HR future leader of the month: Charlotte Cowan

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HR magazine speaks to the future leaders of the function about what they think will shape it

What are your main concerns in HR today?

That the impact of Brexit might hinder our chances of attracting employees of non-UK citizenship. As an organisation that is working internationally to conserve animals and their habitats, having a diverse mix of nationalities is vital for us. HR must find solutions so that we can continue to attract the best. HR also needs to inspire young people currently living within the UK to want to work for wildlife, while ensuring that they are trained and skilled to be ready to join our organisation.

What will become more important for HR over the next five years?

Making sure apprenticeship standards are developed and relevant is going to be important to HR over the next five years. There is still a lot of work needed to ensure that managers see the benefit of apprenticeships within their teams and/or that young people see them as a worthwhile alternative to university.

HR also has a vital role in ensuring that organisations can be innovative while remaining sustainable. With the workforce constantly changing, external impacts, competition, and the economy, HR needs to ensure that the workforce is agile and able to change to new ways of working.

What subjects will HR still be tackling when you retire?

An agile workforce that is able to cope with and manage change will be an ongoing requirement. Looking at new ways to consult on, communicate and implement change is going to be an issue needing constant evolution. It will always be HR’s role to ensure leaders and managers see people as key in making change happen, and that they’re therefore keeping staff as engaged and motivated as possible.

Changes in pensions and retirement ages mean HR will still be tackling how to support workforces that contain a diverse mix of ages and generations. The ageing workforce will need to be considered for long-term business strategies and HR needs to start thinking now how best to support all the different groups of people.

What do you plan to do to change HR for the better?

I am a big advocate for mental health awareness and helping remove the stigma that surrounds it. While I feel that in my 13 years in HR this stigma has reduced significantly there is still a long way to go. What I would like to see, and will be championing, is that managers feel confident and able to manage their own mental health while being able to support the wellbeing of their teams. HR has a huge role to play in keeping the mental health conversation relevant and current so that employees do not feel alone, so that their absences from work can be managed, and so that they feel motivated and engaged at work.

Charlotte Cowan is senior HR business partner at ZSL London Zoo

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