Paula Watch: Can studying Human Resource Management prepare you for Sir Alan?


The current success of Paula Jones on the Apprentice has certainly raised the profile of Human Resources professionals. Paula completed an MA in Industrial Relations and Human Resource Management at Keele University in 2002. One of her former tutors, Dr. Steve French, senior lecturer in Industrial Relations and Human Resource Management at Keele, outlines some of the key skills and knowledge, which Paula gained from her studies and how this should equip her in her quest to become Sir Alan Sugar's Apprentice.

The central problem facing each candidate on the Apprentice can be seen to relate the key HR issues of the appraisal and subjective measurement of performance. While it is the performance of the team in each weekly task that is initially assessed, there is also a second round individual assessment of the candidates within the losing team. Sir Alan's decision to fire a candidate is based, essentially, on second hand subjective appraisals of his advisers and the candidates. Having studied the application of such procedures in the workplace arenas of recruitment and pay systems, Paula should be aware of the potential pitfalls of subjective selection and performance management and this should inform her behaviour.

A second area where Paula may draw upon her studies is in the case of working in teams. Again her experiences from the course she did at Keele will be of the need to work effectively in small teams to undertake tutorial work (while being assessed individually), linked with her studies of negotiations, conflict and compromise. Identifying the different strengths and weaknesses of fellow candidates during each task, the degree of control they can exert over other team members, the personal conflict between team members and the tensions between shared and individual goals can all be related to the study of individualised and collective negotiations at work.

A third area where Paula will hopefully be aided by her academic background relates to placing individual activities in a wider context. She will have learned on her Masters how the decisions of managers and workers are not made in isolation, but depend upon a complex interplay of political and economic factors which shape the workplace context. Thus, although one of Paula's major strengths might be as a skilled HR professional who helps facilitate team working, she will also be able to link the operation and management of teams with the wider market based demands of task to generate profit.  

But perhaps the most important knowledge Paula should have gained from her studies is into the corrosive nature of arbitrary management and the alternative approaches to management. The process of intense individual competition between candidates, the subjective process of assessment and dismissal without recourse to appeal are all characteristic of a culture of macho management based upon fear. It is to be hoped that if Paula is to be successful, the main attributes that she could bring from her background in HRM and Industrial Relations at Keele would be the need for meaningful employee rights to participation in decision making, procedural justice and a management approach which seeks to strengthen and support workers' activities, rather than cajole through policies of divide and rule.

Find out how Paula gets on tonight on BBC 1 at 9:00pm, we will bring you all the news on tomorrow morning.