tend to want opportunities for progression; they want a really strong leader. Learning and money are probably what they’re most motivated by,” he says. “As you move through the ranks longer term, it's less about the money. It becomes more like an intellectual pursuit. So, what value can you add, what change can you bring, what influence can you have? Is there a level of ownership around your role?”
This resonates with the 2022 research by McKinsey, which revealed that 70% of employees feel their personal sense of purpose is defined by their work. This was broadly similar across different levels of seniority. Yet that changed when McKinsey asked if people were living their purpose in their day-to-day work: 85% of executives and upper management said they were living their purpose at work, but only 15% of frontline managers and employees agreed.
Rosie Hanlon, HR manager at Hilton in Melbourne and another 2022 Rising Star, equates this with her own experience in the hospitality industry, which suffered acutely during the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s been challenging to restore trust and belief in the industry,” she says.
“I have had to be so much more creative about what’s on offer. Employees are not settling for any job – they want a role that really inspires them and gives them the development they seek.
“I think what got me where I am is that I’m passionate about that people experience – more than just the classic HR performance management role. My particular strength and motivation are wanting to improve the people experience in hospitality and connecting with people one on one so that they enjoy coming to work. It’s so satisfying when people rely on HR and feel comfortable talking to me about their career or things that are going on at home,” she explains.
Hanlon believes that taking a holistic approach has been key to helping employees develop and grow, presenting them with opportunities and shaping their careers to drive lifestyle and job satisfaction.
She had an influential mentor who was passionate about sustainability and culture, and she has brought that to her own professional performance. “Taking that passion and being able to share it and inspire others is so rewarding,” Hanlon adds.
“Having confidence in my abilities and the hard work I’ve done to get to where I am today helps me to deal with any ‘imposter syndrome’ as a young professional”
Claudia Kernan, Australia Post
Authenticity and the right attitude are what make a young professional stand out from the crowd, according to HR recruitment specialist Peoplecorp. Being qualified, organised and detail-oriented are the basics, but having the skills to talk to people at all levels of an organisation and handle different personalities when under pressure or in challenging conversations are the skills needed to build a reputation in HR, says Gibbins.
Tim Henry, partner at Peoplecorp, adds that the quality of HR students graduating from universities continues to be high. Through the company’s HR intern program, he says, “We’ve placed over 100 students in the last seven years, and the calibre and capability of HR students graduating is really impressive. A lot of the interns placed with clients are now HR managers, so that’s been really rewarding.”
He adds, “The people that stand out are the ones who have the best attitudes – people who’ve got a really positive attitude and a can-do attitude.”
Speirs echoes this sentiment and explains how being adaptable and delivering on what you say plays a fundamental role in building a reputation in HR, along with being frank with fellow staff members and senior colleagues.
“Executives appreciate hearing another perspective when it’s respectfully given. They might not agree or go with a recommendation I’ve made, but part of what we offer is to show the value of having a broad understanding of our workforce, of other organisations and shifts in society in general – and what that means for us in our business,” she explains.
“I made an effort to put my hand up to get involved in HR projects that are of interest to me but also in disciplines and specialisations where I haven’t had a lot of experience with a view to expanding my knowledge”
Natalie Marquardt, Hays
Taking the initiative goes a long way in any professional setting, says Claudia Kernan, manager enterprise policy and programs at Australia Post.
The Rising Star began her career as a lawyer but was eager to apply her skills in a more practical way when she joined the People and Culture team at Australia Post.
“I didn’t hesitate to make this known or to engage directly with senior leaders in the business. Having confidence in my abilities and the hard work I’ve done to get to where I am today helps me to deal with any ‘imposter syndrome’ as a young professional.
“Being genuine and authentic with my managers and colleagues has really helped me to build up a reputation as a trusted and capable employee relations and policy adviser.”
Taking ownership of their own learning and development is a common focus of HRD’s Rising Stars and one reason for their success.
Hays senior HR business partner Natalie Marquardt, for example, has been committed to prioritising her own learning and hopes to use her own experience to encourage others.
She took on contract roles as they gave her the opportunity to be exposed to different industries and HR leaders and their styles of working, while building her own tools as an HR practitioner. Completing a master’s degree in HR and attending webinars, seminars and keeping abreast of industry news are all a part of her continued professional development.
“I made an effort to put my hand up to get involved in HR projects that are of interest to me but also in disciplines and specialisations where I haven’t had a lot of experience, with a view to expanding my knowledge,” Marquardt says.
This aligns with a 2022 LinkedIn survey that showed 94% of employees would stay with their employer longer if they were offered a more comprehensive development program. However, 49% of workers said they didn’t have the time to invest in personal development.
HR staff, like HRD’s Rising Stars, who can implement policies like this have become even more valuable to their companies and potential employers.
Hunt says, “Those candidates or employees have been on a fast track in terms of their development, because organisations needed them to be, so it’s been a really good time to enter the workforce as an HR professional or an early-career HR professional.”
Younger generations can be impatient in terms of how long they stay in a role, says Gibbins at Peoplecorp, but “as long as you’re getting the opportunity to progress and develop in your company, the grass isn’t always greener elsewhere. Having that tenure, putting in those hard yards and spending several years in a job is attractive to businesses, and those are the people they want to hire”.
Those interconnected priorities have elevated the importance of HR, which has only grown in profile and seen a boost to investment and consent for HR initiatives.
With the pandemic abating, Kernan says she is looking forward to seeing how businesses move from reactive to more proactive mindsets. Increased legislation and compliance are reinforcing that position.
“The pandemic required all employers and HR professionals, in particular, to constantly adapt to changing landscapes in very short time frames in order to keep their people safe and supported,” says Kernan. “However, in the current talent market, we know that employers can’t afford to be left behind when it comes to putting their people first, and that puts mental health and psychological wellbeing right at the top of the list.”
Starting in July, HRD Australia invited HR professionals across the country to nominate their most exceptional young talent for the Rising Stars list.
Nominees had to have HR work experience of 10 years or less, as well as experience in executing progressive HR initiatives, and be committed to a career in human resources with a clear passion for the industry. Nominees were asked about their current role, key achievements, career goals and the contributions they had made to shaping the industry. Recommendations from managers and senior industry professionals were also taken into account. The HRD Australia team reviewed all nominations, narrowing the list down to 20 of the sector’s most outstanding young professionals.