The human resources (HR) department at a sixth form college is central to the day-to-day running of the institution. Within the further education (FE) sector, HR ensures that teaching and learning are delivered effectively. HR plays an integral role in driving a college forward.
You will be in a position to make a real difference to student’s lives by making sure that the right staff members are brought in with the relevant skills, qualifications and experience. If this sounds like motivation to go to work every day then further education (FE) definitely is a good industry for HR professionals.
For those who like a little variety in their life, every day is different when working in HR. Luke Smith, CIPD member, says: “The best thing about my job is working in a fast‐paced environment; there’s always lots going on, every day is different.”
Key talents needed for HR professionals in the FE sector are good communication skills, feeling comfortable with constant change and being able to multitask. The role will require the candidate to juggle a large variety of tasks in a fast-paced and ever-changing environment so no day is like the day before.
You will be expected to be the first port of call for a range of things, including:
Sally Wood, HR manager for Framlingham College in Suffolk, explains that recruitment practices in colleges are subject to strict safeguarding regulations so the process can be complex.
Wood explains that due to teaching candidates requiring extensive vetting, the hiring process can sometimes be challenging, “especially within the operational departments where managers may be short-staffed and requiring a candidate to start as soon as possible”.
Knowing you are making a difference to student’s lives by selecting the best teaching talent is a huge positive for working in HR.
From a HR role you could progress to head of the department. In this role you will oversee a HR team and a collaborative leadership would be desired. The role would require “providing a professional and supportive advice service to all levels of staff in the college”.
Emma Kilby-Brooks, HR advisor at Loughborough College, explains that the HR role involves a huge variety of daily tasks and her experience from her previous roles in retail HR and prior to that the UK travel industry helps.
Project work is key in the role. Kilby-Brooks states that she works a lot on implementing the General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR) at her college and is also “always working across the college proactively promoting health and wellbeing among our staff”.
On a typical day, she says that she has to “sift through a large volume of email, and attend numerous meetings on issues such as occupational health, absence, disciplinaries, GDPR, occupational health and recruitment – they all come under my remit”.
Familiarising yourself with the GDPR rules is beneficial when interviewing for an FE HR role. The Association of Colleges (AoC) has key information relating to the impact of GDPR on FE institutions. They can be found here.
The important issues laid out by the AoC relate to consent, data subjects’ rights, privacy impact assessments, the role of the data protection officer and the overall scope of GDPR. These are all issues to familiarise yourself with.
In June 2019, the UK government put an emphasis on innovation, putting forward a strategy to make the UK the world's most innovative economy.
Industry body Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development has declared that HR is “uniquely placed to support creative and innovative behaviours and processes”.
Innovation has emerged as a key challenge for HR but also a key opportunity. HR can place innovation at the very heart of a college’s behaviours and processes. It is central to modern organisations. “HR can support in the sense of building and buttressing the capabilities, behaviours and culture which can drive innovation,” according to the CIPD.
Kilby-Brooks preaches the virtues of being organised and able to adapt when working in HR. She states that you must be “honest and good at communicating with unions, employees and stake-holders as this goes a long way towards creating close and lasting relationships”.
She also stresses the importance of team working. HR is a great industry to work in for those who value being the member of a team.
Kilby-Brooks explains that a postgraduate diploma in human resource is commonplace for those wishing to get into a career in HR, as well as a degree or a masters. A degree in business management, economics, finance or psychology may well be beneficial.
However, you do not necessarily need a degree or a specific PGCE qualification to work in the HR sphere in FE if you have relevant experience. Becoming an associate member of the CIPD is recommended. Doing so:
If you’re a college student or a recent graduate, an internship can also be a fruitful path into HR.
According to Payscale, the average salary for HR professional in the UK currently stands at £25,052. Although entry-level jobs in HR usually pay anywhere between £16,786 at West Suffolk College, Bury St Edmunds to £20,3618 in London, the head of HR at St Brendan’s Sixth Form College in Bristol pays up to £50,000 per year.