Careers & Education

Fearless: Engineer makes leap to HR

BY PETRE WILLIAMS-RAYNOR Career & Education editor williamsp@jamaicaobserver.com

Sunday, September 16, 2012    

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FROM structural engineer to project manager and now, human resources director, Andrea Chung has made changing careers look easy.

And to her it is. Change, she says simply, provides the opportunity for growth, which she never turns her back on. The fact that she loves a challenge has also never failed to lure her into a new occupation.

“I think I have a love for new challenges, which gave me the drive and enthusiasm to jump right in,” she told Career & Education.

For her new position as Digicel’s human resources director, preparation also played a role.

“What really helped me to transition smoothly into this role is a number of courses that I was able to complete overseas before starting the job,” Chung said. “They covered employment law, recruitment and selection, compensation and benefits, performance management and employee development.”

“I also have great support from my team who are very competent in their individual areas, and the support of a talented team just makes it so much easier,” she added.

Chung, up to recently, worked as project manager for the telecoms giant’s Project RED.

“The challenge of working on an exciting project in a fast-paced environment pulled me in. Project management is something that I studied after completing my engineering degree. It’s a qualification that makes you very versatile, able to work on different projects in multiple industries, and I really enjoy that,” said the married mother of three, who holds a Master of Science in structural engineering from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a bachelor’s degree in civil and environmental engineering from Georgia Tech in Atlanta.

The position — which saw her focused on redefining efficiencies in Digicel while reporting to the chief executive officer and working “cross-functionally with a range of departments” — she said, helped to smooth her transition into HR.

“A big part of my role was to design development opportunities for the Project RED team members, and so there were a lot of training and coaching opportunities. It was great to watch how the team gelled and grew over the course of the project. Overall, I felt  really honoured to have led the team and they were just an absolute pleasure to work with,” Chung said, who had earlier worked in the United States as a structural engineer and then with the Ministry of Water and Housing in Jamaica as director of technical services.

She has, too, worked with GraceKennedy Money Services as assistant vice-president of strategic planning and corporate development and is owner of the Kingston bookstore, Bookophilia.

At the same time, her work with Project RED brought her satisfaction.

“I have to say that the role was very rewarding to me because of how impactful it was; it was all about future-proofing our business to help us remain successful and efficient for years to come, and the team saved the company millions by implementing their own creative solutions to business issues,” said Chung.

“I really loved it. Firstly, telecoms is an exciting industry and Digicel is very customer-focused. Working at Digicel with over two million customers, I felt very connected to everyone in Jamaica. The second reason that I enjoyed it was the project team, which comprised 55 persons from across the business. The passion and the spirit of teamwork that existed in every person on this project was unimaginable — and  they know how to have fun,” she added.

When her work with Project RED came to an end after a year, she jumped at the chance to enter HR.

“Project RED was designed as a one-year project and the HR position came up just as it ended. Leading the HR team gives me the opportunity to play a key role in continuing to drive improvements in the quality of life for so many people,” Chung said. “My role is improving morale, changing culture, streamlining our internal processes. It’s a very exciting area, with a lot of opportunities for me, personally, to also grow and learn, which is critical in every career move. You have to keep learning,” she added.

She and her team of 18 have responsibility for more than 1,000 staff members, “making sure that they are engaged, that they have great learning and development opportunities and that they have an extraordinary environment that they can thrive in and reach their full potential”.

“The biggest task right now is the downtown relocation, where we have to move everyone to our new building which is located right on the waterfront,” Chung noted.

After just about eight months in her new role, she is happy to report that things are going well.

“It’s a happy, fun team to work with. I found out that HR people are a little bit crazy, but in a good way. We developed a new vision for HR together, and we are working steadily to create the necessary changes in the organisation and to build and strengthen the things that are working,” Chung said.

“The staff members really support the vision and goal of the business. Together, every day we are working to create an extraordinary work environment in which people can achieve excellence,” she added.

According to Chung, she brings to the position a commitment to always giving 100 per cent in any of             her pursuits.

“I [also] consider myself a team player, with an all-inclusive focus on my staff. I find that this approach gives me the opportunity to draw from many parts of the business,” she said.

With the new career move, however, she has had to make a few sacrifices.

“I had to sacrifice time; of course, with any new level of responsibility there are more demands on your time. So now I get up a little earlier in the morning, but I still manage to make time for the important stuff — family and friends and my business,” Chung said.

She advises others pondering the leap of faith into another career to, “Go for it!”.

“Your education teaches you to think, it doesn’t limit you to one field or another. The skills that you acquire and the lessons that you learn along the way make you unique and allow you to bring something special to that next challenge,” she said.

Quizzed as to what is next for her, Chung quipped “Who knows?”

“I have never sat down and planned out my career path. I just make sure that I am having fun every day, do the best I can at my job and stay in a positive frame of mind so that I am able to see and seize whatever opportunities the universe brings across my path,” she said.

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