HR in the hot seat: Helen Fraser of Aecom

The HR director of Aecom talks HR challenges, adapting to different locations and how she enjoys AFL

HR in the hot seat: Helen Fraser of Aecom
What is your current role and what brought you into it?

I am the HR director for AECOM in Australia New Zealand and have been with AECOM for 14 years. I started as an HR Manager when the HR Function was just being formed, so I have very much grown in my career with the organisation.

What are some of your current HR challenges?  

The demand for infrastructure professionals is growing strongly (e.g. engineers, scientist, planners, technicians) as governments invest heavily in new infrastructure. Our industry needs to grow more professionals by encouraging more people to study STEM careers, as well as retaining people in our industry and within Australia and New Zealand. We have very high activity in Sydney and Melbourne and are seeing a high demand for top talent, meaning that retention of critical talent is our biggest challenge.

What is the favourite part of your job?

I really enjoy seeing our HR team directly impact business performance. Being in professional services is a great place for HR people, because our only resource is people and the only thing we sell is people. There is no argument that people are important! I often visit our project sits to get an understanding of the technical work that our people do. I love that I get a chance to do that and that no two days are the same.

What attracted you to a career in HR?

It’s the connection between people and business. I enjoyed the link between data and analysis, as well as being with people all day.

What’s one piece of HR related advice you would offer?

Last time I answered a similar question (a few years ago) I said that moving to another location was the most important. I still believe that and I see our team members flourish when they experience a different location or office and have to adapt their HR support to a new environment. Now I will add that getting close to the final client is critical. HR has to understand the ultimate client and be able to impact culture and behaviours to better support the ultimate outcomes. I really encourage our HR people to visit project sites, work directly with external clients and understand why we are all here. Here at AECOM, HR is not a group of internal bureaucrats, but professionals that support our people to build a better world.

What hobbies and interests do you have outside of HR?

My latest hobby is AFL football. After 10 years in Melbourne I have managed to avoid the world of AFL, but my 12 year old daughter has this year joined her local footy club, so I have had to learn the rules. It’s so great to see these young women out there learning new skills, building strength and skills and fighting hard to win. I’m so impressed with the local footy community and the incredible support for the girls to join a team, have a go and really have some fun. I still really don’t follow a professional team. Any suggestions?

Please complete this sentence: If you weren’t working in HR, you would be…

Maybe I would be a an engineer. I am lucky to see these great professionals at work and whilst they are generally a humble group, they will create the solutions to keep our world turning. I am privileged to be exposed to their intelligence and commitment and have such respect for what they do.

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