Thembi Watt is Project Manager, Diverse and Talented Workforce (DTW) at Public Health England, an executive agency of the Department of Health. The organisation was formed in April 2013 with a remit to ‘protect and improve the nation’s health and wellbeing and reduce health inequalities’.
Tell us about your current job role.
Within my current role I am the Project Manager for the Diverse and Talented workforce programme as well as this I work alongside the HR business partners one day a week as an interim HR Business Partner supporting an area of the business.
My main responsibilities are developing diversity and inclusion programmes and project managing initiatives for the Diverse and Talented Workforce programme. I started the role in April 2015 and the role has developed considerably since then and so have my skills.
I undertake day-to-day management of projects, making sure that each project I am coordinating is working accordingly. A typical day in HR is never the same as the day before.
I am in the office between 7:30am and 8am, even though the working hours are 9am – 5pm. I like to avoid the rush hour, plus it also allows me time to prepare for the day ahead. I tend to review my emails and prioritise my activities for the day. Some days I may be delivering ‘Diversity Confidence’ training either internally or externally or I may have to present a business case to senior management for approval or attend external meetings. I may have to conduct my HR duties, which can vary from conducting an investigation, to having informal meetings with staff. Often you plan your day out, but this is HR, so no two days are the same.
What were key decision points or factors that were important in deciding your career path?
I have a passion and love of business. After finishing college I decided to study business and finance at university to gain more insight and structure to do what I love. As well as this, I wanted to learn the art of accounting, doing yearly forecast, profit and loss accounts – basically the financial side of business.
During one lecture, we talked about human resources and the importance of having the right people for the job in order to gain competitive advantage, I then became intrigued with what HR was. Through natural curiosity I gravitated more towards HR and decided that I wanted to know more, so I changed my degree in the final year to focus on HR.
After successfully graduating, the next step was to apply what I had learned. As I still was not sure if this is what I wanted to do ,I started a four week work experience placement in the NHS in Greater Manchester. During my placement I shadowed and worked with everyone from the HR director, HR managers, the Equality and Diversity Manager, Workforce Information, Pensions, Payroll, Recruitment and HR Assistants. There were so many different functions that happened in HR, it captured me and blew my mind how the function of HR departments is key to organisations recruiting, retaining and attracting the best talent.
During my placement I made the decision that HR was a career I wanted to pursue. (I will still pursue my business ventures) An opportunity arose during my placement to take up the role of HR assistant and I was delighted. From that day I committed myself to developing a career in HR and I decided to sign up to do a MA in HR part-time whilst working for three years.
With my Masters and experience in the ‘bag’ so to speak, I felt it was the time to move to the ‘big smoke’ and develop my career in HR further and I have never looked back
What do you enjoy most about your current role?
When you love what you do, it is hard to state what you enjoy most. I enjoy the difference that can be made, having a simple conversation with a member of staff can go a long way. The Diverse and Talented Workforce Programme is a small team of three, but the work that we have done to date and the difference that the projects I have been working on have made, has had a positive impact on people. When we deliver the Diversity Confidence training it is thought-provoking and I come out learning something new every day.
What is the most challenging aspect of your work? What strategies have you developed for tackling that challenge?
With so much going on and the nature of both my roles, a challenge for me is time management. I literally have to tell myself off for trying to do everything. To overcome this challenge I use a ‘to do list’ and prioritise my actions, using some tips I learned from reading ‘Eat that frog’ by Brian Tracy. Every little bit helps.
What has been the most defining moment in your career to date?
I have been blessed to have experienced so many defining moments in my career, for one, having the work experience opportunity which literally opened up opportunities and started my career. Graduating with an MA in HRM. Taking a bold and risky move by leaving a permanent contract during the recession to take a three-month contract to work in HR London. When they offered me the job I said yes without any hesitation, I spoke to a close friend and asked if I could stay with her for the 3 months and I packed a suitcase and moved to London, leaving my home of 25 years and a permanent contract.
Making the decision to ‘do it’ has been key, however the people who I have met throughout my career, have also been major key players in my career. For example, my current Director of HR is a key driver in making sure that everyone is developed within the department and he is supportive of everyone’s growth.
Over the last four years I have developed considerably in a number of roles. I obtained a place on the HR Trainee Management Programme, within a year and a half I was appointed to a role of HR manager and last year I started the role of Project Manager relishing in the opportunity to use my PRINCE 2 skills.
This year I have been successful in obtaining a place on the Civil Service accelerated development programme for HR, which is a leadership development programme, a key moment in my career.
In all, I have had the support and guidance from close friends, mentors and family.
Best piece of career advice you have ever received? And who was it from?
“You can do anything you want” – Tony Vickers-Byrne
“Write your dreams in pen and your journey in pencil” – Dr Dawn Edge
“Master one thing at a time, don’t spread yourself to thin”
“Feel the fear and do it anyway” – Jackie Bailey
“Always act with integrity “ – David Curtis
Away from your work role what are your passions?
I love going to the cinema, it is a bit of wind down time for me and reading books, but my ultimate passion is travelling and going on adventures, learning new things and speaking to different people. I love it.
What book would you recommend?
Brian Tracy – Eat that Frog (a must read)
What do you know now that you wish you had known as you started your career?
That I can’t save the world, but you can help support and empower people to reach their best potential. A happy workforce makes better business sense
Do you have any advice for women entering your industry?
Perseverance. Human Resources is a competitive career to get into. Keep on persevering. Network with HR professionals, there are so many groups on LinkedIn and HR networking events. Join CIPD, attend their events and learn from other HR professionals. Put yourself out there.