Empowering the next generation of HR leaders

This year’s CIPD Ireland Student Conference was focused around Empowering the next generation of HR leaders. Chair, Dave Barry, Director Talent & Transformation at Fastnet-The Talent Group and Mary Connaughton, Director of CIPD Ireland introduced the topic and shared some valuable insights and trends in HR practices in Ireland today.

Mary reported that the CIPD HR practices in Ireland survey 2018 found that the top three external drivers for change were: 

  1. Labour market and skills (way ahead of the others)
  2. Brexit
  3. Change and 24/7 economy

The top HR priorities over the next two years are:

  • employee engagement
  • talent management

A tighter labour market is leading to a push on recruitment and retention. Greater mobility is creating risk for organisations' talent management. So, Mary asked, why are people leaving? Perhaps for greater rewards and better careers. Mary drew attention to the fact that we are not matching what we are actually doing to manage this retention problem, to what’s really happening. Improving onboarding and induction programmes is not the solution to the problem, they should be good anyway. More strategic focus needs to be implemented in organisations to protect their talent. We are also not seeing good exit interview processes in many organisations, with 25% of organisations doing none at all.

Another very interesting result from the survey that Mary highlighted was that all three of the answers to what is constraining HR? centred around line management. This mainly was the lack of time available for people management, followed by lack of development and support and ineffective devolution of HR. This is an area that HR needs to focus on going forward.

She then discussed how we are getting there in terms of gaining a strategic seat at the table. The survey found that 71% of organisations now have HR at a senior level playing a strategic part in the business.

The survey also showed that only 20% of Irish organisations currently calculate their gender pay gap.


It was a great day with some really fantastic speakers! Looking forward to next year!

Kate Siberry, Voltedge, March 2018


David D’Souza, Head of Engagement at CIPD, then addressed the room.

He gave three great pieces of advice that the students took away from his talk:

  1. He used the example of superman in the phone booth. He goes into the booth in a business suit and comes out the other side as superman. Employees are coming into work with a spark in their eye, ready to take on the day and this can very quickly disappear. The aim is for the organisation to keep the spark in every employee and not let that disappear.
  2. Our focus should be on outcomes and not watching people work. David put the following scenario to the room: you are locked out of your apartment and have to call a locksmith. One locksmith is new, comes to look at the problem, can’t fix it, goes away to get parts, comes back and finally finishes the job. The second locksmith is an expert, arrives and in seconds opens the door. The question David asked, which locksmith would you rather pay? Most of us would be disgruntled handing over a sum of money to the man that took only a few seconds to open the door even though he gave us the outcome we wanted fastest. Business needs to focus on finding smart solutions, shortcuts and getting better at focusing on the outcome not work for the sake of work.
  3. David then told the room to be brave, not to always follow the steps of past HR. Think outside the box for new solutions.

Niamh McNamara, Head of HR from Novartis Global Services, followed David.

Niamh stressed that soft skills are very important. With more and more technology coming into the workplace, remember that a robot can’t give a hug, listen or deal with emotional issues.

The recent snow storm caused havoc for a lot of employers. What Niamh and her team found was that productivity in their organisation actually increased over the period. She said that they took on board the weather warnings very early, had policies and directions in place so all employees knew exactly where they stood, and that they could work from home. Because of the psychological trust between the employer and employees work activity actually increased when people worked at home. A good lesson learnt, and her company are going to make sure it is the way forward as these extreme weather events become more regular.

Barry Holmes, Director, Group Human Resources, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland (RCSI), spoke next.

Barry said one of the issues HR in RCSI are encountering is the rising (changing) expectations on pay and promotion. Career development is just as important as hiring talent. There now has to be clear paths of growth and development for all.

Barry showed us a short clip of a project that RCSI and Accenture are working on this year called Women on Walls. RCSI are joining this to recognise the pioneering achievements of eight extraordinary women and enhance the visibility of historical female leaders in medicine.

Clodagh Logue, International HR Lead with Fitbit, wound up the morning.

Clodagh gave a real inspiring insight into the growing entrepreneurial company. The focus of their talent strategy is to support transformation. This has to address:

  • engagement and communication
  • management excellence
  • Find your Fit: global first, attraction and development

In the afternoon we heard great insight from Oonagh Buckley, Director General of the WRC.

Oonagh discussed the role of the WRC and how they are working hard to get adjudications from start to finish in six months, the process in the past could have taken three years! She said that there is an opportunity with all complaints for the parties to opt in to mediation. Mediation is a very successful way of resolving a dispute and can be done face to face or over the phone.

