I was in South Africa to support Cathy Sims, founder of the recently formed South African Graduate Recruiters Association (Sagra) by speaking at its first national conference. It also presented an opportunity to share with Cathy first-hand the ways in which the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR) has developed over its 36-year history.
It was my first meeting with Cathy, but within minutes, we were talking shop. Wherever I travel, I find that HR people quickly identify and share their common agendas.
As I manage the AGR's own annual conference, I was surprised at how relaxed Cathy was on the eve of her first event. She was so relaxed, in fact, that she even arranged for us to meet up with Helen Bostock, vice-president of marketing at JP Morgan in the UK, and a director of the AGR, who is in Johannesburg on business and, like me, had been invited to speak at the conference.
At breakfast, we met Taryn Sessel from Unilever, Richard Warren, recruitment partner at KPMG, Tracey Rowe, HR director at JP Morgan, and Arnold Dhanesar from Edcon (South Africa's leading retailer). Coincidentally, the first of these three organisations also provides board members for the AGR.
We emphasise the importance of constantly engaging with the members and pay attention to the added value that membership brings to them. Networking, promotion of best practice, shared resources to undertake projects such as benchmarking exercises, and representation for the sector, all feature highly on all of our wish lists.
Clearly, South Africa, as a culturally diverse and new nation in the developing world, has its own unique challenges. But in the world of graduate recruitment and development, the similarities of issues and concerns are remarkable - the quality of graduates, relationships with universities, buy-in from line managers, budget constraints and accountability - all common agendas, despite the thousands of miles that separate our two countries.
On arriving at the hotel reception for the conference, we discovered a pack of reporters and cameramen from the UK. Had Personnel Today arranged this reception committee for us? Hardly. The England cricket team were hidden away inside as they waited for confirmation on whether their controversial tour to Zimbabwe would go ahead.
The conference began with a speech by Nasema Badsha, deputy director for the South Africa's De