Ever fantasized about mediating a labour strike? In this week’s edition of our career-advice column, we find out how one goes about landing a career in human resources.
Name: Lauren Canzius
Job: Labour-relations consultant
In 30 seconds or less, tell me what you do all day at work.
I work in a unionized environment, and my job contains four different dimensions: collective bargaining, which is negotiating the terms and conditions of employment; client services, where we advise clients on disciplinary and human-resources issues; consulting work on reorganizations and consolidations; and grievance management, which is when the union or management believes that there’s been a violation of the contractual agreement, and my role is to lead the process for resolving those kind of disputes.
When you were finishing high school and starting to think about your career, was this an area you saw yourself working in?
Definitely. I’m a big Blue Jays fan and, back in 1994 when I was just a little girl, there was a baseball strike that cancelled the World Series. I was a big Joe Carter fan and was hoping the Jays would win the World Series for the third time in a row. So, when it was cancelled, I was like, “Mommy and Daddy, what’s going on?” My parents explained the role of the player’s association—which is like a union—and also explained that management, team owners, and the association couldn’t agree on a contract, so there was a strike. From then on, I was fascinated with the process. When it was time to go to university, I knew I wanted to go to the University of Toronto, but applications were due and I had no idea what I was going to major in. My parents mentioned that there was a program called Employee Relations, and reminded me of the baseball strike and said that’s what you study if you want a career that field. So I signed up, went to U of T, and then did my Master’s in the Industrial Relations program at Queen’s University.
After you finished your Master’s, what was your next step?
I started working at the province through the Ontario Internship Program, Labour Relations stream. You really have to take your time to learn about the environment that you are in and about the unions and collective agreements, which are essentially the terms and conditions of employment. That way, when anyone has a question or issue, such as in a discipline situation, you understand the rules and law around it. Then you advise your clients on how to deal with different issues, lead workplace investigations and grievance hearings, and also do small project work.
What are some of the most common issues that arise concerning employees and management?
It all really depends but, if I can generalize, it’s often things like lateness, or not following workplace rules. Sometimes, you may encounter an inter-personal dispute between employees. Mediation is also very fun; it’s actually one of my favourite aspects of the job. You have a unique role where you get to sit down with the mediator, who works with both sides to help resolve disputes.
Unions can be a pretty divisive issue in and of themselves. What do you think of their public image?
It’s just my personal opinion but I think, historically, unions have made significant gains for employees over time, by advocating for fair labour practices such as fair wages, time off, and health and safety issues. But it’s not just unions alone: It takes politicians, lawmakers, as well as societal and economic pressures, to come up with what’s appropriate and what isn’t, philosophically speaking. And, as management, you have to balance these pressures when determining what’s best for the organization.
How has the recession affected the job market for human-resources professionals?
I know that, generally speaking, no one’s immune to the recession. In terms of personal employment security, though, most of my friends and colleagues in human resources have fared well, but some have not. Based on my own personal observations, I have seen in the past few months an increase in the amount of Human Resources job postings on various job boards. But it varies from industry to industry.
What advice would you give to someone interested in pursuing a career in human resources?
There are many human-resources programs offered at the college and university level for degrees, diplomas, post-graduate certificates, and Master’s degrees in Human Resources or Industrial Relations. If you’re early on in your career and you’re looking for a change, I would definitely recommend you go to school and receive training in the field—that will at least provide a foundation of the principles and practices. If you’re midway into your career, and looking to move into the HR field, I always advocate getting some special training or special certificate to complement your existing skills, so you can then leverage your experience and possibly move into a different field. It’s always good to gain knowledge in other areas. My advice for people looking for any job in any field is to look at the job boards and see what kind of qualifications places are looking for, and identify any gaps in your skills and training you may need in order to get that job. Your career is in your own hands. Do your research, read the descriptions, network, ask questions, and if it’s what you’re looking for, then go for it. There are resources available through the Human Resources Professional Association website as well.
What are your favourite and least favourite parts of your job?
My favourite part is the fact that every single day is different, and it can change just by picking up the phone. It’s hard to think of a part that I don’t like… there are day-to-day challenges, but that can happen in any job. I fundamentally love my profession, and I’ve aligned my career with my strengths.