Andrea James career profile

Getting to know researchers after a varied career in public sector and commercial HR.

Andrea James: HR Projects Manager; Rothamsted Research

HR Projects Manager at Rothamsted Research

How did I get here?
As a sociology graduate, I’ve always been interested in finding out what makes people tick.  A career path in Human Resources seemed like a natural option for me, and I completed several temporary HR admin roles before taking a permanent position as HR Advisor in a large local government authority, where I completed a part-time MA and obtained my Chartered Institute of Personnel & Development qualification. Positions as HR Manager in the Real Estate sector and with a leading city employment law firm have given me valuable private sector experience. At the law firm I was exposed to learning and development approaches by supporting trainee solicitors throughout their training contracts and helping them to manage their career development post-qualification.  As Graduate Recruitment Manager I also had insight into working with academia, forging close links with the Careers Advisory Centres at various universities we were recruiting from.

What does my current role look like?
I started in the newly-created post of HR projects manager at Rothamsted Research in Spring 2015.  My remit is to implement a Career Development Framework across the organisation, for both research and research support staff. Once in place it will support the development of our wider people strategy and enhance other strategic HR areas such as organisational development, workforce planning, performance management and reward. I’m starting with a review of existing roles by having one-to-ones with all staff.  A suite of generic role profiles will be grouped into job families to map out available career pathways across the Institute.  As well as addressing scientific and technical proficiency I will focus on the more qualitative/behavioural attributes required to perform effectively at work, particularly those which help us aspire to excellence.  The Vitae Researcher Development Framework will be a reference point for the resulting organisational framework.

What skills and knowledge does the role use?
When applying for my current position, I believed that my prior exposure to strategic HR planning and project management would make me a strong contender for the role, but in reality, the most crucial success factors have been communication skills and ability to get buy-in at all levels. Not coming from a science background has meant I’ve had a steep learning curve. I’ve had to quickly grasp an understanding of new terminologies and the structure and functioning of an academic research organisation. I have got up to speed by networking internally and externally (with other research Institutes), attending relevant training courses, and through Vitae membership. Speaking to each employee in the institute has given me the opportunity to hear directly some of the very real difficulties researchers face in developing their careers in science including securing permanent posts, the issue of forced mobility and struggle in achieving a work-life balance.

Where next?
Despite being still relatively new to the role,  I have gained experience of working in a yet another discipline, and a unique insight into how to implement a career development framework in a multi-faceted mid-sized organisation.  I’ve always been interested in equality and diversity issues and given time, it would be interesting to become more involved with the work we’re doing on the Athena Swan initiative.

I now have almost 20 years HR experience under my belt and a very portable skill-set. This could always be applied in an HR consultancy role should I wish to explore another career pathway.