A strong sense of strategic business acumen is becoming an increasingly important strength for successful HR professionals if they are to steer Thailand towards sustainable economic growth, recruitment experts have suggested.

The country suffers from a shortage of skilled HR professionals. Historically, it has trailed behind other subject areas as an academic pursuit at university, so there has been little formal training available before now.

But the experts report that it is widely recognised an effective HR department is critical to a productive workplace, whether in a small business or a multinational conglomerate, and that the role of an HR team covers more than just payroll duties, extending to reinforcing the company’s brand strategies, training talent and motivating employees.

But Thai recruiters believe the importance of the function is lagging behind other key corporate disciplines, such as finance, sales, marketing and logistics.

“Business is a competitive sport and the expectations of the players increase every year,” said Kristoffer Paludan, director of Michael Page Thailand. “Companies in Thailand are looking for HR professionals who they deem to be a good investment for the future and can demonstrate an ability to grow and develop that potential.”

Mike Holloway, director of RSM Recruitment (Thailand) Limited, said: “Historically, there has been very little formal training gained from academic institutions. Some of the best HR professionals have gained their expertise through the multinational companies they worked for.”

Punyanuch Sirisawadwattana, director of human resources at Robert Walters Thailand, said she believed this could change if HR professionals begin to look beyond operational tasks such as payroll, paperwork, visas and similar administration. “They need to work closely with the business and act as a middleman between the company and candidates – act as an asset and assist the company to reach its goal by matching the right people with the right job,” she said. “They should be open and willing to impart knowledge and skills to people who may not have the functional skills, but are willing to learn and have the right attitude.”

In terms of advice for aspiring HR professionals, all three experts stressed the importance of business skills due to the influential role successful applicants will have in shaping an organisation’s future direction.

Holloway said education is key and recommended gaining an overseas university qualification in human resources and ideally securing overseas work experience. “HR professionals need to be an advisor to the business,” he said. “A true HR person is strategic and should be a key contributor to achieving the overall company’s success, not someone who stands by waiting for direction and blocking progress with administrative procedures.”

Paludan said applicants needed to demonstrate strong interpersonal and communication skills, alongside technical ability. “We recruit HR functional specialists who demonstrate a strong interest in business and a commercial mindset,” he said. “Someone who takes a medium and long-term view on the impact HR can have on the performance of a company.”

Technical skills aside, assertiveness is a personality trait not used or asked for enough within the Asian HR community, he added: “Pay attention to the personality traits required to be an effective business partner and secure employment with a company which also recognises these qualities.”

Good business acumen with a “modernised mindset,” is a must, said Sirisawadwattana, adding that professionals must be “open to change and willing to take time to learn about the business”. They should have good general knowledge and understand what is going on in the market, she recommended.

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