December Spotlight: "A solid foundation and a network of support"

December 3, 2020 by Anonymous

Happy December to all of the CIRHR community! With the winter holidays fast approaching, we are thrilled to continue celebrating our Master’s graduates.

This month, we are sharing the stories of three alumni: Alice D’Abreu (MIRHR 2009), Aman Rajwani (MIRHR 2012), and Vanessa Shum (MIRHR 2015).

Alice D’Abreu is the co-founder of Monday Morning, a Toronto-based HR Consultancy that specializes in providing comprehensive, custom and cost-effective HR solutions for early- to mid-growth companies across Canada. Alice works directly with clients to understand their business, assess their needs, and develop solutions to achieve their goals. “We help build engaging HR programs and are passionate about supporting the small business community. We go beyond problem solving and re-imagine what is possible for our clients.”

Aman Rajwani is the president of OPSEU 596, which represents 2,400 members employed by Ryerson University and the Palin Foundation. As president, he leads a team of up to 60 volunteer stewards in defending and representing the interests and priorities of the membership—a growing majority of whom, he notes, are marginalized and precariously employed. He also works to maintain an equitable union that reflects the local’s gender, racial, ethnic, and physical and mental diversity. He also speaks out against precarious employment and improperly classified positions, while inspiring the next generation of workers to understand, exercise, and advance their rights and protections in an evolving world of work.

Vanessa Shum is a PhD Candidate in Management & Organization Studies at Simon Fraser University’s Beedie School of Business. Vanessa’s research explores how employees adapt in their approaches and attitudes towards career development, given more rapidly changing labour market conditions and job demands. “Within my PhD program, I am collaborating with firms across Canada to underscore both the theoretical and practical implications of the changing nature of employees’ work experiences. As part of the millennial era and increasing technological influences on work, I also examine the psychological consequences of social media usage in the workplace.”

Photo of Alice D'Abreu
Photo provided by Alice D'Abreu

Both Alice and Vanessa took a wide view as they entered the MIRHR program. Alice says she didn't have a specific area of practice in mind, but rather had a general interest in human resources after “falling into” a junior HR role. The program, she says, was instrumental in giving her exposure to the many areas and facets of HR, which steered her towards becoming a “true generalist” and being able to enjoy variety in her portfolio. “I have held multiple roles from generalist to manager to consultant—all of which have allowed me to build off the foundation I achieved during my time at the Centre.”

Similarly, Vanessa entered the MIRHR program “with open-eyes and with the goal of learning”—and, specifically, learning about HR, IR and the career possibilities they can entail. While she attributes her current PhD studies to the value she places on “constant learning,” Vanessa did not pursue a PhD immediately after the MIRHR program. Rather, she first joined a large, multi-union transit organization in BC. “The MIRHR program and its vast alumni network opened many opportunities for me. Because of the MIRHR, I was able to experience both working in industry and now, in academia.”

Photo of Aman Rajwani
Photo provided by Aman Rajwani.

Aman, meanwhile, began the MIRHR program with a very specific intention—to build his abilities, education, networks and skills to eventually launch a labour union consultancy. He wanted to advise labour unions interested in achieving their full transformative potential as “our democracies' most effective vehicle for social change.” And indeed, prior to his election as OPSEU 596 president, Aman developed and delivered campaigns, events and publications to inform policy and drive positive change in labour and work as a research and special projects coordinator at Ryerson’s Centre for Labour Management Relations. As president of OPSEU 596, he continues to “carve out a fresh path for the study and practice of labour relations that embraced an anti-oppressive and trauma-informed framework where consent would come first, harm would be reduced, and truth and reconciliation were acknowledged.”

All three alumni reflect on aspects of their time at the CIRHR that were especially memorable.

Vanessa’s favourite memories were built on the strong friendships and connections with her tight-knit cohort: “We had a blast in the program. After any exams or presentations, we would celebrate together at nearby board game cafes, popular food spots in downtown Toronto, or university pubs.” Not only did the program help Vanessa develop her professional networks, it introduced her to lifelong friends.

Aman and Alice both point to specific course projects as particularly memorable parts of their MIRHR studies. For Alice, it was a change management project with Dr. Lori Riznek: “We put together a change management plan for staff at Canadian Blood Services who were undergoing an organizational change. [Dr. Riznek] gave us an opportunity to take theory and apply it to a real life setting. It was an excellent learning experience.” For Aman, what stood out was a project that allowed for a “unique interpretation”: in IRE 1715H Special Topics in IR/HR: Coaching and Mentoring, Aman, Fran Rolph, Stephanie Hauck, and William Peckham put together a “stellar presentation” on dating and relationship coaching.

Photo of Vanessa Shum
Photo provided by Vanessa Shum.

Vanessa advises today’s students to be open to trying new things while in the program. That might take a number of forms, she notes: taking a new course, working with new team members, or being open-minded about the different possibilities in jobs and industries after graduation.

Aman makes a pitch for one possibility in particular, what he calls “joining the light side of the force.” He suggests that today’s students connect and network with representatives from parent labour unions through LinkedIn. In particular, students could request a virtual coffee to discuss their interests and priorities: “Your charisma, uniqueness and talent will naturally shine through.”

Alice also makes a shout-out—to anyone interested in pursuing a career in human resources. “HR is such a dynamic and evolving field of work. This program gave me such a solid foundation and a network of support to help get my career started.”

No matter what possibilities they pursue, Aman has some words of wisdom for today’s students as they build their networks: “Just be yourself. There’s only one Beyoncé, and there’s only one you. You’ve gotten this far on your own intuition and merit, so keep doing you and there’ll be no limit to where you’ll end up.”