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Darla Moore School of Business

Master of Human Resources students grapple with advising an entire industry on cultural change

Jan. 17, 2020

Recent Master of Human Resources graduates completed a consulting project in their final semester that gave them hands-on experience dealing with a real human resources issue while providing recommendations for an international corporate partner.

All MHR graduates complete a project with an outside entity “to leverage their experience from the program and internships to work on real-world problems in outside companies,” said Mark Maltarich, Moore School human resources associate professor and one of the advisors of the consulting projects.

Serving a wide variety of organizations from heavy manufacturing to financial services and government agencies, the MHR students learn during these projects how human resources supports an entity’s overall strategy, how to interact with internal and external clients and how to assess cultural differences and systems, Maltarich said.

One group in fall 2019 worked with three different organizations in the United Kingdom: the Oil and Gas Authority, which helps to regulate the UK’s oil and gas industry; OPITO, a non-profit that supports a safe and skilled energy workforce in the UK; and the country’s overall oil and gas industry comprised of various companies.

In 2019, the Oil and Gas Authority worked with companies around the country to create Vision 2035, a strategic vision that would see the oil and gas sector in the UK achieve net-zero carbon emissions by 2035.

For the vision to be realized, “one of the main components was addressing the skills landscape for the coming years,” said Deanna Helm, a Moore School MHR December 2019 graduate who worked on the project. “As the industry moves toward digitalization, the skills that are needed for the jobs that will be created are going to change. Additionally, the culture of the industry and the skills that are taught in schools would need to be changed to make this digital transition.”

Helm and her classmates were tasked with how the industry could meet these challenges to change the culture, engage the workforce and deliver real innovation, she said.

The MHR team created a three-pronged approach.

They proposed industry partners create an online platform that could identify skills-gaps in real time. Helm said with this platform, employees could also see what skills they needed to remain competitive in the oil and gas workforce.

The team suggested industry representatives build more meaningful relationships with local schools and universities. This would lead to better classes and training that more closely align with the new digitalization aspects and prepare the incoming workers for the skills they’ll need.

Finally, the MHR team recommended industry representatives should “develop a clear, consistent message to all internal and external stakeholders about the changes ahead,” Helm said. “We also gave frameworks and guidelines for how to successfully change the culture without having a major exodus of their current workforce.”

With the digitalization of industry combined with the need to decarbonize the world while still needing to provide energy, the oil and gas industry has a major challenge ahead, said Stuart Payne, the director of HR and supply chain for The Oil and Gas Authority of the UK and the MHR project’s corporate advisor.

“The oil and gas industry itself has set the goal of being the first in the world to become net-zero,” with Vision 2035, Payne said. “Developing and adopting new technologies, both in terms of more efficient facilities and clean energy systems, requires a workforce that is constantly kept at the forefront of technical understanding and capability.”

Payne applauded the Moore School MHR students’ ability to take a complex problem and create solutions while working with a “complicated ‘client base,’” entities who have varying priorities.

“Their recommendations were cleverly framed to both the government, the industry and in some cases the specific skills agency (OPITO) – all of whom, they identified, have roles to play,” he said.

This is the 10th project Payne has worked on with the Moore School MHR students since 2012. He said he highly recommends the collaborative work they provide over the course of their final semester of the program.

“I continue with the projects because they offer access to fantastic early-career talent with innovative thinking backed up by world-class academics all in a model of ‘mutual advantage’ where we are able to support the professional development of the students, whilst they help us with our own corporate objectives,” he said.

MHR associate professor Maltarich considers the consulting projects beneficial for the entities they work with who get usable results and for the students, who get to combine what they’ve learned in the MHR program with practical experience. While advising the students and working with the outside entities, the Moore School faculty also get a better understanding of the skills MHR students need and insight into the cutting-edge problems actual HR departments face in today’s business climate, he added.  

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