Lisa Isaac has a favourite saying—or at least one she’s quick to use when explaining the value of the services she provides as a human resources consultant.
“We’re cheaper than a lawyer,” says Isaac, who owns and runs her eponymous Lisa Isaac HR Professional Services from a base in Sarnia-Lambton.
But Isaac, who includes in her target market First Nation clients, at least partly the result of her being a member of the Pottawatomi of Moose Deer Point, located south of Parry Sound, is originally from Goderich, finishing high school in Clinton before moving to Ottawa to attend Ottawa University.
Earning a degree in political science, Isaac also took French and Mandarin, hoping to eventually get a job representing Canada on the international stage.
Sadly, when Isaac graduated in 2008, those kinds of jobs were simply not to be found.
What she did do was head out of town, first to Iqaluit in Canada’s north, where she spent six months (“meeting some really great people”), then Calgary, where she picked up a job working for a bank.
Her work there was largely risk management—the kind of job, as she explained, that included dealing with issues like someone putting an empty envelope in the bank machine slot.
“I decided after some time that wasn’t going to work for me,” said Isaac.
Then she saw a bus advertisement that spoke to her. “It said ‘learn while you earn” and that definitely caught my eye.”
It was a message from the University of Lethbridge, which had a satellite campus in Calgary and was offering a “nights and weekends” course in human resources management.
“I had a bit of an epiphany there because what I had been doing through various resource groups at the bank was volunteering all along and now someone would pay me to do HR if I had the training.”
In two and a half years, Isaac earned a bachelor of management in HR, the result of the school gearing its program to those who wanted an accelerated learning experience.
At this point, Isaac yearned for the lakes of Ontario that she had grown up around. With her bank employer helping with a move to London, she took on an estate services role, where she dealt with all the various duties required to help families that had lost a loved one.
But she also continued to apply for HR-related jobs and in September 2013 found just what she was looking for in Sarnia-Lambton, a paid internship position at Shell Canada’s Sarnia Manufacturing Site that turned into an HR advisor role focused on growing the company’s diversity and inclusion agenda, as well as partnering with local education and First Nations communities.
That job, however, had a somewhat limited shelf life; Shell announced plans to outsource Isaac’s role to a team based in the Philippines.
Even so, Isaac is grateful that she had the advance notice and decided to make the most of the experience, developing a plan to keep her career moving when the job with Shell came to its inevitable end.
She continued to coach and help develop that offshore resource through what turned out to be just over five years with the company.
Initially, she had thought about getting another job, perhaps with an HR firm and building up even more experience along the way,
But something interesting happened: Isaac kept being asked advice directly from contacts she’d acquired over the years. And she had the answers.
“I didn’t necessarily intend to start the business but thought I’d try it out and see if it could be something sustainable.”
The result was what Isaac calls “overwhelming.”
“You would have thought that most businesses would already have an HR department but that’s not the case,” she says. “My target turned out to be companies with between 10 and 200 employees.”
Isaac will tell you that she’s seen companies with 200 employees that don’t have an HR department and haven’t run into any problems.
But who wants to take the chance that will continue?
With legislation that’s constantly changing and evolving, Isaac provides a degree of certainty (and certainly the expertise she’s gained in both formal and informal settings), that the advice and direction she brings to the table will mitigate those concerns.
She also has a key pieces of advice to anyone who wants to avoid future problems in a workplace.
“When things are going well, make sure your policies are written down. It’s much easier to deal with them then rather than wait until things go off the rails.”
For Isaac, growth is very much in her sights.
She’s already hired additional staff and has plans for more hiring in the very near future.
“it’s something that’s definitely scalable,” she says. “I plan to hire people that I’d like to work with and there is lots of talent in Lambton County, especially people who have a business degree and a two-year HR diploma, a second career program with lots of experience in other fields.”
Perhaps best of all, Isaac is prepared to do all this with a sense of expectation and joy.
“For me, it’s about seeing people who are passionate about their business, not because they necessarily like managing people, but they like seeing the positive results of well-managed people. I bring that to the table.”
This article originally appeared in the September/October issue of Lambton Shield magazine.