Mastering Fact-Finding and Investigation: Post-Program Perspectives

Alison Hill, Queen's IRC Research Associate
Labour Relations

In 2009, the IRC conducted a survey of LR professionals to glean their insights on the level of skills, knowledge, and abilities required for the profession. The survey also explored the amount of time LR professionals were spending on certain LR tasks. Based on this research, led by Anne Grant and Stephanie Noel, the IRC determined that Mastering Fact-Finding and Investigation is a critical skill that LR professionals must hone. Accordingly, earlier this year, the IRC launched its inaugural Mastering Fact-Finding and Investigation program. The program is part of the IRC’s new Advanced Labour Relations certificate, which builds on the skills and knowledge acquired in the Labour Relations certificate series. The Advanced Labour Relations certificate includes three programs: Mastering Fact-Finding and Investigation (launched in April 2011), Strategic Grievance Handling (launching in May 2012), and Optimizing the Labour-Management Relationship: Leadership Skills for LR professionals (launching in 2013).

I recently spoke with two participants from the April 2011 Mastering Fact-Finding and Investigation program. During our conversations, the participants were asked to reflect on their IRC experience and provide their honest feedback on the program, including not only the positive aspects of the program, but the ways in which the IRC can improve the program moving forward. This article provides a summary of my conversations with Larry Sparks and Lori Aselstine.

Mr. Larry Sparks is an HR Manager with Omya Canada Inc. In his role, Mr. Sparks is responsible for investigating grievances and employee complaints. The Mastering Fact-Finding and Investigation program was relevant for Mr. Sparks because it gave him a guide for the fact-finding process. In particular, he came away from the IRC’s programming with a grievance model and the ability to ensure that “all parties are more comfortable with investigation reports.” The program exceeded his expectations, balancing theoretical knowledge with a practical, adaptable model that easily translated to his workplace and the work he is doing.

Mr. Sparks commented on the importance of networking during the program. Throughout the program, Mr. Sparks had the opportunity to dialogue with peers, and talk about organizational issues. As a result of the conversations he had with program participants, he realized the extent to which the problems and scenarios he is faced with are similar to those experienced by his colleagues. Informal learning was a helpful component of the program. Mr. Sparks referred to the IRC’s program as, “good value for your money.” He heard from senior subject matter experts and learned from their expertise. “The quality of the instructors is important to the success of the program,” said Mr. Sparks.

Ms. Lori Aselstine is currently the Director of Strategic HR with the Ministries of Health and Long-Term Care and Health Promotion and Sport in the Ontario Public Service (OPS). This is a new role for her; when she engaged in the IRC’s program she was the Director of the Centre for Employee Relations for the OPS. She chose to participate in the IRC’s programming because it targeted the work she was responsible for managing. Her employees were intimately involved in fact-finding investigations and she provided advice and guidance to employees in these roles. Ms. Aselstine attended the program with the goal of evaluating its relevancy and applicability for the public service. That is, to determine if her staff and colleagues should register in the program, or if her organization should develop a custom Mastering Fact-Finding and Investigation program.

While Ms. Aselstine’s role has since changed, she remains involved with ensuring that people in the public service have the right kinds of skills and knowledge regarding fact-finding and investigation to facilitate their day-to-day work. In her 31 years of experience in the LR field, Ms. Aselstine has participated in hundreds of investigations. The IRC’s programming, however, was a chance for her to learn more about the preparation and organization of an investigation, and improve her skills in questioning witnesses.

Ms. Aselstine praised the IRC program for its hands-on learning opportunities. “The program has a good mix of lectures and practical exercises. This kind of experiential learning provides a chance to apply the skills and knowledge that are being taught in the program,”

Based on her IRC experience, Ms. Aselstine walked away from the program thinking “how can I bring this training in-house to the public service?” A custom program would allow the material to be directly targeted to human resources, labour relations and occupational health & safety specialists and others responsible for managing investigations. Ms. Aselstine realizes that Mastering Fact-Finding and Investigation is “so important for us in a workplace of 60,000 people that is 80% unionized. The program would provide one more tool to facilitate investigations.”

In closing, the IRC is grateful to Larry Sparks and Lori Aselstine for their participation in this initiative. Post-program conversations with participants are a component of our program evaluation strategy, allowing our participants to reflect on their learning and provide us with their critical feedback on our programs.

The IRC promotes its programs as an opportunity to “Learn. Apply. Transform.” We perceive the feedback received from participants as an opportunity for the IRC to learn, apply, and transform. Speaking with participants enables us to learn more about the professional development needs of our client community, reflect on and apply the insights we glean to improve our programming, thereby transforming our programs to better meet the needs of our participants and their sponsor organizations. Suggestions for improving the IRC’s Mastering Fact-Finding and Investigation program included spending more time on role-playing and report writing, through group work and practical exercises. The IRC strives to create an experiential learning experience for our participants. This feedback underscores the perceived value of the hands-on, practical learning that we offer.

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