People and culture
By the time the Workplace Relations Act was introduced by the Coalition Liberal Party in 1996, there was a strong focus on improved productivity and performance in the workplace. Human resources began to become more strategic and focus on the bigger picture, for example on transformational change in organisations. “While there was an IR manager, we were also talking about people and culture, whereas those words would never have been used 20 or 30 years ago,” says Lander, who was working for RACV at the time.
In the manufacturing industry, however, the skills shortage and recruitment was a hot topic. “The key issue for us 10 years ago was a lack of alignment between available skills and required skills,” says Dill. “We were looking to bring in people from offshore to meet the industry requirements.”
Dill and his colleagues also had to come up with creative strategies to attract different people to the workforce. “The struggle to understand what made employment conditions attractive to some people and not others was also an issue. For example, we needed people with fine motor skills to assemble hydraulic parts, so we made the hours from 10am to 2pm to see if we could attract women with children, and we did,” he says.
“Thirty years ago, depending on the organisation of course, there was more of an ‘us and them’ mentality between managers and employees and arguing about an award or an enterprise agreement or its equivalent,” says Lander. “Now, although that hasn’t disappeared entirely, we’ve got employers who are more enlightened and realise that to achieve their goals they need to have their people on board.
Ballantyne has also seen the profession progress academically. “The profession has really matured, especially from an academic standpoint. We’ve gone from pretty narrow administration subjects to far more dynamic subject matter, including organisational behaviour, ethics, and sustainability,” he says.
“Nowadays organisations really have to sell themselves to employees and keep them motivated through development and through the ability to contribute. Individuals are looking for what they can get out of an organisation, and it’s more than a pay packet. They want to learn through experience and make a contribution, they want to know what the organisation can do for them and they’re looking to HR as the conduit to that,” says Lander.
A family affair
The Wallage family has certainly made an impact on HR in Australia. In the late 1950s Harold Wallage, who worked as a personnel manager for Chrysler in South Australia for most of his career before moving into employment with the state government, was a foundation member at the personnel offices in SA.
“I became a fellow in 1961,” says the 95-year-old. “It gradually evolved from what was almost a friendly group of guys into a professional organisation. We had a bit of rough road to begin with, and for two or three years. We were regarded suspiciously by the ‘captains of industry’. I think they feared we were going to become another trade union. But eventually they recognised the value of a personnel association.”
Harold Wallage’s son, David, followed in the footsteps of his father, albeit unintentionally.
He joined Philips as personnel training officer in 1974 and was a student member of the Institute of Personnel Management (IPMA). He was transferred to Melbourne in 1974. “When I came to Melbourne I was more actively involved with the IPMA until, in 1984 I took over publications for the Victorian division,” he says.
David Wallage and five others went on to transform the IPMA into AHRI, which was really a move to bring the offices of each state together with a national head office. “I then created this publication [HRmonthly],” he says.
He also worked with AHRI to push the idea of “the human resources family; the collective”.
“It’s a community. I tried to develop a more positive attitude to that family concept within
David’s daughter, Clea, now works as an Asia-Pacific talent management director and
has specialised in organisational psychology and talent management for most of her career. She is currently an AHRI state council member.
David has watched the profession and the institute evolve. “Back in dad’s time, and even in the early days for me, a lot of HR was focused on administrative and compliance aspects. As we got more computerisation it gave us more information and allowed us to be more strategic. What has evolved is a very strategic resource,” he says.