“Studying at Birkbeck makes you feel part of something.”

Studying the BSc Business and Human Resource Management at Birkbeck helped Valentina Introna move from the shop floor to the role of HR Business Partner. This is her #BBKStory.

It hasn’t been an easy journey deciding to go back to study. English wasn’t my first language and I felt that the only way to be fully confident in this new country was to access an academic level of the language. I studied classics in school, back in Italy, and I thought to challenge myself with something scientific and completely new.

When it was time to submit my university application, I was scared and quite nervous; I applied for five colleges and surprisingly all of them accepted my application. I was happy and excited by the unknown! I looked up all ranks, the opinions, the videos made by former students and I decided that Birkbeck was the one for me. It could allow me to work while studying and everyone in those videos looked satisfied.

I am a people person, always have been and always will, but I loved my calculations and my budgeting: Business and Human Resources Management was absolutely the perfect fit for me. Birkbeck was the only university able to combine this dual aspect where the first year (I literally looked into all the modules of each course!) was completely business oriented -i.e. Micro and Macro Economics, Financial Accounting, Quantitative Methods- and the last two a deep dive into the fascinating world of HR. I fell in love on day one, Corporate Social Responsibility.

I started at 31 years old, I had to work, I wanted to work; I couldn’t think of myself just as a student and honestly London is not well-known for its easy-living. I was in retail, supervising a fashion-clothing concession and I remember doing 9:00 to 5:30 shift at work and 6:00 to 9:00 at Birkbeck, an intense twelve-hour day. Every professor and lecturer was so passionate and inspiring that the tiredness of a day standing serving clients was easily forgotten. I was able to understand things that the next day I could apply to my job. I still remember when my manager asked me to help her to read the company’s financial statement. I felt recognised. Once I changed company and I was in my second year, my new manager was so impressed from my commitment in studying while working that, one day, when our Europe Retail Management came to visit the store, he introduced me as “the future HR of the company”. In that moment I was on the shop floor putting shoes back in the box and yes, he was right; exactly one year later I was offered the role of HR Business Partner for the company. I still can’t believe it.

It hasn’t been easy, but studying at Birkbeck makes you feel part of something; you have the chance to meet people with a similar path, your same age, perhaps older; you have the opportunity to advise younger students by sharing your previous experience. You could simply meet special mates that will stay by your side for the entire journey or why not for life. I’ve met two great friends thanks to Birkbeck.

I probably will need few months off studying, but in my plan there is a Masters and, if it’s going to happen, it will be at Birkbeck. The College gives you the right support, everything is online, lessons are recorded, and lecturers are easy to reach. My supervisor for the final project has been so helpful and full of insights that still I am using some of his suggestions to coach my store managers. I will always have good words about Birkbeck, because it gave me a chance: it’s up to you to use it to the fullest, but without the initial opportunity there won’t be stories to tell.

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From one GCSE to a Master of Science degree

Shekira Malcolm had a five year plan which has landed her a ‘dream job.’

In 2013, Shekira Malcolm sat down and wrote a five year plan that would transform her from a 33 year old with one GCSE to a Master’s degree holder and enable her to have the career that she’d always wanted. Yesterday, Shekira celebrated achieving her Master’s in Human Resource Management at Birkbeck’s graduation ceremonies.

Difficulties during her teenage years meant that Shekira didn’t always pay attention to her education and as a result she left school with just one GCSE.

She went on to gain experience in HR in the public and private sectors and then worked for her husband’s business. But without any qualifications, Shekira always felt that she was at a disadvantage in terms of her career.

In 2013, Shekira started an Access to Social Sciences course at her local FE college, before studying history at undergraduate level and then going straight onto her full-time Master’s course at Birkbeck. She says: “It was hard work. I had several setbacks during my Master’s – including my teenage son being robbed at knifepoint twice, and having to care for my grandmother in the last months of her life.”

Shekira describes her postgraduate degree as a very different experience to her first, as at Birkbeck there were students of all ages, backgrounds, and with varied career histories – a diversity which Shekira really enjoyed. Although many of her classmates were working, Shekira stresses that they were not given an easy ride by the tutors. She says: “The academic level is high – luckily Birkbeck tutors understand that people are juggling university with other aspects of their life and also that many students haven’t been in formal education for several years, so there is support available.”

Shekira also credits her husband for helping her achieve her goals. “He’s had to take up some of the slack at home, so it has been a team effort. At first he was a bit unsure when I told him I was going to study for five years, but he really supported me and is very proud of me now.”

Shekira was the first person in her family to ever go to university, but having seen the satisfaction that studying has brought to their mum, her daughter has now also enrolled in a degree in economics and politics at Loughborough and her son, who is currently studying for his GCSEs, also plans to apply to university. Shekira says, “I was able to help my daughter with her application process and with getting to grips with university-level study. If I hadn’t been to university myself then I would have felt totally out of my depth trying to support her.”

