“My advice to anybody is don’t ever take it personally. If you do that, that gives an in to anybody to say, right, I know which buttons to press actively”, Rajiv Gunawardana, Head of HR, with experience in the social care sector speaks to us about developing a career in HR Leadership.
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 Rajiv Gunawardana, who began his career as a mechanical engineer before moving into HR.
Can you tell us a bit about how you got into HR and why?
I think it was probably an intelligent mistake. I started with a mechanical engineering degree and I really wanted to be a car designer. I should have been going through more like art college than engineering. After that, I basically started to work in a temporary contract and one of the training and development people said “have you ever considered HR?”.
They thought I would be a good fit because I was working on a couple of projects and I had to deal with various changes that were happening in the workplace and I was actively like an office manager for a small project and straight out of university. So I pursued a postgraduate qualification in Personnel Management at Wolverhampton poly and then secured my first proper HR role.
Can you tell me about the challenges or key themes that you’re seeing across the HR sector?
The biggest challenge for everybody in social care is around retention and recruitment. Because we are a charity and our funding is based on care packages from local authorities who are under pressure from central government to make cuts.
The challenge is trying to recruit people who are just above the minimum wage, and to provide something that can be quite challenging at times, in terms of some unpredictable behaviours, but also hugely rewarding.
So, it’s not like a normal recruitment process. If you find the right match of person, they could be from any sector. Also turnover it’s notoriously high in the care sector, and we’re trying to address that by looking at some really key analytics, like when they’re leaving, why they’re leaving and what can we actually do about some of these issues.
In addition, given the current rate of employment, I think that people can afford to become incredibly choosy, and they just don’t turn up to the interviews. I just can’t believe somebody would actually go through the whole process of putting the application and just not show up.
What career advice would you offer to someone working towards a career like yours?
In terms of careers advice, it’s incredibly rewarding, and it’s so diverse now. You just need to decide whether you want to specialise in one area (eg Recruitment) or whether you want to become a generalist. Ist very competitive but persevere.
If somebody really wants to get into HR, the paths are clear. Find a project that is kind of in an HR department with an employer who really wants for you to do your qualifications otherwise you have to go and do it yourself.
CIPD qualification is the industry standard. While some people don’t prescribe CIPD and don’t believe in it, I believe it is imperative to be qualified, but there are many senior people who are not. That does not make them a poor HR practitioner and neither doe having the qualification. At the end of the day if you enjoy what you are doing then that in itself will be the motivator to do better and progress. if you don’t like working as an HR person (or anything else for that matter) it’s simple, go and find what you enjoy doing. My advice would be to get your CIPD accreditation. The other thing is to try and work in as many different types of sectors as you can.
And this may sound a bit controversial, but I also would say don’t stay more than five years in one organization because you need that fresh challenge in terms of HR, you need to get your experience.Especially if you’re going to head towards a head of HR or HR director role, you just need to have that because different organisations do things differently.
So I would say if you want to work in HR, try and work in as many industries as possible in your initial career like, manufacturing, retail, local authority, charity sector. Because it helps you build up a huge range of knowledge and casework and experiences of how people behave, and how managers think and you will understand that difference ‘pace’ at which each organisation operates.
Also make sure that you get the experience of working with unions to get that experience of dealing with and talking to management staff and union people, which is different to the study management and staff.
Rajiv is an experienced HR Director and has 20+ years of experience in HR.
If you are interested in having a confidential conversation about your career or would like support growing your team, please get in touch today.