HR leader of the month: Celeste Igolen-Robinson

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HR magazine speaks to the leaders of the function about what they think will shape it

What are your main concerns in HR today?

My main concern for HR is trying to square the difficult circle of maintaining employee engagement and wellbeing while maximising the potential output of the workforce within extremely limited budgets. This can only be achieved by creating a resilient business-aware workforce along with an innovative reward strategy.

Employee engagement in these situations is always going to be a tough nut to crack but the use of well-targeted training and development and creative reward initiatives should go some way to creating that balance between engaged employees and a public sector that is more commercially driven.

What will become more important for HR over the next five years?

The resourcing and retention of skills will be paramount, especially in light of Brexit and Baby Boomers reaching retirement. A possible outcome of Brexit could be that immigration is significantly curbed, creating a shortage in unskilled and semi-skilled labour. Organisations who rely heavily on this labour market will have to be innovative to deal with this shortfall. One solution may be to utilise the apprenticeship levy to plug this skills gap along with tapping into other emerging labour markets such as the gig economy.

While focusing on attracting those with the necessary skills from outside, organisations also need to put in place a good succession strategy to ensure that they capture their retirees’ knowledge and skillset to pass onto the next generation.

What subjects will HR still be tackling when you retire?

I think the legal definition of a ‘worker’ is still going to be hotly debated for many years, particularly with the fast-emerging gig and freelance economy. The constantly- expanding definition of a worker is illustrated by the manifesto pledge made by the Tories to put new protections in place for the self-employed and temporary workers.

But maybe when I retire the question won’t be “what is a worker?” but instead “who is a worker?” With technological development of AI, robotics and automation it may be that when I retire the question of a worker’s rights may be in relation to whether they are human or not... or something in-between.

What do you plan to do to change HR for the better?

HR needs to be seen as an innovator rather than a facilitator. So the most important part I can play is to empower and develop our HR people to be blue sky thinkers who are commercially savvy and agile. I want to develop all of HR, no matter what level they are at, to be able to inspire confidence across the organisation that we understand the business and will be the innovators of change and improvement, not just facilitate it.

Celeste Igolen-Robinson is senior HR manager, employee relations at Hertfordshire County Council

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