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By Lisa Gordon

Human resources is a lot like nursing, according to Antoinette Blunt. After a rewarding 25-year career as a registered nurse – much of it spent at the managerial level with the Victorian Order of Nurses (VON) in her hometown of Sault Ste. Marie, Ont.

Blunt can draw more than a few parallels between nursing and her present job as an HR and labour management consultant.

With a wide variety of clients served by her company, Ironside Consulting Services, Inc., Blunt believes both occupations require a problem-solving approach.

“If you’re going to start recommending a resolution, you really need to have all the background information first,” she said. “It runs the whole gamut from knowing who they are, understanding the problem, planning appropriately and then evaluating. And, that’s exactly how nurses are trained.”

After 14 years of running her consulting service, and 13 years of volunteer work with the Human Resources Professionals Association (HRPA) – including serving as association chair from 2009-2010 – Blunt was honoured with the HRPA Fellow designation in 2013, in recognition of the lasting contribution she has made to promoting best practices and enhancing the reputation of the profession.

HR Professional spoke to her about the rewards and challenges of providing a diverse range of results-oriented HR consulting services, when she’s “never quite sure what she’ll be dealing with next.”

HRP: How and when did you decide upon a career in human resources?
AB: For the last 10 years of my nursing career, I was executive director of the Sault Ste. Marie VON, and we were responsible for human resources. While working on my master’s degree, my electives focused on human resources. It went from there to getting involved in a lot of provincial committees at the VON. At one point, I was seconded for about 16 months to be the acting director of labour relations for VON Ontario. Then, in 1999, the provincial government changed the community nursing model and we lost the nursing program in the Sault after 50 years. My heart wasn’t in health care anymore; it was time for a change. So, I started my consulting business.

HRP: What was your first HR job?
AB: My first HR-related work was with the VON, and then I turned it into my own business. I’ve been providing HR and labour relations services to employers throughout Northeastern Ontario since 2000. I still maintain my certification as a nurse, and I provide a lot of services to hospitals. Most of my nursing career has been at the managerial level, so there are very transferable skills.

HRP: Describe your current job.
AB: I provide service to many different types of clients: hospitals, health units, social service organizations, police services, municipalities, universities and First Nations organizations. Consulting in the north is a little bit different. In Southern Ontario, there are many different companies that provide HR consulting; you find a lot of specialists. But I really need to be a generalist with a lot of specialty skills, so I can provide a broad range of services. I’ve done pay equity, compensation, workplace investigations, collective bargaining, HR policy and procedure and recruitment. A little bit of everything, but it has to be at a higher level.

HRP: What do you love about your job?
AB: I have always loved working with people; I enjoy meeting new people and helping them resolve their problems. Also, I really like challenges. I never know which client is going to call and what the problem may be. I have to listen, understand the issue, research and keep learning to be able to help them.

HRP: What are the challenges you experience in your job?
AB: Weather and geography can sometimes be a challenge, since some of my clients are several hours away. Also, just dealing with so many different types of clients can be a great challenge. For instance, with First Nations organizations, I have become familiar with the culture. I have built traditional and culturally significant requirements into HR policies for them.

HRP: What are your career highlights?
AB: The volunteer work I have been privileged to do with HRPA, and before that CCHRA, is a highlight. I’m still a volunteer on HRPA’s professional regulations and standards committee. In 2013, I was very honoured to be awarded the HRPA Fellow designation; and at the same time, I was awarded an honourary life membership in HRPA. It was unbelievable; I was very proud of what I had done.

HRP: What’s key to leading HR during a difficult time for a client organization?
AB: During difficult times, especially as a consultant, you need to understand the nature of the client’s business. You really need to ensure you have all the pertinent information before you can recommend a resolution. I always look at considering alternative approaches, too, and weigh out the probability of success for each option.

HRP: What skills do you think are important for success in an HR career?
AB: I think that at all levels, relationship management is one of the critical factors for success in the HR field. It ensures that everyone you are involved with is treated with respect and dignity. How people communicate with one another is usually a part of the problem. Of course, the other skills that are becoming more critical are business acumen, strategic skills, talent management, governance, leadership skills and communications.

HRP: What tips do you have for new grads, or those in entry-level HR jobs, who want to move up the ladder?
AB: Something I learned a long time ago is that you need to commit to lifelong learning. If you learn one new thing every day, you will continue to develop as a person and as a professional. If you want to be current in your chosen profession, you can never stop learning.

HRP: What is the future of HR?
AB: I think we have a very exciting future and it’s just unfolding now. Last fall, HR became a regulated profession in Ontario. I think we’re going to see much more recognition and acknowledgement that HR is a critical component of any organization’s management. I know our designation will be recognized as top of the class, worldwide.

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