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DCE Magazine

Alumni Spotlight: Elevating the Role of the HR Professional

Winter 2020

Gabe Contreras amplified his position at UCI by taking an innovative DCE program.

Along with the rest of the business world, the role of the Human Resources professional is rapidly evolving, whether within the worlds of finance, healthcare or academia. No matter how proficient or experienced, HR pros need to stay up to speed with this changing landscape.

That's why the Division of Continuing Education launched an in-house program for UCI HR employees – the Human Resources Business Partner Specialized Studies – designed to elevate and expand their roles within the university.

Why not use world-class university resources to educate university employees right on campus? The program was a revelation for Gabriel Contreras, an experienced HR professional who worked at UC Berkeley before coming to Irvine five years ago.

“The HRBP program offers a great variety of content as it relates to not only HR, but business in general. I especially loved the content relating to data and metrics,” said Contreras, now an HR Business Partner within the UCI Health Sciences department. “I love working with numbers and that was a big part of the curriculum.”

The good news is that you don't have to be a UCI employee to take this innovative program. It's now offered in a new online format available to the public. The HRBP Specialized Studies – which can be completed in as few as nine months – is designed to amplify an HR employee's role within their organization and help them stay current with best practices.

Addressing the expanding role of today's HR professional, the program provides the tools to assume more of a leadership role, while expertly managing the HR department. The courses are taught by top professionals from several diverse industries, covering areas such as metrics and analytics, organizational design and development, and more.

Contreras found time to talk about his experience during a busy late-summer schedule. The Anaheim resident gave insight on the program, why he chose to take it and how it has benefited his role at UCI.

You've been working within the UC system for several years. What were you doing before getting into Human Resources?

I started out working as a Recruiter, then later as an HR Generalist for UC Irvine Medical Center. One of the key things I took away from the Human Resources Business Partner program is that it helped expand my proficiency beyond just the ‘UC way,’ and become more aware of HR themes and best practices as an industry overall.

Is that what attracted you to the HRBP program?

Yes, what mainly attracted me was that we were going to gain insights from experts from other organizations, big names like Blizzard, Taco Bell, and more, a variety of industries. And the instructors all have such a wide array of experience, I knew they could add to my HR knowledge, since all of my experience has been within the UC system.

How has the role of HR changed over the years? And how does the program address this?

I feel the role of HR is changing because we are now being viewed as a true business partner to any organization, rather than a place you need to go to when you have your typical HR issue – discipline, termination, and so on. We are viewed as an active player, and the program addresses this by helping our goals align to our strategy, how HR can move the business or organization forward. It places HR at the front end of strategy rather than a reactionary department to the organization.

What sort of approach does the program take?

It offers a great variety of content, not only as it relates to Human Resources but also business strategies in general. And I especially loved the content relating to mining data and interpreting metrics. I'm the type that loves to work with numbers and it was interesting to see how that approach is being used pretty much everywhere now, not just in certain businesses or industries.

Talk a bit about the overall experience. Was it experiential and hands-on?

Well, there was quite a bit of group work involved, which often had us looking at our own operations or roles and how we can apply what we're learning to our current jobs. The capstone project at the end was especially enlightening; we had to come up with an idea that we could use in our department using whatever theme or topic we had learned through the course.

How did the program elevate your proficiency as an HR professional?

It elevated my proficiency overall and it helped me see the big picture and how my role fit into that. The program also made me think more strategically in my approach to certain tasks and projects. It really helped me break down some barriers I had when it came to how I approached my day-to-day role.

How would you characterize the quality of instructors?

They’re fabulous. The instructors have such a wide breadth of experience and truly are an open book when it comes to one-on-one interaction and answering questions. They offered great insights and knowledge.

Would you recommend the program to HR professionals?

Absolutely. I would certainly recommend the program to anyone in the HR field.

Let’s switch gears for a minute. What about your life outside UCI?

What do you like to do in your downtime? My wife and I really enjoy the outdoors, tent camping in particular. We’ve visited five national parks: Yosemite, Sequoia, Grand Canyon, Joshua Tree and Death Valley. Right now, we’re expecting our first child in November and we couldn’t be more excited.