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By Lisa Kopochinski

Growing up in Oakville, Ont., Heidi Walker says it was always expected that she would attend university. Thinking she would probably become a teacher – as she knew it would be a career that she’d always enjoy – she majored in English at McMaster University.


“Following university, I moved to Japan to teach English as a second language,” she said. “It solidified how much I liked teaching and I especially enjoyed teaching adults.”

However, it was not until after her three children were born that she discovered the human resources field when she began working part-time as an HR generalist.

“I decided to go back to school to build on my bachelor's degree, so I applied to both Teacher's College and the HR management post-degree program at Humber College,” she said. “I decided to pursue HR because I felt there were more diverse opportunities in the field.”

She earned her Certified Human Resources Professional (CHRP) designation several years ago, which has now been upgraded to Certified Human Resources Leader (CHRL). Her career trajectory has taken her through several positions.

She joined Maple Leaf Foods in June 2015 as manager, Operations Learning and Development, working in the company’s Mississauga location, and says this position is a great fit because it allows her to build relationships within the organization.

“My previous experience in learning and development has proved very beneficial as I am part of a small collaborative team,” said Walker.

HR Professional caught up with Walker to find out more about what her responsibilities entail on a daily basis and what advice she has for those who are also interested in the learning and development area of human resources.

What are your main areas of responsibility in your current job?

Heidi Walker: I’m responsible for all aspects of learning initiatives for the Operations group at Maple Leaf Foods, leading learning development across all operations functions. I execute planned learning initiatives, and design and support learning sessions. Along with developing content, I am developing an annual learning plan that supports the long-term learning strategy for the plants. As the lead for the Alchemy key user network, I collaborate with plants and HR to ensure that operations employees receive training in all relevant areas.

What do you like most about your job?
HW: What I look forward to every day is interacting with the plants. I am developing relationships with the plants and especially enjoy seeing how the training I create and support can influence the operations employees.

What does a typical day at work for you look like?
HW: No day is ever exactly the same. Sometimes, I am fortunate enough to visit a plant and I’m able to interact with plant level colleagues directly. Many of my days are filled with meetings with executive sponsors, subject matter experts and colleagues. I have many projects in progress with various operational groups.

What are some of the challenges you experience on a day-to-day basis?
HW: Manufacturing is a new industry for me, and I am trying to learn specifically about our plants and processes. I’m fortunate enough to have great support both within my learning team and at the plant level. It’s always challenging balancing training needs with the daily requirements of the plants’ production.

What are your ultimate career goals?
HW: My long-term goal is to consult and provide learning and development expertise to a variety of client groups. Ultimately, I would like my input and influence to build a learning culture within an organization.

What advice do you have for others interested in pursuing an HR career specializing in learning and development, or for those looking to move up the ladder?
HW: For anyone entering the HR field, pursuing one of the designations (CHRP, CHRL, CHRE) is a good way to get the necessary requirements to obtain an HR position. Learning and development is a specialty within the HR field, and many companies don’t have a specific team dedicated to training. If you’re interested in learning and development, I would seek roles in companies that have dedicated learning departments and would focus on those with a strong learning culture.

Ask for stretch opportunities to work with your company’s learning team either as a subject matter expert, or projects that involve your area and the learning team.

What do you like to do in your spare time?
HW: I enjoy spending time with my three children, traveling and scuba diving. I also have a passion for music, theatre and photography.

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