By Kirsty McManus, National Director, Institute of Directors (IoD) Northern Ireland

Ask any businessperson what their biggest challenge is, and skills will undoubtedly be close to the top of their agenda.

In fact, restricted access to skills and labour shortages, are consistently among the most common concerns raised to us by our members.
It could therefore be argued that there has never been a better time to ensure we have adequate representation of HR professionals in senior positions within our corporations and – crucially – taking up leadership positions on boards.

If we are serious about retaining and attracting talent, enabling HR professionals to interface with the board and influence conversations at that level, could go a long way to support that goal.

We often talk about investment in physical capital, buildings, equipment and infrastructure, all of which are vitally important in growing our businesses.

However, investing in people can be just as critical – and possibly provide even more rewarding business outcomes.

The issue has become all the more prevalent due to Brexit, and we are only too aware of concerns of a looming skills crisis that may follow the UK’s exit from the European Union as access to skills will likely get even more difficult, particularly for those sectors that rely heavily on migrant labour.

Kirsty McManus

Placing HR front and centre of strategic planning – by reserving a seat at the boardroom table for the personnel director – can help organisations ensure they are ahead of the curve to meet these challenges.

Dealing with new or prospective employees, as well as those leaving the business, those in HR roles will have a clear understanding of how the business is performing in terms of attracting and keeping hold of talent.

It isn’t just about skills retention, however.

Employment laws are seemingly in a constant state of flux, with several major changes due to come into play in 2020, including to how agency workers should be paid and increased scrutiny on the use of non-disclosure agreements.

Although some changes will only impact Great Britain in the first instance, keeping a close watch on developments remains prudent to ensure future compliance given the likelihood of Northern Ireland legislation following suit.

With a broad overview of all departments – and the people in them – HR directors will also have a keen grasp on how well the organisation is operating as a cohesive unit and can therefore feed into any decisions around how to improve alignment.

These issues, and others, were the subject of much debate at a recent event we held in partnership with HNH Human Capital.

It is obvious that personnel management has a tremendous role to play in helping to grow our businesses and our economy. We look forward to continuing the conversation around championing the great work of our HR professionals across Northern Ireland into 2020 and beyond.