Recognizing HR excellence in N.B.

2 HR professionals, 1 health and safety professional honoured
By Amanda Silliker
|Canadian HR Reporter|Last Updated: 01/14/2013

Each fall, Rachelle Gagnon is actively involved in “People Without Jobs, Jobs Without People,” an employment and education exhibition in Moncton, N.B., that brings together employers, post-secondary institutions and students to discover how to meet industry needs.

Canada faces a gap between the skills acquired through post-secondary education and the types of jobs employers need filled — and HR professionals play a critical role in closing this gap, said Gagnon, HR director at 250-employee Assumption Life in Moncton.

“They are the ones doing the interview, they are the ones having difficulty in filling those positions or finding the skills set and they’re trying to link to the post-secondary institutions that are graduating the students to know where these students are coming from, if they are ready,” she said.

Gagnon’s active involvement in the HR profession, through initiatives such as this, is one of the reasons she received the Excellence in HR award from the Atlantic Canada HR Awards (ACHRA) at a gala held in Saint John, N.B., in November.

The awards, presented by the Human Resources Association of New Brunswick (HRANB), honour HR professionals who have made outstanding contributions to the human resources profession.

The Excellence in HR award is given to an individual who “embodies the best that HR can offer,” said Fran White, president of HRANB.

When Gagnon was president of HRANB from 2007 to 2009, she was successful in bringing the first HR conference to the province in 2008. The three-day event hosts 30 to 40 speakers and sees about 400 attendees, she said.

“We felt we were ready. It was really important to show, first of all, that we had the resources, we had the know-how, plus we were here to serve our members and they didn’t have to go outside their provincial association to get a quality conference — we were bringing it to them,” she said.

New HR Leader award

Health and safety and HR go hand-in-hand, according to Shelley O’Dell, health, safety and compliance co-ordinator at 300-employee Coast Tire in Saint John.

“They have a lot in common and should partner together… to improve health and safety and the overall work environment,” she said. “In my mind, this (partnership) is an integral component of success.”

As the director of professional development at the New Brunswick chapter of the Canadian Society of Safety Engineering (CSSE), O’Dell is working toward increasing the networking and professional development opportunities between CSSE and HRANB.

This initiative is one of the reasons O’Dell received the New HR Leader award. It is given to someone who is just coming into the HR profession and demonstrating excellence, said White. O’Dell recently received her Certified Health and Safety Consultant (CHSC) designation in September.

In late 2008, O’Dell started to improve Coast Tire’s return-to-work program. Since then, the company’s loss-time and workers’ compensation board claims have been successfully reduced, she said. A main component of the program is assessing workers’ functional abilities.

“They tell us if they can lift five or 10 or 30 pounds, push, pull, stand, how many days they can work, how many hours, so it gives us a base of what we have for modified duties and we can work with them versus, ‘Oh, the doctor says I can’t work,’ and go home and sit at home. We try to keep them working,” said O’Dell.

In 2011, a mental health section was added to the functional abilities report.

“We’re starting to see people (be away from work because of) stress and it’s something everyone needs to start looking at. It can be non-work-related, but it does affect their job,” said O’Dell. “(It’s important to consider) what treatment are they getting? Can they do their job? Can they concentrate? And different things that are key depending on what their job is.”

One reason the program works so well is constant communication among all parties involved — including the employee, his manager, physician, workers’ compensation and HR, said O’Dell.

“Sometimes, if the communication’s not working, then that’s usually where things can fall apart.”

HR Innovation award

In 2010, Julie Marr launched a new training program for sales staff at 425-employee Source Atlantic in Saint John, an industrial distribution and services company. The program, based on measurable competencies, was built to ensure the company’s 150-employee sales workforce could develop to meet the ever-evolving needs of clients, said Marr.

“A lot of companies keep running training courses but, in reality, unless you measure the effect and improvement on training and what it does for the organization, it seems like a waste,” she said.

This program was the main reason Marr received the HR Innovation award. It is given to an individual or organization whose innovative HR program or practice creates a new standard of performance, said White.

First, from the company’s 60,000 competencies library, Marr used existing sales profiles for inside, outside and counter sales and then rewrote them to company-specific requirements. The profiles contained about 126 detailed competencies that were each defined by the theory behind them and the tasks associated with them.

All the sales employees then assessed themselves against that defined standard in their corresponding profiles.

“The self-assessment revealed a number of areas that the employees were not as confident (in) and could use training to close the gaps. It helped us prioritize and focus our efforts on the skills that would have the biggest impact,” said Marr.

Employees had access to a variety of training opportunities such as in-class, situational simulation, mentoring, coaching, case studies, books and online courses and videos.

Once employees completed the training, managers conducted a validation exercise that involved asking employees questions to ensure they understood the theory and then observing them performing the competency to ensure they had the ability to perform the tasks, said Marr.

“A lot of times, companies do performance reviews once a year, managers assess that individual’s performance but if you’re really trying to develop and grow (your employees), you really have to observe and understand exactly what skills they have and what they’re going to need to identify the gap.”

The program has helped employees improve the necessary skill sets for their jobs and better meets customers’ needs.

Going forward, Marr is hoping to roll out the program to all 62 positions at the company.

“We’re continuing to spend and continuing to invest in our people. If we don’t invest, we won’t be here,” she said. “And the market is continually changing and now is the time for us to train our people to that change so when the market rebounds, we’re ready.”

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