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Katie has been with DPAG since February 2018, and as part of the HR team, is responsible for facilitating the administration for a full range of HR services. Prior to this, she worked for entrepreneurs in a tech and sports company respectively. Interview on Wednesday 14 August 2019.

Katie Meads profile colour.jpgHow did you come to work in HR?

I joined the department’s HR team as a temp initially and I hadn’t settled on a career path at that point. It was between this one and another job printing staff ID cards, so there wasn’t really a contest! I was also interested because I studied Physiology modules as part of my Sport Science and Management degree. Funnily enough, I had cited Head of Department David Paterson’s textbooks in past assignments, so it was interesting to see them up on the walls! The role advertised here covered a whole range of tasks and I found the opportunity to develop many different skills attractive. I was previously at a company where I picked up lots of administration and operations skills, such as process mapping and project management, and it was great to be able to develop these further. It’s a really nice way to find your path - finding something you enjoy when you don’t have a specific career in mind. I hadn’t even considered HR before coming here!

Tell us more about your background before coming here.

In the immediately previous job, I worked with a group of entrepreneurs at a company called KTW Academy. It was an exciting project managing the Saudi Arabia Olympic Taekwondo team. They came to Oxford; we facilitated all their training sessions, made sure they were training three times a day, and enrolled them into a local college to study English. It was a brilliant job because I’m passionate about the sports industry and Taekwondo - I’m a 4th degree black belt and have been training for nearly 18 years - but it was really hard work and time consuming!

What were your first impressions of DPAG then?

My previous two jobs were both with entrepreneurs, so this was my first 9 to 5 office job and I didn’t know what to expect. I appreciated the structure though after being used to working 24/7! When I joined the team, there was a lot going on and I could tell my colleagues were incredibly busy. I was impressed, really enjoyed it and ultimately stuck around!

What does your job entail?

Working as an HR and Payroll Assistant involves facilitating all the administration for everything HR related, whether it be payroll, sickness, maternity, it could be absolutely anything. As a team, we look after everything. The previous HR team tended to have individual responsibilities, whereas we interlink and all handle things from recruitment to visas to visitor applications. It’s a good way of working, as it covers any unforeseen circumstances, such as if someone’s off sick.

We can’t necessarily deal with the highest level of queries because we need to refer those to the Central University HR team. But thinking about my career progression, it’s really interesting to see these queries coming through and understand what I could be be dealing with in future, whether it be as an HR Business Partner at the University, or in Industry.

Another responsibility of mine is project work. I have started two or three ongoing projects since being here, and I’ve received great support in terms of making sure I’m equipped to manage them. Everyone else in the team have their own projects as well, large or small.

What do you enjoy most?

I enjoy being face-to-face with the other employees in the department. I get to know a lot of people and a lot of different personalities. It’s really beneficial being put in so many different situations.

My favourite day-to-day task is the project work. I’m working on rolling out Simitive at the moment, which is an online system for managing Personal Development Reviews. We’re hoping to train academic staff in October and have all employees using the system by the end of this year. It’s a huge project because we’re working with an external software company, which means timelines are very difficult! But, we’re pushing to make sure that we can deliver the best possible product to everyone and give them the best possible experience. It’s very important that PDRs take place. We really want people to know that PDRs are positive, not negative. They are there for you to be able to develop yourself, whether that be through training, or setting new objectives, or maybe adapting your old responsibilities – they are positive conversations between you and your line manager. We’re also encouraging people to do PDRs because this new system gives us better monitoring procedures. For example, if you say you need a certain type of training, we can support you making sure that training happens. In the past, sometimes people didn’t progress because their needs weren’t recorded or monitored properly. All the positives that come out of a PDR are going to be managed better using this online system.

Do you have a highlight here so far?

It’s really nice to see how our team has progressed since I joined and how well we all work together. Especially for me - I haven’t asked ‘how do I do this?’ for a long time, which is nice intrinsic win. I’ve also enjoyed some of the big events in the department. It was really exciting when the astronaut, Jim Pawelcyzk, came here last November, and I really enjoyed the staff Away Day last Summer.

What’s the hardest part of your job?

The amount of stuff that comes through our door can be quite challenging to manage. There’s around 300 staff in the department, then you have visitors, and sometimes student queries can crop up across our desk too. There are many people to get back to and we try to help out as quickly as we can. However, as a team we prioritise appropriately, and split everything out to make sure we manage it. It’s mainly a case of managing expectations. We try to make it clear how long a task will take us and that works really well.

What do you get up to outside of work?

As I said earlier, I do a lot of Taekwondo! I love practising and performing –  I qualified for the national team back in December and my last competition was in March. I’m now on track for my next competition in October. I’m also starting up a new Taekwondo class in September at the Oxford Academy, welcome to anyone across all ages. I used to teach at the Headington School for Girls. It’s a really nice feeling to bring a group of people together who don’t know the sport at all, go on a journey with them, and then in a couple of years’ time, watch them perform and teach themselves.

I also play football on Sundays, which I take less seriously and is just for fun, although sadly I’m injured at the moment! I’m also still in contact with the entrepreneurs I used to work for. They’ll often ask for help with business plans, financial forecasts, investment presentations etc. That’s really exciting, because it means I develop these skills outside of work for when I need them later in my career.

What coming up for you and your team this year?

I’m starting my Level 5 CIPD (Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development) qualification in September, one day a week at college, to become an accredited member. We’ll be launching Simitive in October, and we’re also revamping the visitors process – changing the online visitors application, establishing certain rules relating to visitor classification and what activities they’re able to do, which will streamline the process and make it much clearer for everyone. That’s coming up in the new year. So September to December is going to be pretty crazy!