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OPINION: The benefits of investing in human resources

Tuesday 9 November 2021 | Written by Te Tuhi Kelly | Published in Opinion

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OPINION: The benefits of investing in human resources
Te Tuhi Kelly. PHOTO: COOK ISLANDS NEWS/191011111

The government departments, who have the mandate for managing legislation relating to private and public sector employment, always struggle to provide a level of professional service commensurate with the letter of the law, writes Te Tuhi Kelly, the leader of the Progressive Party of the Cook Islands.

Let’s have a look at this management tool called human resources or HR for short. I have over 30 years of human resources, legal training, OSH, bicultural disputes training, university lecturing, IT, engineering, community development, employment relations and advocacy, retail, sales, marketing, statistical analysis, and business consulting. I have operated my own successful consulting businesses and have held some very senior management positions in industries as diverse as engineering, transport, retail, and local and central government. I have worked successfully in these areas in NZ, Cook Islands, Australia, USA, Singapore, Brunei, Indonesia, Malaysia, Germany, and the UK. So, I have a broad international and local understanding about legislation and its application from both a policy and an operational focus and I have a fair amount of experience when it comes to dealing with HR issues in the workplace, hence I currently do pro bono work.

I have post graduate academic qualifications from several NZ universities and Australia up to doctoral level and I lectured at the Auckland University School of Engineering for five years. I achieved all this starting my working life as a 17-year-old labourer working a jack hammer and as a wharfie, so I do know what it’s like operating at the government and corporate board level as well as getting my hands down and dirty and I walk and talk comfortably in two worlds: Māori and Papa’a. Can I talk about HR with a measure of expertise, yes, I can.

A definition of human resources states that all employees are commodities and can be trained and provided with the necessary tools, practices, and procedures to produce an economic return or tangible benefit for the employer. That is, they are a commodity much like the wealth of Australia is tied up in its mineral wealth commodities. In return, the employer pays for the hands and the brains and the physical capabilities of the employee to carry out the organisations wishes. With this understanding we can see how organisations jealously guard their ability to manage their commodities or employees any way they see fit either within the law but most times outside the law. If the employees work, don’t kick up a fuss and the employer return a sustainable profit or benefit, that’s good business. Not.

To manage its employees, the employer hires externally or promotes internally to an HR role. Here in the Cook Islands, they are generally promoted to a level not much better than a dog’s body in my experience. Depending on the size of the organisation, they are, responsible for writing job descriptions, rewriting or developing an HR manual, disciplinary procedures, performance management, HR training, inductions and perhaps payroll. Here in the Cook Islands, they do not have adequate access to professional HR support or HR mentoring professionals and thus tend to soldier on at their current levels of expertise. Unfortunately, they forget that their people are precious labour commodities and without their willingness to work, deny them the HR support that they are sadly lacking. Thus, creating and contributing to those very employment conditions that see Cook Islanders heading off overseas.

The government departments, who have the mandate for managing legislation relating to private and public sector employment, always struggle to provide a level of professional service commensurate with the letter of the law. This also applies to businesses here. Under budgeted and under resourced is the axiom and couple this with a negligible pool of qualified, experienced, and knowledgeable people in the Cook Islands to do these roles, is a recipe for under performance on a massive scale. Consequently, these same people are placed into positions of responsibility that they are not capable of performing without considerable investment in time, resources, and training and hence they fail. In addition, when the training is provided, there is generally no backup, follow-up, or consistent application of the training. The training euphoria lasts maybe 2 -3 weeks then it’s back to the same old same old. To apply the training so that it becomes second nature requires that your brain and physiology is hard wired into performing at that level day in and day out. In my experience here in the Cook Islands and in the countries, I have worked in, the training wears off quickly if one is not consistently performing what you have been trained to do every day.

Finally, is it the Cook Islands way of putting your hand up and saying I am not coping, the answer is no. There-in lies the $64 question, ‘I cannot cope so therefore I won’t say anything, I’ll just sit at my desk, stay beneath the radar and hope I don’t get noticed. Maybe if I stay in this role for years under the parapet, I’ll get promoted based on years in the job rather than my ability to perform at the highest level’, this unfortunately is how some employees and employers think in the Cook Islands public service and businesses and this drives the public’s perception unfounded or not of incompetence, poor customer service and non-performance.

Unless or until organisations invest in HR properly and see it as an asset rather than an add on and they follow a process of the best person for the role regarding the public and private sector as well as the community and political arena and treat them properly, we will continue to talk about it. We will struggle to perform above ourselves and just drift by on mediocrity and inertia. If you were asking, why don’t I apply for some of these roles, no, I no longer apply for roles in the Cook Islands in areas which I am quite capable and very experienced because I am seen as a threat and liability rather than an asset and I’m okay with that, I can and do sleep at night. I just let it be known that injustice is anathema to me.