An aspiration to move from Recruitment to Human Resources saw Nanna Scrafton join Unitec’s Graduate Diploma in Business specialising in HR. Now National HR Manager for HEB Construction, she tells us about her journey to a new career and her passion for promoting diversity in the workplace.
Originally from Brazil, Nanna moved to New Zealand 16 years ago. She worked in the recruitment industry for five years before deciding to make a change.
“I knew I wanted to move into a pure HR advisory role,” she explains. “While a number of the skills I had from recruitment were transferable, there was still something missing. I felt I needed to beef up my skillset a little, but I didn’t want to do a full ‘business degree’. Unitec’s Graduate Diploma in Business, specialising in HR, was a good compromise. It allowed me to make the transition to HR fairly quickly, and offered the flexibility I needed to complete papers around my job.”
Nanna started with one paper per semester, moving to two a semester to speed things up. She had her first child when she had just two papers left in her Diploma.
“For me, because I was returning to study after working for so long, I knew I was there for a reason. I wanted to learn and I could see the benefits of the course. I think it offered the right content, in the right format, delivered in the right way, and it certainly opened up the door to an HR career for me.”
Finding her passion in HR
After finishing her Diploma, Nanna took a role Baycorp and then the Civil Aviation Authority before joining Engineering consultancy Harrison Grierson, heading the HR Recruitment and Learning & Development functions as Group Manager – People and Culture. After five years, she moved to leading infrastructure and facilities construction company, HEB Construction, where she has been National HR Manager for nearly two years.
“HEB has worked on some of New Zealand’s biggest projects, including Transmission Gully, the Northern Corridor and the Kaikoura Earthquake Recovery Project. My role is to look after the HR advisory and recruitment services for the 1200+ staff across the country.
“At Harrison Grierson there were challenges that came with the professional services environment, where it’s all about billable hours and being productive. At HEB, the challenges are more around our remote workforce. We have hundreds of people across the country, all in very different roles, which makes it difficult from a strategic perspective: one size doesn’t fit all! When everyone sits in an office and has the same sort of working environment, it’s easy to roll out a wellness programme for example. Some of our people are on site every day, but we also have an office-based workforce - so it’s about finding what’s right for different sections of our workforce.”
Nanna says what she probably loves most about her role is the complexity of managing HR for such a large, diverse organisation.
“HEB works on a lot of huge infrastructure projects, so it’s great to see the difference we can make to the way people live and commute etc. It’s also very fast paced - we often work closely with Waka Kotahi NZ Transport Agency, local councils and government bodies, so things can change quickly.”
Sudden change is something Nanna certainly had to deal with last year, when COVID-19 hit New Zealand shores.
“At the time, we weren’t that well equipped for remote working, so having to transfer to working from home was a challenge. A lot of our sites were closed, so many staff couldn’t work and we had to decide how we would we pay them. Luckily, we’re a very agile organisation! We’re also owned by a French organisation, VINCI, which is the second largest construction company in the world - so their support and financial backing made things a bit easier. We didn’t make any redundancies, in fact we brought on over 200 new people in 2020.”
Diversity in the workplace
One thing Nanna is passionate about is creating a diverse and flexible workplace, particularly when it comes to attracting and keeping more women in the industry.
“We’re seeing more women coming into construction and engineering from tertiary education, which is great. But it’s also about making sure there’s a path for women to progress. So, when they go on maternity leave, they know there’s a way back for them. We’ve put things in place like job sharing, flexibility around hours, even ensuring there are spaces designed for breastfeeding. If companies don’t make it easy for females to come back to work, they’ll risk losing really good talent at the mid-career level.”
For students starting to think about their career path, Nanna says it’s important to throw yourself into the learning journey, and to build networks along the way.
“Remember that the things you learn in your course are going to help you in your career - even if you don’t see the value of them at the time! This includes the people you meet along the way. Those on your course will become part of your network once you leave your studies. New Zealand is really small, so it’s important to value those relationships, as your paths will inevitably cross one day.
“It’s also important to find and pursue your passion. For me, as a foreigner in New Zealand with two little Kiwis, I’m passionate about diversity and inclusion in the workplace. It’s about helping people find a sense of belonging in an organisation, so they can do what they want to do in the way they want to do it. I’m really lucky to have found something I love and to be able to develop and build that up that in organisations.”