15 August 2001
SOCIAL POLICY MINISTER LAWRENCE GONZI DETAILS THE GOVERNMENT'S STRATEGY FOR DEVELOPING THE HUMAN RESOURCES PROFESSION ACROSS THE ISLANDS. DR GONZI DESCRIBES THE PROFESSION AS HAVING PLUMMETED FROM A BORING DUTY CONCERNED WITH CONTRACTUAL OBLIGATIONS TO A STRATEGIC PROFESSION INTRICATELY TIED WITH BUSINESS OPTIMISATION AND ENTERPRISE PERFORMANCE
Effective HRM as a core policy objective
The management and deployment of the human capital inherent in each and every person, therefore, elicits positive responses with respect to more and better jobs, stronger family relationships through better communication skills, sturdy citizenship and community involvement and subsequently a better democracy.
The changing nature of HRM
Indeed, the challenge is in itself a moving target. The world of work is in a state of constant flux, and the HRM function is striving to continuously keep abreast of these ongoing developments. Today we know that any organisation is as good as its people and wise organisations are developing high-performance work practices in a bid to create a facilitative environment for human and business development
Strategising the human resource function
It needs to be emphasised however, that although on a cognitive level and in literature, Strategic HRM is becoming ever more a celebrity-word in reality, successive studies indicate that few organisations are taking their people decisions within a strategic framework. Not just in Malta, but also in larger Europe, it seems that strategic human resource management is still much of a textbook myth than a business reality.
From Myopia to far-sightedness
A collective effort to up-skill and maintain the skills development of our workforce is therefore not an expense incurred but an investment rendered to enterprise, industry and the country as a whole.
Two distinct and separate studies, one of which has been performed by the FHRD itself very recently, have suggested that managements concrete uptake and commitment towards lifelong learning and employee development still lacks the professed commitment, which the same management advocated in fora such as these. I believe that we still need to be convinced that our entrepreneurs and employers are taking their human resources obligations more seriously. This view is also shared by Maltas Employers Association. On the contrary, it seems that workers themselves are warming up to the need for self-development and skill acquisition. Notably, the FHRD Training and Development survey noted that 53% of training requests originate from employees as opposed to 30% originate from the training department.
The contrast is sharp! While stressing the need for the HRM function to knead itself within the business strategy, we are seeing little vision of this from the HR Departments were it so, we would have witnessed a staggering amount of training opportunities from enterprise training departments. Again, it seems that we need to translate our words to action in essence we need to walk the talk!
The HR profession in Malta
I consider the FHRD as a potential champion, even as a non-profit making organisation, to increasingly become a centre of excellence in setting the standards of practice in the management and development of people. Through affiliations with similar bodies and federations, FHRD could become Maltas gateway to the HR Profession, becoming a guarantor of quality and competence in the HR field.
The agency agreement reached recently with the University of Leicesters CLMS is already a big step in this regard. Through this effort, FHRD is becoming a leader in promoting the acquisition of skill and competence.
We now, however, need to move beyond the promotion stage. For the safeguarding and protection of our countrys human resource pool, we need an accreditation body which provides a gateway to all those who are interested in people management.
If the management of our human resources is so vital to national economic prosperity, than we cannot accept half measures.
Governments strategy in promoting the HR profession
Government as an employer
I have more than once stated, that the major problem within the Public Service is not its number, but the total absence of a middle-management line-function and the subsequent mismanagement and effective utilisation of its human resources. The sterling work being performed by the Management and Personnel Office has not attenuated this problem, and we are now seeking to decentralise some corporate HR functions to enable the executive to become more agile and responsive to our operational demands.
This realisation is no revelation of a Deputy Prime Minister! For the past two years, the Staff Development Organisation has been promoting and prioritising the HR profession through the sponsorships of degree courses in the field alongside and in higher frequency to other management specialisations. This is still not enough to soothe the dearth of the profession in the Public Service. I do hope and encourage line departments and government entities to take their HR functions very seriously by investing their energies to secure the optimal management of their human resources. I repeat, an organisation is good as its people, and the corollary to it is that the Public Service is as good as its people. Politicians like me shoulder the responsibility for public policy the executive of government needs to shoulder its responsibility towards effective management and business development through the development of its people.
Government as the prime mover
In seeking to create a conducive environment for personal growth and national prosperity, government is touching on the HR Profession by instilling the need for a market in this respect. Governments continuous and steadfast efforts to inculcate the notion that our countrys future rests upon the maximisation and optimisation of its human resources opens up a plethora of opportunities for HR Professionals to identify ways and means to concretise and distil this policy agenda into nuts and bolts for our population.
Having said this, Government has taken a number of initiatives in this
respect, most notable of which are:
The tripartite process for HRM
all key economic and social contributors. Tripartitism is increasingly becoming significant in continuing education and training and the social partners, particularly the HR Profession and Trade Unions have a lot of bridges to build for effective people management.
HRM and Industrial Relations at a first glance seem to be two opposing strands of the employment relationship. Their interests, their focus, their operations and their method are very distinct. The transformation undergone by the HR Profession are seriously impacting on the role of Trade Unionism.
Reconciling or harmonising the apparent incompatibility between Industrial Relations and HRM is a major challenge faced by Industrial Relations. If it is to take place it requires integration which involves expanding the frontiers of both - HRM should take into account the external environment more than it does at present, and Trade Unions should focus far more than they do on workplace relations and recognise that their efforts should not consist largely of collective relations.
Alternatively, it requires the two to operate as dual or parallel systems, which is less advantageous, because this is less likely to expand the frontiers of either.
There are some pre-conditions to harmonisation:
The HR profession and corporate social responsibility
I am directly referring to the involvement, which the private sector needs to step-up to assist jobseekers acquire skills and abilities while providing job experiences. This measure of CSR, I believe, is still quite missing within the local private sector scene. Government is definitely dissatisfied by the uptake of apprenticeships and job schemes currently being offered by the ETC to assist jobseekers, women returners and long-term unemployed. As I have reiterated earlier on, it is the same private sector which stands to gain from the agility and readiness of the countrys human resource potential, and unless the private sector participates in this national agenda, then we will still face the labour and skill-set shortages which we are currently experiencing in a number of industry sectors. I do believe that as HR Professionals you have a lot to offer by advising your management to buy in these schemes with a foresight in their eventual payback!
I think that I have said a lot and that you maybe need to think more about what I have said. We have seen the HR Profession plummet from a boring duty concerned with contractual obligations to a strategic profession intricately tied with business optimisation and enterprise performance.
Government recognises this shift in emphasis and validates the profession
in a number of ways. There are however a number of challenges which
our country is facing, the successful management of which relates to
our capacity to maximise upon our human resource base. I would prefer
to think that the acid test for the HR Professions ability to
succeed in this challenge is yet to be experienced!