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The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

'People' people today's corporate movers and shakers

Ellen Goldhar Over the last decade and a half, we have witnessed the disappearance of the corporate Personnel department from Canadian businesses, and in its place, the emergence of Human Resources. As the profession continues to grow, human resources is becoming recognized as a rewarding career path.

"Today, human resources managers play a much bigger part in Canadian business, and are instrumental in developing and executing corporate strategy," says Ian Turnbull. president of the Canadian Council of Human Resources Associations, at last week's annual conference of the Human Resources Professional Association of Ontario, held at the Toronto Sheraton Centre. "They guide the management of the most complicated asset of any business -- its people."

Human resources is such a large and generic term, but essentially the role looks after: pension/benefit administration, health and safety, compensation/payroll, labour relations, organization development, recruitment and selection, HR planning and training and development. HR also handles compliance issues, internal staff conflict, leadership development, performance management and strategic HR planning.

HR professionals are seen as the corporate conscience, as counsellors, coaches, mediators, listeners, interpreters, enforcers, advisors and strategic planners.

CEOs and other business leaders are starting to see HR as more than just a service/processing centre for things like policy development and employee tracking systems. HR managers are finally getting a seat at the executive business development table.

However, as the HR paradigm shifts, so, to, do the requirements for the kinds of skills and abilities required for the role. Part of the reason HR is struggling to get a permanent spot at the strategic business table is that too few HR professionals possess the business acumen for doing the job.

"HR professionals should make a conscious effort to spend a period of time outside the function, or add responsibilities that traditionally are outside their role, to build credibility and gain business knowledge, skills development and awareness," says Paul Gibson, an independent HR consultant, a member of the board of directors for the HRPAO and a former v-p. of HR for Fidelity.
Paul Gibson, HR consultant and a board member for the HRPAO, says HR professionals must "add responsibilities traditionally outside their role to build credibility."

"HR is still being called too often after a problem arises. Few managers call HR for help at the onset of a problem, and even fewer include HR as part of their problem prevention strategies," Gibson says.

"If HR wants to be seen as a partner, they need to put their skin in the game, too. They need to take their share of responsibility and be equally accountable for what happens in an organization. And if things go wrong, they can't suddenly pull out of the game and become mere "policy people" again," says Gibson.

HR still has a ways to go to establish themselves as true partners, but it's a good time to get into the profession. In the next couple of decades, HR professionals will have more impact on business and experience more appreciation and acceptance.

"Human resources is a good career because there are wonderful education programs, the chances are good you will get a job and get paid well, it's growing, the work is so interesting and there is such a wide range of things a person can do -- from employee assistance programs to benefit administration to training and development," says Monica Belcourt, the newly sworn in president of the HRPAO and professor of human resources management at York University.

"Our most recent stats show that 97% of HR managers and 98% of HR professionals in Canada are employed," Belcourt says.

HR has its own designation, established 12 years ago: Certified Human Resources Professional. As of this March, the CCHRA will transform that provincial standard into a national one.

According to the HRPAO, out of 100,000 Canadian HR professionals, 12% have their CHRP designation, and the average salary of an HR professional with a CHRP is $67,000, versus $50,000 without the designation.

No matter what business you are in, you are in the people business -- because it's people, not structures, that run, or ruin, a business. So who better to help an organization with its people strategies and issues than HR -- the "people" people.

For more information on human resources, check out the following Web sites: or

(Ellen Goldhar is manager, people development at Sun Media Corporation, Canada's second largest newspaper publishing company. Send questions and comments to

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