Catherine is an experienced BC & Resilience and HR professional in Australia. Apart from managing the Continuity and Resilience Program of the University of New South Wales (UNSW), she also teaches a range of courses in management, HR Management, and Professional Skills & Ethics in the UNSW Business School of the university. She has a strong background in financial services and has completed her Master’s degree in Commerce in Organization and Management and Bachelor’s degree in History.

With her extensive academic and professional qualifications, she holds directorship positions for River City Voices and The Business Continuity Institute (APAC). She has also been given a business continuity award in 2020 by the Australian Women in Security Network for her significant work in managing the COVID-19 pandemic for the UNSW. She has contributed to various forums in the industry and has authored chapters to Managing Employee Performance and Reward (2016). She also has a forthcoming journal article on the importance of soft skills in a business continuity and resilience program.

1. Prior to your role as Business Continuity and Resilience Lead in the University of New South Wales, you were involved in the BCM programme of an international financial institution. Shifting from financial to education sector, how different are the challenges in managing Business Continuity in 2 different industries? Are there any similarities?

There are many different challenges – financial services is relatively linear, and many of the critical processes are focused on services, regulatory requirements, and people. In a university, the critical processes are more diverse, anything from cold storage, animal welfare, childcare, residential students, people undertaking off campus endorsed activities (fieldwork, research, exchange), dangerous or regulated chemicals or drug, as well as the usual critical processes with reliance on systems, infrastructure, power and so forth. Teaching is not the same as when we attended university either!

But the more difficult challenges are the stakeholders, and culture and crisis approach. There isn’t necessarily the same regulatory drivers, everyone wants to have an input and there is less command and control. The fundamentals are the same: you need good information, to keep people aware and informed, and to have user friendly business continuity plans. If you can build trust and influence people, you can get your job done.

2. The education sector has suffered a lot during this pandemic. From your experience in managing COVID-19 in UNSW, what do you think are the ways to recover learning losses among students, including those in the primary and secondary levels (grade school and high school)?

I would argue that there have been learning gains, actually. Firstly, there are now options to teach courses that were previously considered only possible in person remotely, using fantastic innovations. What has been challenging is the burnout of staff who have had to respond promptly, do a huge amount of re-work and innovate all while managing normal teaching load, and often without fantastic online skills.

In terms of primary and high school, there are two components. Reflective, independent, and introverted learners, or those that don’t work as well in a traditional classroom, have thrived. Their gains have increased. Those that thrive on in person collaboration or structure, have had losses. There are also inequities in access to internet and proper tools. At UNSW, we were aware we had students using mobile phones to access all their courses, globally. In Australian schools, there is a clear divide between those households that can afford quality internet access and multiple devices and those that cannot. In this regard, schools are focused on catching up on the basics. At a University level, there is additional work where some of the technical skills (e.g. lab work) need to be supplemented to ensure graduates have the right competencies to go into the workforce.

There is also very mixed experience in the tertiary education sector. Some universities held up international student numbers, some did not.

3. In the BCI World Horizons 2021, you have tackled the application of soft skills in business continuity and resilience. Would you like to share some key takeaways from your presentation?

  • Soft skills are those required for future jobs – technical skills will be assumed or can be easily learned.
  • Leaders will need to be capable in these more difficult, softer skills.
  • Holistic approaches are needed – it is not enough to know how to implement risk or continuity programs. You need to understand the strategy, organization culture and so forth.

4. Now that we are in the 4th industrial revolution, wherein we are witnessing the merging of boundaries among physical, digital, and biological worlds through AI, robotics, internet of things, among others; how do you think soft skills will evolve in the future of work? And in the future of business continuity and resilience?

Being able to analyse large amounts of information, convey that effectively and be ethical and sustainable will become key to leadership in the future of work. It doesn’t matter what your role is, you will need to demonstrate these skills across a range of areas in your organization. Understanding one silo is insufficient.

5. Having a background in Human Resources, how significant do you think HR management is in planning and running a business continuity programme?

Actually, what is key is understanding people – how they make decisions, how they react or engage, how to encourage or influence, and how to effect change or culture. This is not the domain of HR. This is the domain of good management and leadership. My experience is equally informed by my undergraduate history degree, where I had to understand people in particular contexts, and through an historic lens, as it is by my work in human resources and organization management and strategy.

6. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we have seen many organizations, including UNSW, prioritized their people’s well-being. What else can organizations consider in order to head towards people-first approach to business continuity?

The war for talent is real, and while it ebbs and flows related to economic changes, fundamentally there are insufficient people for the work of the future. When I teach students, it is clear that their expectations have changed, and they will have the capability of demanding people focused companies. We can already start to see it with the ‘great resignation’. If you don’t bring people along the business continuity journey, you will not be able to achieve the program aims.

7. Any advice to professionals who are building a career in Business Continuity and Resilience industry?

I would encourage people who want to build a career in continuity and resilience to develop a broad understanding of organization culture and strategy, develop their soft skills and to network! It’s also worthwhile understanding that multiple sectors can develop the breadth of your role, and that opportunities in continuity can come in many forms. My career has not been linear, and that will be strength for many business continuity roles. If you focus too much on strict process or form, you will not win people over.

Author: Lucil Aguada

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