Johanne Duignan A&L Goodbody then spoke about important case law.

A recent final decision by the Court of Appeals on the ongoing Nano Nagle School case that sheds a lot of light on the area of reasonable accommodation. The Court of Appeal recently delivered judgment in a long running disability discrimination case, which is noteworthy from an employer's perspective. The judgment brings clarity to the law on the extent of an employer's statutory duty to reasonably accommodate disabled employees.

In overturning the High Court judgment in Daly v Nano Nagle School, the Court of Appeal has confirmed that the statutory duty to reasonably accommodate a disabled employee is not as onerous as previously understood. Significantly, the Court of Appeal confirmed that the obligation does not extend to requiring an employer to employ a person in a position if they are not able to perform the essential duties of that position.

The Court of Appeals Mr Justice Ryan said the 'central reality' was Ms Daly was unable to perform the essential tasks of a Special Needs Assistant in this school and 'no accommodations put in place by the employer can change that, unfortunately'. The Labour Court was deemed to have not correctly applied the law to the undisputed facts.

The group was then invited to attend breakout sessions with Ronan Dillon, CEO Healthy Workforce and Karl O’Connor, award winning coach.

Health and well-being and coaching are becoming two important topics for HR professionals. To approach the senior management team to implement best practice on health promotion, start small and have all the facts. Coaching is becoming an invaluable skill for practitioners to have. Many businesses are moving from the traditional performance review meeting to a coaching focused meeting.

The final speaker of the day was Claire Walsh from Zendesk.

Claire spoke on their recent achievement of winning the CIPD 2018 HR Award for use of technology in HR and people management. Claire demonstrated how a great tool can ultimately increase the scope of the HR function in a company, creating a greater flow of communication between employees and their HR team.

  • Dave Barry, Director Talent & Transformation, Fastnet - The Talent Group
    Dave is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development, current Chair of CIPD Ireland, Southern Region and a graduate of University College Cork in HR, Economics & French. Dave worked with global pharmaceutical Eli Lilly from 1999 to 2011 across HR, Lean Six Sigma & Org Dev, and cybersecurity leader Trend Micro from 2013 to 2016 as Head of HR - Ireland, and later also Southern Europe on an interim basis. Passionate about Talent Management & Organisational Transformation, and part-time lecturing in UCC on said topics since June 2015, Dave moved on from Trend in October 2016 to actively pursue exciting opportunities specifically focused on these areas.

  • Mary Connaughton, Director, CIPD Ireland
    Mary Connaughton M.A., FCIPD is Director of CIPD in Ireland and is a Chartered Fellow of the Institute. She is passionate about developing people and workplaces to be at their best, and is leading the development and contribution of the HR profession in Ireland, and how it adapts and champions better work and working lives. Mary has a wealth of HR experience having previously headed up HR Development services in Ibec, where she worked with leaders on the development of HR practices. She started her career as a Psychologist in the civil service, and then worked on training and development interventions in FAS and Bank of Ireland Life, before moving into consulting where she worked across the public and private sectors on strategic HR and leadership development initiatives.

  • David D’Souza, Head of Engagement, CIPD
    David D’Souza is the CIPD’s Head of Engagement and a respected speaker and blogger on progressive HR & business practice. David has curated two bestselling HR books as well as being a regular contributor to a number of HR publications. Prior to joining the CIPD, David worked as an independent Organisational Development Consultant, having held previous roles as head of people development at Metrobank and in various HR roles for an international financial services firm. David works with businesses and educational institutions to challenge thinking and approaches to the big ethical and commercial questions created by advances in technology so that current and future leaders are better equipped for the Future of Work. He is heavily involved in discussions around the societal and business impact of current advances in technology and its workplace implications.

  • Niamh McNamara, Head of HR, Novartis Global Services Centre Dublin
    Niamh is an accomplished HR Leader with over 17 years’ experience gained in multinational organisations. She is currently Head of HR Novartis Global Service Centre (NGSC) Dublin and NBS Ireland. Prior to joining Novartis in 2013, Niamh held senior HR roles in the FMCG, Financial Services, Telecoms and Recruitment industries for companies including Diageo and Canada Life. She is a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) and also a member of British Psychological Society.