Five years of hard work has paid off for Shekira, who is now the proud owner of not one but two degrees from the University of London. On top of this, gaining her Master’s degree gave Shekira the confidence to apply for jobs that she would never have considered before and in April she was offered her ‘dream job’ in the HR department of a local authority.

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Student workshop: engaging with the HR profession

Students studying the MSc Human Resource Development and Consultancy recently had the opportunity to participate in a workshop focusing on the transition from their studies and onto the next stage of their careers in Human Resources. In addition to a number of informational sessions, the day included two visiting speaker sessions. In the morning we were privileged to welcome James Davies, a partner and joint head of the Employment, Reward and Immigration Department of Lewis Silkin LLP. James is recognised as one of the leading employment lawyers both in the UK and internationally by a range of independent guides.

In the afternoon, we held a panel session based on the “Question Time” format. We were delighted that Tony Leahy, (Head of Human Resources & Communications, Bank of Cyprus UK); Rob Griffiths, (Sales and Marketing Director, Exemplas); Gordon D’Silva, (Social Entrepreneur) and Sian Grinter (Group Financial Controller at James Hambro and Partners LLP) were able to join us for this session – a broad range of senior professionals with an impressive range of business experience who could each bring different perspectives to a debate on the role of HR – and HR roles – in contemporary organizations. They fielded a huge range of questions from the students and provided some very thought provoking responses.

We are hugely grateful to all our guest speakers and panelists at this event for giving their time to engage with our students. This was our final workshop session with those students completing their MSc HRD and Consultancy this year. As always, it will be sad to see them leave but I have no doubt they are destined for great things.

Dr Katrina Pritchard
MSc HRD and Consultancy, Programme Director

Employment legislation and the internationalization of Human Resources Management (HRM): A reflective perspective.
By Obi Aguiyi

A brief but engaging session with Jamie Davies of Lewin Silkin LLP provided valuable insight into current international human resources management (IHRM) trends and broader socio-political changes in employment law legislation, particularly in Europe. It is evident that the EU has had a massive influence over employment law rights, and several changes have been made to British legislation to comply with European employment laws. EU employment law rights continue to influence issues in discrimination law, from unfair dismissals to maximum weekly working hours. Most importantly, recent developments in unfair dismissal legislation, data protection issues and increasing emphasis on business ethics continue to pose considerable challenges to most global organizations as they continue to transcend national borders.

As an aspiring HR practitioner in a globalised world, one cannot underestimate the ways wider socio-political and economic factors continue to influence the manner in which HR professionals operate. The session provided an understanding of the relationship between changing trends in employment relations and the role of HR in enhancing employment law practices in today’s world. Furthermore, recent socio-economic changes may drive HR practitioners to play a more active role in the way employment issues are addressed and reformed (where required). As organizations and governments continue to seek microeconomic reforms, particularly in European countries, similar attention must be paid to wider global employment and legislative issues as all industrialized nations approach a common level of growth and emerging countries are likely to converge toward the same level of income as more developed nations. Similarly, politicians and law makers must endeavor to make sound decisions on employment issues and support HR practices in general.

Question Time at Birkbeck for MSc HRD and Consultancy Student
By Craig Fergusson

The panel discussion was an opportunity to get real-life perspectives on the HR function from some highly-respected business people. We’ve spent the past year backing up our experience as practitioners with theory, and here we had on-the-ground reports about the challenges and opportunities facing HR practitioners. While some of the dialogue reinforced the academic learning, there were some real points of contention where practical application seemed to be falling short. The panel was very honest about how they envisaged the value that HR could add and where they felt its limitations were. I suppose what was invigorating for me was being able to appreciate an argument while disagreeing and, more importantly, being able to articulate (to myself at least) why I was disagreeing.

Gaining insight into how senior business people think about HR, and how they discuss it among themselves (and quite often argue different viewpoints) was a lesson for the future in dealing with senior management. If HR is to increase its credibility as a business function worthy of a board presence we have to learn to answer our critics, address their concerns about efficacy and demonstrate our value. If a reasonably sympathetic panel can provide so much food for thought it demonstrates what we can expect to face in the boardroom.

Interestingly, one panel member pointed out that they felt their successful engagement with people was precisely because they weren’t HR – the implication being that HR was on the side of the management and therefore not to be trusted. This was an interesting reminder that while there is clearly a strategic management angle to the function, HR departments have an ambiguous role.

Finally, the session was another reminder of the value of interacting with others and harvesting differing viewpoints. While we might not always like what some people have to say, or the arguments they make, a head-in-the-sand approach is not going to progress anything. People will still have those views whether we listen to them or not, and at least if we hear them we have a chance to challenge them, discuss why they think like that, and perhaps refine our own understanding to incorporate new learning. We assume we’re right until someone shows us otherwise – it’s important to give them that opportunity.

Meeting people from diverse backgrounds and sharing [arguing!] with them has been so much part of the learning experience during the MSc HRD and Consultancy at Birkbeck. By that measure, the panel session was an extension of that general approach.

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