HR shouldn’t be a best-kept secret (Guest commentary)

Small business too quick to dismiss benefits of qualified HR professionals

The human resources profession has come a long way over the past 20 years. We have seen a lot of growth in our professional standard, something that was badly needed.

If we look at ourselves as a profession, we can clearly see these advances. However, unless you are an HR professional or part of a large organization using HR services, do you really see any change?

Small to mid-sized businesses are quick to dismiss HR professionals as an unnecessary part of their team. On the other hand, accountants, operations or production managers and sales professionals are considered top priority.

Why do small to mid-size businesses have such a hard time grasping the need for professional HR assistance? A large part of it stems from a lack of awareness and understanding of the HR role.

Here is another question: How many other professions deal with the breadth of legislation HR does? Employment standards, workers’ compensation, human rights, pensions — the list goes on. Most small to mid-size business owners don’t know these acts exist or how these laws apply to their business.

I have seen the faces of many small to mid-size business people when they fully understand what HR professionals do and how our services can help them.

The most common misconceptions seem to be all HR does is hiring and, perhaps, managing benefits and payroll. While smaller businesses may be aware of HR in larger companies, they don’t see the connection. They believe they can do the work themselves or simply get an existing staff member to help. If they are a little bigger, they can hire a bookkeeper to process payroll or an accountant to take care of the numbers. The concept of consulting an HR professional rarely enters their minds.

Most business owners operate very close to the financial line but will contact a lawyer for answers to questions an HR professional could answer at a fraction of the cost.

So what makes a business owner actually decide she needs professional HR help?

Professional associations such as the Ontario Association of Architects and the Professional Engineers of Ontario have taken a very strong stance on who can be called a professional architect or engineer — educational requirements as well as working requirements must be met. Lawyers must have a degree, article in a firm, complete additional exams and then be called to the bar. Accountants have a similar process.

We certainly have come a long way in the HR profession but we are clearly not there yet. If we expect to be recognized equally with other professionals, we need to learn from the processes and requirements these professions have in place.

The HR profession is definitely changing for the better — thanks in large part to the efforts of the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) which, in the last few years, has moved us forward.

But we need to strive to raise the bar so the public sees us for the professionals we are, businesses understand what we can do for them and even the small and mid-size businesses realize we are ready to serve. We also need to understand this carries a responsibility to our clients, our profession and the public at large.

Rick Filsinger is manager of human resource services at The Walter Fedy Partnership, an architecture, engineering and construction services firm in Kitchener, Ont. He can be reached at (519) 576-2150 ext. 204 or visit for more information.

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