Conversations: Pia Engstrom, The HR Dept

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First flagship Outsourced HR Franchise Launched in Perth by Pia Engstrom

Pia Engstrom has become the first businesswoman in Australia to set up a local branch of a successful global HR franchise.  Pia has launched The HR Dept Western Suburbs Perth from home in West Leederville, offering SMEs in her territory high quality outsourced HR advice and support.  She is the first in the state to launch the brand, which currently serves more than 6,000 SMEs in the UK and Ireland after being set up the more than 15 years ago.

Pia has over 20 years’ HR experience in the areas of HR, IR Management and Consulting in both Australia and the UK.  She holds a Bachelor of Business degree with a double major in Human Resources & Management from Edith Cowan University.  Pia has worked at a senior management level gaining a wealth of knowledge and experience a number of companies of all sizes and across different industry sectors.

The HR Dept is originally a UK-based family business, which was set up by Sue Tumelty in 2002 and begun franchising in 2005. Today, it has a network of 65 Licensees operating independent HR businesses in 83 territories across the UK, Ireland and now Australia, providing more than 6,000 SMEs with a range of advice and support.

We interviewed Pia to find out more about HR Dept. and the need in the marketplace for outsourced HR.

Pia, firstly congratulations on being the first Franchisee in Australia and launching it is Perth. Please tell us about the market that you service and the need for the outsourced HR services.

SMEs are a vital and growing part of the Australian economy with around two million SMEs representing more than 99.7 per cent of actively trading businesses. SMEs employ almost three quarters of the Australian workforce with the top five employing industries in the sector being construction, professional, scientific and technical services, retail trade, accommodation and food services, and manufacturing.

SMEs are a huge focus of Government attention at this time with new initiatives and funding being announced regularly. We expect that they (and indeed employment legislation) will form a crucial part of all parties’ offerings in the run up to the election.

There are over three million SME and micro businesses in Australia. Of these, 71% are active, which equates to just over 2.1 million. A recent study by ScanCorp is projecting growth for SMEs positioned in the following industries:

✓ child care centres  ✓ general practice medical centres   ✓ food and retail  ✓ coffee shops and small restaurants   ✓ technology businesses (particularly with differentiated intellectual property)  ✓ service stations  ✓ construction

There is a need for HR support and a desire for an insurance backed offering. The market in outsourced HR is growing but our offering is not available in the market currently.

Who are your clientele and how do you help them best. 

We’re here to support local businesses with the everyday people problems that they face.  Our local and comprehensive HR service comes at a fraction of the cost of hiring an in-house HR professional that larger companies often employ.  Our approach is simple, we’ll get to really know and understand your business, that way we’ll be able to find the best and most cost-effective solution for your business.  We help SME’s navigate a rapidly changing human resources landscape, ensuring that business owners can grow their companies and reach their goals through their biggest asset – their people.

Tell us a something you are proud of as a team/organization. 

Our leadership team in Australia is made up of 100% women.

Really proud of being the first outsourced HR franchise company in Australia.  I own the flagship franchise in Australia and it’s in Perth!  I am also a shareholder of the JV company and I hold the position of Franchise Development Manager.

You must come across regular HR issues faced by businesses. What are some of the most common issues?

We produce weekly blogs around any HR/IR issues and we produce an informative monthly newsletter called People Matter.  These are published on our website and on social media.

Some of the issues are:

  • Employers not paying employees the right hourly rate as employers are unsure of what Award they are operating under;
  • Employers not providing employees with employment contracts so that everyone is clear on their employment terms and conditions and expectations;
  • Employers needing help with disciplinary meetings and associated drafting of letters;
  • Employers needing help with conducting investigations into either disciplinary or misconduct by employees
  • Employers wanting help with recruitment of new employees
  • Employers generally just needing a sounding board and advice around HR issues so they sign up to our unlimited advice line with is underwritten by employer indemnity insurance.


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