Welcome to the future of human resources.
Although AHRI is turning 70 this year, the sector can be likened to a seasoned mid-career professional with a bright path ahead.
The industry has been through growing pains and has emerged confident, strong and equipped with the tools to lead, says Rhonda Brighton-Hall (FCPHR), general manager of human resources at the retail arm of the Commonwealth Bank of Australia.
“We got caught up in trying to be a partner … and then we kept talking about getting a seat at the table.
“Now our focus is ‘we assume that we have a seat at the table, but what are we going to do with it?’
We are confident now.”
Hire under fire
Much has changed in 70 years in the workplace and the greater socio-economic environment.
In 1943, women were flooding into workplaces around Australia to fill the void left by men drawn into the war effort.
At St Marys Munitions Filling Factory in NSW, Australia’s first wartime personnel officer was appointed, tasked with tackling absenteeism and lifting morale.
Government-trained welfare officers were soon installed in other workplaces and before the year was up, those officers began meeting, first in Victoria and then NSW, forming the Personnel and Industrial Welfare Officers Association.
In the 1950s, AHRI’s predecessor, the Institute of Personnel Management of Australia (IPMA) was born, and by 1967 the organisation had 1000 members, with 12 per cent possessing a university degree.
New phase, new phrase
By the 1980s the term “human resources” had entered common vernacular, and IPMA members were increasingly tertiary-educated – 61 per cent were degree-qualified, largely thanks to the organisation encouraging university and diploma courses in the 1970s.
With the turn of a new decade, the hunt was on to find a new name for the organisation, one that truly reflected the changes taking place in the profession, which had moved from being a people-supply and administrative role to an active business partner.
The Australian Human Resources Institute (AHRI) was the winning choice from a competition.
AHRI Life Fellow Jim Bailey (FAHRILife), a director at Bailey, Shaw & Partners, was the inaugural president of AHRI and he oversaw its transition from the IPMA in 1992.
By 2003, AHRI’s membership had reached 11,000 and the profession, alongside the greater business world, was rapidly changing.
Human resources has moved from an administrative function to a key contributor to business strategy, says Amanda Mostyn, executive general manager of people and development at the Australian Stock Exchange.
“You can’t just be rolling out the same old programs every year,” she says. “If you really want to work up to a strategic level, you have to be quite multi-skilled.”
The present – all a twitter
AHRI chairman Peter Wilson says today’s social media, new technologies and mobile devices are a chance to add even more value for members.
“We’ve seen enormous growth in the delivery of services electronically,” Wilson says. “We used to be in eight capital cities, now we’re in 40 cities around Australia.”
Wilson says workers are seeking greater flexibility and business is being confronted with more burdensome regulations and higher business standards.
As younger professionals take up greater responsibilities, a vibrant, nimble industry body of 21,000 members will back them, he says.