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Contracting offers challenges that employment can’t, highlights senior HR interim

Contracting can offer demanding professional challenges, exciting career development opportunities and a level of job satisfaction that being an employee simply cannot.

This is according to interim human resources and change expert Abi Brewin, who chose to go contracting because she was not getting the career fulfilment she wanted from being an employee.

Brewin explains: “I was looking for a level of autonomy, the opportunity to make a real positive impact on the organisation I was working for and to deliver significant and measurable results quickly.

“I worked alongside interims who arrived and made a positive contribution from day one. I liked what I saw of the contracting working lifestyle and, as I’d run my own successful business in the past, I decided I could do this too.”

How to forge a career in HR - the hard way

Although now a chartered fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) with a long list of professional qualifications and a string of successful workforce change projects under her belt, Brewin did not set out to become a human resources professional.

She continues: “I originally trained as a chef, working in several well known London hotels, before joining Royal Air Force (RAF). After leaving the service, I started my own business, launching and managing my own catering company.”

When deciding to return to employment, Brewin’s professional catering experience led her into grocery, fresh food and deli management roles with several of the UK’s leading high street supermarkets.

“Up until this point, I’d not considered HR, and for much of my career I’d been a line manager managing teams in stressful and high pressured environments such as in kitchens and restaurants. However, during that time I had acquired a great deal of practical HR experience, not only dealing with ‘internal customers’, or staff, but also external customers.

“So, I was surprised when I applied for a new role as a grocery manager with a leading national supermarket chain and after the second interview was then asked if I’d take on a role in HR. I accepted the role and it was definitely the right career move for me.”

Becoming a specialist in workforce change projects

Brewin faced major upheavals from the outset, as her new employer embarked on a major change programme. She rapidly acquired skills that included managing workforce downsizing, redundancies, negotiating with unions as well as creating and implementing new training and development programmes.

“I moved from grocery retail to food manufacturing and then logistics. But in each role I was implementing the HR element of increasingly larger and more complex change programmes. As a result, I was acquiring specialist change and project skills for both permanent and contingent workforces.”

It was after managing a particularly complex project at the UK’s main distribution centre for the world’s largest online retailer that Brewin decided she wanted to become a contractor:

“I was working alongside interims and had a lot of respect for their abilities to arrive on site, assess the situation and hit the ground running. I just love what I do. I thought becoming an interim would free me up to focus on doing my job and developing my skills.”

How to become an interim HR change manager

Brewin found the process of switching from employment to contracting relatively straightforward, as she explains: “I asked some of the interims I worked with how they found work, and quickly found the interim agencies that specialised in HR and change.

“Then it was a case of choosing a role that offered the challenge I was looking for, I wanted a role with specific deliverables and outcomes, and a role came up that was perfect.

“I’ve been leading the UK element of a high profile global project by reviewing a workforce of about 800 employees across the UK and working with business stakeholders at director level, working to achieve key deliverables in cost savings across the UK.”

Being successful in this project meant Brewin was offered another project, this time a post-acquisition integration project that required transferring around 207 employees from the acquired business into the new owner. “The client wanted an interim who had experience of transferring and merging workforces who could take this on, allowing the line management to focus on the business side.”

Want to become a contractor? Find out what motivates you

Brewin acknowledges that contracting is not for everyone. Not only does it require a specific set of transferable project-based skills - it also requires a specific mindset: “There’s no time to ‘get your feet under the table’ in an interim role!” she adds.

“If you want security and to earn your money that pays the mortgage and the bills, then best to stick to permanent employment,” believes Brewin. “My motivation was about delivering results, adding value and being able to see that I made a difference.”

Brewin concludes: “Having made the transition from employment to contracting, I get to choose what projects I work on, so can focus on those that offer the opportunity for both professional development and personal fulfilment.”

Published: 30 June 2015

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