Henley Management College bursary competition winner: Best of the six


Personnel Today and Henley Management College are delighted to announce the result of our competition for HR practitioners to win a place on Henley’s new MSc in Advanced HR Management.

Rachel Oliver, a partner at HR consultancy People Mechanics, won the £18,000 bursary to study for the new professional HR qualification.

Oliver was chosen from six shortlisted candidates who attended a selection day at Henley last week to assess their suitability for the programme. Tasks during the day included:

  • A group exercise (where Henley observers considered group and individual behaviours)
  • An interview with a member of the college faculty
  • A psychometric test.

The key to the application process was the submission of an essay under the title: ‘What are the key skills for the HR practitioner of the future?’.

Oliver’s essay was considered excellent by the judges – Karen Dempsey, editor of Personnel Today, Richard McBain, director of studies at Henley, and Ken Bull, programme leader for the MSc in Advanced HR Management.

Bull says all the finalists were high calibre, with a good track record of achievements in the HR sector.

He adds: “In her essay, Rachel clarified the different needs of the HR practitioner, and showed an understanding of the required competences relating to both technical and personal abilities.”

Here, you can read Oliver’s winning essay for yourself:

What are the key skills for the HR practitioner of the future?

To establish the key skills that will be required by HR practitioners of the future, it is important to understand where the value needs to be added within an organisation and across the HR profession – which may not necessarily be the same thing.

A small organisation with one HR practitioner may require a very hands-on approach that deals predominantly with short-term issues, while a large organisation with several HR practitioners at varying levels of seniority may require much broader skills. The skills required can be divided into two categories: technical skills and personal skills.

The skills required for an HR practitioner can be subject to the role they assume within an organisation – for example, a senior HR manager and a junior HR officer will not need the same level of technical competence, and will certainly not need the same personal skills. However, the HR officer will need to develop these skills during their career if they are to be effective.

Technical wizards

If HR practitioners are going to add real value to an organisation, they need to have a ‘toolkit’ that is much broader than specific HR skills.

This means: a strong commercial appreciation about their own business and the environment in which the business operates a strategic understanding of what the whole business wants to achieve over different time spans and the ability to provide HR input to the broader business strategy.

Only with this perspective will they be able to shape HR strategy so that it delivers on business needs.

  • A return on HR investment is essential for the HR function to demonstrate effectiveness and value.
  • A strong appreciation of finance is important to ensure the HR practitioner is able to debate and provide input at a senior level and be a credible business partner in the senior management team.
  • A detailed understanding of the current financial position of a business and its projected position is the key to implementing a supportive HR strategy.

The HR practitioner needs to be a leader of change, best practice and of people. Merely implementing the vision of others will no longer be enough to ensure that HR adds real value. Employees at all levels and key stakeholders need to see the vision, leadership and technical credibility of the HR practitioner.

A technical appreciation of IT will also be an essential skill for HR in the future. Technology will play a significant part of the future of the profession, and strong HR technology in an organisation will give HR and managers the time, tools and data to manage the people resource more efficiently. The HR practitioner will need to be competent to lead these changes.

Solid HR skills in employment legislation, employee relations, training and development, recruitment and retention, reward and organisational design will always be relevant. However, these have to be broadened. The HR practitioner has to be able to think ahead and plan for changes in demographics. An understanding of culture, age and sex of the labour market needs to be reflected in appropriate policies for the future.

This is the key to recruiting and retaining skilled individuals to enable the organisation to benefit from the fruits of having a diverse workforce.

The ability to manage a project will also be a key skill for the future. As more organisations outsource their HR activities, the HR practitioner will be left to co-ordinate the different outsourced organisations to achieve an effective day-to-day operation. They will need to be adept at managing projects to bring together cross-functional teams to deliver on HR objectives.

Personal approach

The personal competencies of an HR practitioner of the future will be as important as technical skills. An organisation can buy in technical skills, but a strong HR practitioner with strong personal skills will be able to apply the technical data in a pragmatic and realistic way.

The most important personal skill required for an HR practitioner is simple common sense, and an ability to lead and manage in a pragmatic way that actually works and is not over-complicated.

Theoretical solutions that appear ideal in the boardroom sometimes do not work in reality, or need to be implemented in a more simplistic way when dealing with individuals. So being open, firm, fair and realistic are the main interpersonal attributes required by an HR practitioner. The key is to know when and how to use interpersonal skills for maximum effect.

The HR practitioner of the future will need the confidence to match their technical skills so that they can feel like – and be seen to be – an equal player around the boardroom table. Having the courage to challenge and debate with senior executives – and then to take action where required – will be essential if HR strategy is to both influence and be an integral part of the business strategy.

Finally, the HR practitioner of the future needs to have a strong sense of intuition. They must have confidence in their abilities to be able to use and trust them. They must have the instinct to anticipate what the organisation needs in the short and longer term, not just react when things happen or when change is imminent.


The HR practitioner of the future will need to develop their skills to survive, as their role will change as businesses change. As operational activities are devolved to managers and more and more activities are outsourced, the HR practitioner needs to find a new role that adds value.

Awareness of the changes now will enable today’s HR practitioners to develop these skills, perhaps by further training and certainly by grasping every opportunity for exposure, particularly in the broader commercial environment.

Complacency is not an option. The personnel manager that did the ‘hiring and firing’ will soon become extinct.

Winner: Rachel Oliver

“I am absolutely thrilled to win the bursary for the MSc at Henley. I’m sure that the reputation of the college and the design of the programme will ensure that I am extremely challenged over the next couple of years.

As the programme is action-based, I will be able to apply my learning and development to real situations and add real value to the clients I work with.

I am particularly keen to develop a much broader commercial awareness that will have an impact on my ability to influence at a senior and strategic level.”

The MSc in Advanced HR Management kicks off in September this year. Henley is accepting enquiries and applications until late August. We will be following Oliver’s progress via a monthly column in Personnel Today’s Careerwise section, and through a weekly blog on the Personnel Today website.


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