“Don’t live in your little HR bubble. Invest the time to genuinely understand your company, not just from an HR perspective but how it makes money and why customers buy its products.
As part of our commitment to supporting candidates to develop fulfilling careers, we’ve invited some HR Leaders to share the secrets of their success.
This week, we had a great conversation with Jonathan Parsons, HR Director at Triumph Motorcycles. Jonathan began his HR career working in the city before moving into the automotive sector.
Can you tell us how you got into HR and why?
Many people say they fell into HR, so I suppose you could say the start of my career was more planned than most. I grew up in mid Wales and when I was doing A levels and choosing a university, I was really conscious that I hadn’t had much professional work experience. I therefore looked deliberately for a course that had a year in industry, and did a mainstream business studies course which allowed you to specialise.
From a relatively early stage, I knew that I was more people oriented than focused on other aspects of business and that meant that when it was time to choose modules on the course, it was more natural for me to go down the HR route.
The real motivator for me was the chance to spend a year in industry, in an HR department. I had a fantastic mentor who ensured that I had lots of exposure to all areas of HR. I was their first HR industrial placement student and so both of us wanted to make it work and be a success. Historically they had students go into their equity analysis teams, but not into support departments. I was also very fortunate in that it was a small HR team so I got to see what an HR manager did versus an HR officer versus a reward specialist. I got involved in as much as I could and took full advantage of the opportunity. The whole experience meant that I’ve always tried to ensure that summer students and industrial placements who come into our HR team, really get something worthwhile out of it.
Can you tell me about the challenges that you’re seeing across the HR sector?
There are a number of common themes, at a macro level, across engineering and automotive. There are the challenges faced around talent attraction and retention but that’s not just our industry, we are re-learning what it is like to experience full employment again. Certainly, there are niche engineering skills around electrical and hybrid technology that are so scarce that nationally I think we are now paying the price for not attracting enough students into STEM subjects.
Closer to home are some of the challenges faced by HR departments themselves, who must relentlessly keep focused on balancing the needs of their multiple customers. I’m always a bit disappointed at the reaction when I tell people in a social environment that I work in HR as often they go on to tell a less than complimentary story about their own HR department, if we want to add value to organisations, we have to change that perception.
Another key focus for us is trying to ensure that our internal environment keeps up with our external brand image. This occurred to me when I went with my CEO to Loughborough University, to their new engineering centre and all of the students were surrounded by the latest technology in this beautiful glass building. It was a healthy reminder of how important the built environment is. I remember that when I was a student, you went from what felt like an old fashioned university environment into a very modern work place. Now I think that Universities have become such exciting environments that we can run the risk of new graduates feeling like they are stepping backwards when they come into the workplace.
“What career advice would you offer to someone either working towards a career like yours, or someone just getting started in their HR career?
I would recommend being open minded about taking opportunities in multiple different industries and sizes of companies until you find where you are most effective. The perfect combination, where you’re really interested in the end product, but you also love the values and the feel of the place is a powerful motivator.
When I came for the final stage of my interview at Triumph, I met the owner and he talked about how important the canteen was. We were recruiting lots of young engineers who were often living away from home for the first time, and he was really concerned that they were fed properly. I thought, wow, what an amazing culture, somebody who owns a company is genuinely thinking about the needs of the people that work there, that was a very important factor in my decision to join.
My final piece of advice to HR people would be to make sure that you don’t live in your little HR bubble. Invest the time to genuinely understand your company, not just from an HR perspective but how it makes money and why customers buy its products.
Jonathan has been the HR Director for Triumph Motorcycles since 2015 and is responsible for all people and safety issues.
If you are interested in having a confidential conversation about your career or would like support growing your team, please get in touch today.