The Master's of Industrial Relations (MIR) Alumni Conference 2008: State of the Practice Seminar Series recently gave MIR students a chance to "mix and mingle" with alumni graduates and experts who are now working in the field. Those attending the conference, held at the Donald Gordon Conference Centre May 1-2, heard from experts who spoke on industrial relations, labour relations and human resource management.
"Queen's faculty and staff have a history of being on the leading edge of research in our field in human resources and industrial relations, and also in helping develop policies," said organizer Jason Copping, Senior Account Manager with the Canadian Coal Canadian Pacific, who chaired the session on current research from MIR faculty.
A special highlight was an early-morning visit from Federal Cabinet Minister Monte Solberg of Human Resources and Social Development Canada, who was, according to organizers, "quite excited" to speak at the conference and managed to fit in a special trip to Kingston into his busy schedule. "I appreciate this opportunity to meet with your members who play a key role in Canada's business world," said Minister Solberg, who gave an update on the opportunities and challenges of Canada's labour market.
"Monte Solberg believes that our alumni make a difference in the working lives of Canadians and that is why he made such a tremendous effort to attend," said Jennifer Dee, MIR Program Co-ordinator, in a separate interview with the School of Graduate Studies and Research. "He is also someone who is willing to listen to those who are involved on the front lines of human resources and labour relations and give their thoughts reflection."
The conference was organized by the School of Policy Studies and a committee of alumni. Approximately 85 people attended the conference, including about 40 alumni, speakers and faculty, and friends of the MIR program. "The conference was a great success," said Dee. "This was entirely driven by the MIR alumni and is built on their desire to reconnect with Queen's and the MIR faculty on an ongoing basis. Each of the speakers donated their time because of the relationships they have with our alumni. We work hard as a small program and have managed to develop alumni with very significant labour-relations and human-resources portfolios."
"The conference is special because it's designed to talk about ideas that aren't mainstream yet-to talk about the thinking that, in five years everyone will be talking about, but right now only a few people are working on," said organizer and Queen's MIR alumnus Peter Edwards, Vice-President for Human Resources for CN Rail, who also spoke in a separate interview with the School of Graduate Studies and Research. "You're not going to find this at a mainstream conference of 1,000 people. It's the way we design it. It also gives students an opportunity to talk to other MIRs. Every conceivable problem of human resources and labour relations is discussed," he said.
One of the unique things about the conference was the vast array of experts Queen's was able to draw in to speak. Speakers had expertise in areas ranging from labour economics to industrial organizational psychology and human resource management, and expertise on topics such as the jobs of state troopers post-911, recruitment issues for new cadets in the U.S. Marine Core post-911, prison guards in the state of Georgia, tourism and front-line workers, and experts in union organizing in Canada.
Minister Solberg, the keynote speaker for the conference, is also on the Cabinet Committee for economic growth and prosperity, a focus of which is the sustainability of Canada's economy and the strength of Canada's labour force. "We all talk about the massive turnover we will see in the next few years," Edwards commented in an interview leading up to the Minister's session. "The MIR candidates we spoke to were extremely excited to hear that about half of the current labour force will be retiring in the next few years, so there are incredible job opportunities in range now."
Queen's MIR program unique in Canada
The MIR program at Queen's is a "niche program that serves a very important constituency in Canada," said Arthur Sweetman, director of the School of Policy Studies. "The Queen's MIR program is one of the few in Canada and it's been running very successfully for a very long time. Queen's has a very long and established tradition in this field and it has a large success." There are now discussions about expanding the MIR program in the school, said Professor Sweetman. "We're starting to think very carefully about how Queen's provides service to the industrial relations/labour relations/human resource community in Canada over the next few decades."
Graduates of the MIR program work as human resource professionals, mediators, negotiators, labour relations executives and policy specialists with major corporations, large government agencies, small, dynamic firms and union organizations across Canada and elsewhere.
For more information about the Queen's MIR program (or the Master of Public Administration and joint degree offering with the Faculty of Law), visit www.queensu.ca/sps.