New hub empowers better employment research

mpower-launch.jpg

L-R: Helen White, Peter Conway, Professor Jim Arrowsmith, Associate Professor Jane
Parker, and Angela Atkins at the launch of the MPOWER Research Hub.

Academics, HR practitioners and union representatives gathered at Massey University’s Albany campus this afternoon for the launch of a new research hub.

Called the MPOWER (Massey People, Organisation, Work and Employment) research hub, the initiative aims to encourage collaboration across disciplines and organisations to address the key issues faced by organisations and workers in New Zealand.

In his introductory speech Professor Jim Arrowsmith from Massey’s School of Management said good people management in the workplace is currently more important than it has ever been.

“Managers in the workplace face a huge amount of challenges, and OECD studies show we have a huge productivity problem in New Zealand. How do we motivate people to work at their best capacity in the face of low wages and job insecurity?” he asked.

“We have a vicious circle going on with acute management capacity problems and a lack of investment in training and development in the workplace. These are the sorts of issues we want to address with MPOWER – we want to empower individuals and empower companies to succeed by better managing their workforces.”

Professor Arrowsmith stressed the hub was about engaging with stakeholders – other academic institutions, trade unions, community groups, professional bodies and businesses – to do relevant research.

“MPOWER is a network for collaboration. We don’t even have all the questions, let alone all the answers. We need to talk to managers, business leaders and trade unions to find out where we need to do research, how we can do it effectively, and how we can disseminate the results to the people it will be useful for.”

Other speakers at the launch event were Peter Conway, Secretary of the NZ Council of Trade Unions, who gave a union perspective; Angela Atkins, Auckland Branch President of the Human Resource Institute of NZ, who provided a practitioner’s point of view; and employment law barrister Helen White who discussed the need for solid research to inform policy decisions about new legislation.

All three highlighted the need for their sectors to engage more closely with the academic community to find evidence-based solutions to New Zealand’s specific workplace issues.

“Policy can’t be built on anecdotal evidence for political expediency, it needs to be built on scientific research,” Helen White said during her presentation. “Research can change the way people think and that’s a powerful thing. This hub is in a really powerful position to do some really great stuff.”

Angela Atkins lamented the lack of research based on New Zealand workplaces and said she hoped MPOWER might help fill the gap.

“HR still needs to earn its place at the executive table,” she said. “We, as HR practitioners engaging with our CEOs and senior leaders, need more workplace studies so we’re not saying, ‘Well, overseas studies say this’, or ‘We think this might work’. We need evidence from real New Zealand studies.” 

Providing a union perspective, Peter Conway said he hoped the hub would create renewed conversations about people in the workforce, including models of management that support high performance workplaces.

“For unions to work towards high wages and a highly skilled workforce, an awful lot of things need to come together – and when you look at that mix of challenges there’s no doubt that quality of leadership and management stands out,” he said. “We all need help with that and it’s in that context that I welcome the creation of this hub.”

The MPOWER hub will use its grant from the Vice-Chancellor's Strategic Innovation Fund to run networking events and seminars for businesses and practitioners and work research sympoisa. A post-graduate research competition is also in the pipeline

MPOWER's co-directors are Associate Professor Jane Parker and Professor Jim Arrowsmith, and the hub coordinator Christian Yao can be contacted on c.dee.yao@gmail.com for further information.

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