Lynn chats with candidate Paula O’Connell of Sensata Technologies

For many of our students, their HR and L&D journey begins long before we meet them. But their CIPD qualifications play a fundamental role in shaping their careers and professional lives. Lynn Carson caught up with Paula O’Connell, Learning and Development Specialist at Sensata, to see how her CIPD qualifications have impacted her career.


Lynn Carson: What is your current role and what are your main HR and L&D responsibilities?

Paula O’Connell: I am one of two Learning and Development Specialists at Sensata, here in Northern Ireland, reporting into the Learning and Development Manager. I am part of the Talent Management Team where I have a project-focused and target-driven role. I take care of a number of different customers across Europe, predominantly in the Manufacturing space.


I also manage, coordinate and deliver the Graduate Development Training Programme and Management and Leadership modules. I work in partnership with local universities and colleges to deliver a number of different programmes and initiatives such as the Apprenticeship Programme.


Lynn: How did you get into HR & L&D and what made you decide to undertake a CIPD qualification programme?

Paula: I started a degree in History with English, and I enjoyed it - I’ve always loved to read. But at the back of my mind, I’d always wondered about accountancy. After successfully completing the first year of my History with English degree, I spoke to the faculty about changing my course. Unfortunately the accountancy course was full but they suggested The Human Resource Management Degree Programme, as it had several financial modules within it and linked well with my background in English. I decided to give it a try and I loved it - and have loved it ever since.


As part of the degree, I had to complete a placement year and I secured the role of Training Co-coordinator at Sensata and worked in the same team I’m working with now. I got the opportunity in my placement year of being part of a number of project teams, one of which saw me travel to Sensata’s manufacturing facility in the United States. I also got the opportunity to complete an Institute of Leadership and Management level 3 certificate qualification. I was exposed to so many different elements of Learning and Development that I just fell in love with it!


Lynn: What attracted you to DMS as a CIPD centre?

Paula: My Manager has completed a number of different programs with DMS. My degree was steering students towards CIPD qualifications and when my manager suggested I continued towards achieving the status, it was a natural progression. I started my journey with DMS by completing a number of small modules. I just loved the feel of the company and the support they offered. It’s such a friendly organisation. It makes you want to come back and Lynn and the team are with you all the way!


Lynn: What skills did you acquire and develop throughout your studies?

Paula: I’ve completed a number of coaching and mentoring modules through DMS. Internally with Sensata, I’ve now achieved an ILM Level 5 Certificate in Leadership and Development and an ILM Level 5 Certificate Coaching and Mentoring. I’m now a company mentor, supporting graduates over a 12 month period to help them work on their personal development plan.


My studies with DMS and the internal courses at Sensata have helped me deliver on my goals and have increased my confidence in my job. Modules in motivation, leadership and management and engagement have been especially useful. And I think, in particular, the information and research DMS has provided has made me a confident and capable trainer.


Lynn: What did you learn about yourself by completing your qualification?

Paula: I have learnt that I have very little patience! One of my most transformative lessons has been in time management and prioritising. The way yourself Lynn, and DMS, set up the programme and deadlines helped with this.


I was also exposed to a lot of others on the programme. Benchmarking is important in HR, and DMS ensure it’s a big part of the learning process. They encourage networking and to get to know each other. I’ve learned much from my peers and been exposed to many different things.


Lynn: Are you planning to enroll on any other CIPD qualification programmes in the future?

Paula: I’ve just enrolled for an Advanced Diploma in Human Resources Development. I choose this because I’ve noticed a movement within the industry to professionalise the L&D role. It feels like the natural progression for my career.


Lynn: What advice would you give to someone considering embarking upon a CIPD qualification programme?

Paula: Do it! It will be one of the most useful qualifications you achieve, not just from a material viewpoint, but because of the connections you will make. There is a lot of work involved but if you are disciplined and ask questions you will get through the course, no problem.


Lynn: How is the role of HR/L&D changing in the workplace?

Paula: Today, there are many different disciplines within HR. There are business partners, L&D specialists and talent acquisition specialists for example. For HR professionals, it’s important to maintain knowledge across these multiple disciplines. At Sensata, we ensure we share knowledge and work together wherever possible to keep our skills alive, even if we’re a specialist in one particular area. For employers, it will be interesting to see if they will find individuals who have been exposed to all these areas in the future.


Lynn: What do you envisage to be the greatest challenges/opportunities for HR/L&D professionals in the coming years? How are you approaching them?

Paula: The greatest challenge will be in developing opportunities with the use of technology. We have an online learning management system here at Sensata that helps to deliver training and development. It’s fantastic but ensuring all learning styles are engaged is challenging.


We’ve instigated got to people within the organisation, who would be familiar with certain aspects of the system, who can then coach people to help them use it appropriately. And with a global team, we ensure we remain connected, exposing each other to the challenges and opportunities we meet. We can see that, once everyone’s up to speed with this new technology, it will open doors for us and improve efficiency and effectiveness.


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