The best way to learn Human Resources is by keeping it real, says Ho Wei Yee, who prefers rigorous simulations to textbooks.
Ho Wei Yee, Ngee Ann Polytechnic, President’s Award for Teachers 2017 Finalist
If there is one thing that Ho Wei Yee wants to impress upon her students, it is that Human Resource is about people.
Never mind that countless how-to books have been written on strategies to do well at it – at the end of the day, she insists that it is about making decisions that can profoundly affect an organisation and an individual.
This is why she does not prescribe any textbooks for her courses, preferring to lean on her experiences as a top-flight HR expert in Citibank, JP Morgan, IBM and Ernst & Young to prepare her students for their chosen field.
She uses simulations, such as creating a mock assessment centre experience in classfor students to assess job competencies. At each session there are bound to be laughs and inevitable gaffes, but it is far from being “just” a game. Every question, answer and even students’ posture will be later scrutinised in a lively group discussion.
“I teach them to look beyond paper qualifications and identify skill sets in candidates like collaboration, leadership and integrity,” she says, emphasising how demanding the recruitment process can be.
“You need to be fair and tie your judgement strictly to the individual’s performance and merits. HR has a lot to do with personal and professional ethics.”
These ethics extend beyond how her students will assess other future employees. “I remind them that how you conduct yourself, even in front of potential job candidates, makes a lot of difference because you are the ambassador for your organisation.”
Leading by example, Wei Yee makes it a point to arrive early for her lectures which always begin exactly on time. Her bubbly enthusiasm for teaching has rubbed off on her students, who arrive early and pack her lectures, eager to hear her take on the topics being discussed.
Understanding the Business
One of her pet topics is how Human Resources has long ceased to be a mere supportive administrative function. It is now about meeting the strategic needs of each organisation.
“You can’t just be well-versed on HR matters. You need to know how the company is performing, be familiar with new global trends and the ethics of doing business in today’s world. That is one way in which a HR professional can establish credibility and contribute to the organisation.”
Wei Yee draws on her considerable experience as she researches emerging developments within the industry, offering her students practical insights into how companies today are thinking and working differently.
One new tactic that is gaining traction among companies is the use of hackathons to spot talent, where candidates form teams to solve or “hack” a problem posed by the company. Wei Yee has begun using these as part of her teaching practice.
She is particularly proud of one she recently organised with BreadTalk, where over 90 of her students were challenged to help the company overcome its manpower crunch. They had to do this within a day, and pitch their solutions to representatives of the company in the evening.
The solutions had to be very specific. Teams could not get away with suggesting, for instance, a new recruitment advertisement. They had to actually design and recommend it.
And they delivered: one team proposed a progressive hourly pay structure to attract part-timers, and get them to commit to working a certain number of hours each week. Others presented social-media strategies for BreadTalk to position itself as a choice employer for millennials. She beams as she relates these examples, because many of them demonstrate her students’ resourcefulness beyond what they had been taught.
In a separate project with Resorts World Sentosa, the students were tasked to run an actual recruitment festival. Apart from organising the entire event, the students also helped to pre-screen suitable candidates for the company.
The Role of the HR Teacher
Ever the consummate HR educator, Wei Yee actively seeks feedback on her own performance from her students, through surveys. This feedback does not take the form of a rating scale, but requires them to answer questions like “How has this activity helped you learn?” and “What else would you want to know more about on the topic?” To reinforce this, she occasionally gathers a few students to chat so she can get a clearer picture and make improvements.
One thing is for sure: Wei Yee knows she is not there to dictate knowledge to her students. “When I started teaching, I was the gatekeeper of knowledge, but now it has changed. By adding real-time projects and group simulation exercises, I help the students acquire the knowledge for themselves.
“I have become the facilitator, encouraging students to also learn from each other.”
I love her teaching style. We can all sense her enthusiasm in class and that’s very infectious. Her reality-based exercises and simulations plus all the examples she gives us based on her work in various businesses – these give us a good heads-up on what we can expect in the working world. – Tan Hui Lin, 20, Diploma in Business Studies, Class of 2017