  • Barry Holmes, Director, Group Human Resources, Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland
    Barry Holmes joined RCSI as the Director of Human Resources in August 2011 from RSA Insurance Ireland Ltd where he was the Director of Human Resources. A Commerce graduate of University College Dublin, Barry has also completed a Masters in Business Studies (MBS) specialising in Human Resource Management. In addition, Barry is a Chartered Fellow of the Institute of Personnel and Development (FCIPD) and a member of the Institute of Directors (M Inst D). Barry has also recently completed an MSc in Governance at University College Dublin (UCD) and the Institute of Public Administration (IPA).

  • Clodagh Logue, VP, International HR, Fitbit
    Clodagh joined Fitbit in October 2015 to lead HR for Fitbit’s growing international business, including its EMEA HQ location here in Dublin but also in their global locations across Europe, India and the Asia Pacific region including China. In this role, Clodagh works with the HR and business leadership of the company to design and implement the necessary strategies and programs to support the company’s organizational growth, structure and development. She is also responsible for the Global HR operations function. Clodagh has built a 19-year career across a wide spectrum of HR experiences, including recruiting, change management, organizational design, generalist HR management and communications. Prior to joining Fitbit, Clodagh was the HR Director for Microsoft’s business in Ireland and also held the position of Group HRM at Microsoft Australia in Sydney. Clodagh holds a BA in Economics & Business from TCD and also an MBS in HRM from UCD Graduate School of Business. She is also a member of the HR Leadership working group with the American Chamber of Commerce in Ireland.

  • Oonagh Buckley, Director General, Workplace Relations Commission (WRC)
    Oonagh Buckley is the Director General of the Workplace Relations Commission. She is a qualified barrister. Prior to her appointment to the WRC in 2016, she worked in the Department of Public Expenditure and Reform and was responsible for pay and pensions policy for the Irish public service. A&L Goodbody A&L Goodbody is a leading Irish law firm, with 100 years’ experience working at the centre of corporate Ireland, advising some of the largest and most influential Irish and international companies.

  • Johanne Duignan, Associate, Employment, Pensions & Incentives, A&L Goodbody
    Johanne is a senior associate with A & L Goodbody and has practised exclusively in the area of employment law and industrial relations since 2006. Johanne advises both public and private sector clients, domestic and international. She represents clients in all of the employment fora and the civil courts.  Johanne co- authored "Employment Law in Ireland" and regularly speaks at seminars on employment and industrial relations matters. She is a tutor on the Law Society of Ireland's Professional Practice courses and a speaker for CIPD, in addition to being a member of the Employment Lawyers Association of Ireland.

  • Ronan Dillon, CEO Healthy Workforce
    Ronan Dillon has an undergraduate degree in Sport and Exercise Science from Sheffield Hallam University (UK). Founder of Healthy Workforce in 2009 to develop best practice health promotion initiatives to the corporate sector. Over the last eight years Ronan has worked to develop a culture of health in organisations, this always starts at the top. Senior management set the budget and give employees the time to learn and develop the skills they need to be healthier.

  • Karl O’Connor, Award-winning coach
    Karl has over 30 years senior business and human resource experience mainly in Ireland and the UK. He is an award- winning, well qualified HR professional, co-author of Coaching Champions and also featured as a best practice case study in People Management magazine around change management, flexible working and employee engagement. Karl is a non-executive Director with One in Four Charity and has worked, coached and consulted with many brands across the private and public sector including RBS/Coutts/Ulster Bank/First Active, Institute of Banking, Trinity College Dublin, Irish Farmers Association, McCabe Pharmacy, Teelings Whiskey, IMI and the Institute of Public Administration.  He is an executive, leadership coach and consultant who has worked with several CEOs, other C-suite executives and their teams. His core value is that “no-one is so good that they cannot get better” and his training and facilitation is learner-centred leading to improved employee engagement, retention and productivity.

  • Claire Walsh, Associate HR Business Partner, Zendesk - CIPD Ireland HR Award winner 2018.
    Claire Walsh has been with Zendesk for just over 4 years. Starting out as office manager, she made the switch to HR and has quickly worked her way up to become an Associate HR Business Partner. Having earned her bachelor’s degree in Event Management from DIT, she went on to complete her CIPD qualification in Human Resource Management with NCI and more recently a Diploma in Psychology from DBS. One of Claire’s recent achievements was Zendesk’s 2018 CIPD Awards entry, which she personally led on and which won the award for ‘Use of technology in HR’.

Student Conference 2017 report

On Tuesday 7 March 2017, over 100 students of HR and L&D joined us for our first Student Conference to be held in Ireland. Read a report of a thought-provoking and inspiring day packed with practical learning and networking.

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