Every month, staffing specialist Walters People puts a job in the spotlight that is popular on the Belgian labour market.
This month, we asked Stephanie Cnops, Senior Consultant in the business support division, what the role of an HR Assistant has been like over the past few months and what evolution professionals in this position awaits now that we are - by necessity and faster than expected - moving to a new way of working.
What exactly does an HR Assistant do?
Stephanie: "In general, we can say that an HR Assistant will support employees within HR department in a wide range of activities, such as payroll, holiday and sick leave regulations, time registration, monitoring annual appraisals and so on. In some organisations, the HR Assistant will also play an active role in the internal recruitment process by, for example, drawing up job adverts or arranging job interviews with applicants. In addition, an HR Assistant can also play an important supporting role within learning & development by identifying training needs and helping to organise training that benefits employees within the entire organisation".
Is there a difference between the tasks of an HR Assistant and those of a HR Business Partner or HR Generalist, for example?
"What's in a name? Some organisations will choose to allocate graduates the title of Junior HR Business Partner or Junior HR Generalist, others will keep it simple and name the position HR Assistant. But quite often, the job is very similar in terms of job content. We also regularly see that the range of tasks within larger organisations - where the HR team is usually large - is somewhat more defined. In an SME on the other hand, the HR team is in many cases smaller, which means that the range of tasks of an HR Assistant is somewhat broader."
We therefore advise graduates not to focus purely on the job title in the job advert or that will appear on their business card, but to look at the job content and the organisation and how this experience can positively contribute to their career plans.
Does Covid-19 influence the demand for HR Assistants?
"A number of vacancies have been put on hold over the past few months. Organisations postponed non-urgent recruitments and scheduled training courses were also cancelled or delayed. But that did not mean that the workload of the HR team was low. On the contrary: more than ever, the HR team plays an important role in the proper functioning of the organisation. In many sectors, employees were put on temporary unemployment, production was temporarily halted and holidays were only partially taken ... This of course led to the fact that the HR teams were very busy. The focus of the HR Assistant among others, was, and still is, in many organisations more on guiding and supporting employees who want quick answers to their questions and concerns about their work situation and future within the organisation".
What makes someone a good HR Assistant?
"Experience within HR is not a must to start as an HR Assistant, but a relevant education is an asset. Think, for example, of a Bachelor in Social Work with a major in Human Resources, a Bachelor in Office Management or a Master's degree in (Labour) Psychology, a Master of Economics or Commercial Sciences with a major in HR. However, strong language skills are more important in this position, especially when working in the Brussels region, where in addition to Dutch and French-speaking employees there are also international employees. For them, it is of course important that they do not face a language barrier when having questions about their employment.
Of course, as an HR Assistant you also need to be able to deal with confidential information, have a strong organisational attitude and show flexibility. If you do not have the above-mentioned diploma but are interested in the broad world of HR and show the necessary empathy, then a career within HR is definitely an option. This is also the case for professionals with a previous experience in administration or only payroll for example, who want to explore the broader world of HR.
What does the future of HR look like?
"Covid-19 has speeded up a lot of things within HR. Flexible working hours, the possibility to work from home,... in many organisations this was not very common yet. A lot has necessarily changed in recent months. Managers have realised that flexible working hours and working from home generally run smoothly and that makes them think about the new way of working in the future.
In addition, a lot of professionals have also reflected on their career: they suddenly had more free time, and saw more and more the importance of a good work-life balance. That made them think about what steps they need to take in order to get maximum satisfaction from their job. And HR plays an important role in this, of course. More than ever, it is essential for an organisation to pay the necessary attention to their corporate culture, what the new way of working will look like and what steps need to be taken to achieve this, including a well-thought retention strategy.
As an HR Assistant, you can also play an active role in this process by, for example, listening to the wishes and needs of the employees within the organisation and thinking along with them about how these can be translated into a well-being strategy on the work floor. The future looks promising for those who would like to immerse themselves in this matter!