I am an HR generalist working for a medium-sized publishing company, and have been involved in negotiating pay deals with union representatives. I really enjoyed this side of the job and would be keen to specialise in this area. Which industries have heavy union representation, and what qualities would I need to demonstrate to be successful in a specialist employee relations role?
If you’re looking for an employee relations role, it would be a good start to focus on the public sector, not-for-profit and manufacturing industries – all of which are heavily unionised. In the public sector, areas such as education or the NHS are represented by a number of unions, so you could find yourself negotiating with two or three.
To succeed in this role, you will need a number of qualities. Negotiation skills are crucial, as you will be aiming to come to an amicable conclusion with union representatives on a number of matters. How you communicate is also important, as you will be dealing with senior union members and more junior staff with union affiliation. Draw on your experiences with your current employer to show how you demonstrated tact and diplomacy in the negotiation process.
You also need to show you can be impartial. Getting too emotional during union discussions could compromise the outcome. You will be representing your organisation and whatever it needs to achieve, so you will need to argue a strong case on behalf of your employer.
It’s worth bearing in mind that although many employee (or industrial) relations posts focus heavily on the employer’s relationship with unions, they can also encompass other areas, including absence management, disciplinary and grievance, and dealing with employment tribunals. These areas require a good knowledge of employment law, so it would be worth brushing up on the latest developments.
To maximise your chances in this area, I suggest you highlight your achievements with the pay deal at your current employer on your CV. Then you could target 10 to 15 organisations in the industries I have suggested. Use any contacts you have already made there to open doors.
The only drawback to an employee relations role is that you may be limiting yourself to working in a smaller number of sectors, but the advantages of gaining this experience more than compensate.