Interview with Laura White - HR Manager at Irwin

Posted in : HR Interview Series on 15 March 2024
Laura White
Issues covered:

Laura White



  Name: Laura White

  Position & Organisation: HR Manager at Irwin

  Number of Employees: 235

  Time in Post: 2 ½ years 



Tell us about your business in a sentence.

Established in 1995, Irwins provide a full range of Mechanical, Electrical, Building, Energy and Renewables installation and maintenance services to clients, across both public and private sectors throughout the UK and Ireland.

Give us an idea about your early life and career.

I am originally from Omagh, Co. Tyrone. Once I finished school at Omagh Academy I attended Queens University in Belfast to study Psychology. Upon completing my Psychology degree, I decided I wanted to continue studying at Queens and that’s where I gained my MSc in Human Resource Management in 2017. My journey in HR began with entry-level roles in recruitment and employee relations, gradually ascending to my current managerial position in Construction.

Prior to this role I worked in HR in both the Healthcare and Food Sector. In 2020, I also undertook my Postgrad Cert in Employment Law and Practice through Ulster University. In between studying and working, I also worked some part time/summer jobs coaching hockey for Omagh Academy and Ulster Hockey.  In 2021, I then joined Irwin’s as HR Manager and haven’t looked back. I am thoroughly enjoying the journey as we continue to grow and become a leading organisation within the construction sector in NI.

What are the key challenges you face in your role?

  • Our industry is facing a high skill shortage at the moment, so talent acquisition and retention is definitely a challenge in today’s market! Finding and keeping skilled employees is often a significant challenge. Competing for talent in a competitive market while ensuring that Irwin’s can retain its top talent is crucial. We are lucky to have developed an award winning Apprenticeship programme which is really delivering great young and emerging engineers for us. Apprentices often transition into full-time employees upon completion of their apprenticeships, bringing fresh perspectives and a strong work ethic to our team.
  • I think another major challenge is ensuring you are always complying with the ever-changing employment legislation. We must stay up-to-date with employment law which varies constantly and ensure we comply to these laws while also implementing our own internal policies. I think that’s why it is important to always be educating yourself and have lifelong learning - whether it’s a Legal Island Employment Law at 11 webinar or the CIPD annual Conference, all learning is learning!

What keeps you going when things get tough?

I always try and be positive and see the best out of a tough situation. I am also lucky to be surrounded with such a great support system in Irwins which means most problems can be talked over and resolved. Also putting things in perspective, I am lucky to have a great support system outside of work through family and friends which supports me.

Who do you most admire in business locally and/or internationally? Why?

There are so many but locally my Managing Director, Keith Stewart, and my Operations Director, Richard Megarity (joint owners of Irwins). They have built such a strong and reputable business within the industry and I can honestly say I am so proud to work here and be under their leadership and direction.

My mum also has her own business – She is the hardest worker I know and my biggest role model in life!

What skills are essential for a top career in HR and will these still be the same in five years’ time?

I think the most important skill is understanding the needs of your business – no one size fits all and every business is different. You must be flexible and adaptable to business needs. Alongside that I would say the ability to show empathy and have strong communication skills. HR is all about people and it always will be so I think empathy and communication will still be a necessity in 5 years time!

How do you unwind after a tough week?

I am very much an outdoors person. I captain Omagh Ladies 1st Hockey Team in the Premier Hockey Division so you will usually find me on the pitch every Saturday with my friends. My boyfriend, Gary, and I are also big into mountain biking, so in the rest of my free time you will find me in my local forest. I also can’t forget lots of walks with my dog Jett!

In your view what is the best thing an organisation can do to motivate staff and drive higher performance?

Put your employees first – recognise that without your employees a highly successful business isn’t attainable. Remember employees are your most valuable resource.

What is the best piece of business advice you have ever been given? 

Don’t take things personally. Often there will be a lot of different characters and voices within business, all with their own priorities. Nothing is personal.

What is your proudest career achievement to date?

I can’t pick one. It is between securing my role as HR Manager within Irwins in 2021 or being shortlisted for the CIPD Rising Star Award in 2023. Both I am incredibly proud of, however I hope to continue working hard and have many more proud achievements in my career.

This article is correct at 15/03/2024

The information in this article is provided as part of Legal-Island's Employment Law Hub. We regret we are not able to respond to requests for specific legal or HR queries and recommend that professional advice is obtained before relying on information supplied anywhere within this article.

Laura White

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