Melissa Briones: “Going to school in Canada works. It opens doors.”

Published On: August 10, 2021

Photo of Melissa Briones

What are our alumni saying about their experiences? Our team had the pleasure of connecting with Melissa Briones, a proud graduate of our Human Resources Management Diploma program. She shares some fascinating insights on how the industry has changed over the past eight years and she has crafted a remarkable career for herself, combining her legal expertise with human resources education. 

Could you tell us about your educational and career background and what brought you to Ashton college?  

I was a lawyer in my home country, for a broadcasting and entertainment network. I had just immigrated to Canada with my family. I had about seven-plus years of legal experience and four-plus years of legal education. But since I had no Canadian experience or education, no one would hire me. I was networking with some alumni from my university, and they told me about Ashton College. At that time, there was the Lillian To scholarship. I was encouraged to apply, and I was successful. I became one of the recipients. I had the choice between human resources and immigration consultancy, but I chose human resources. 

How was your experience trying to navigate the job market without a Canadian credential? 

It was very challenging for me because I did not understand why. I guess it was the norm. They really look for Canadian experience. I decided there are no shortcuts. I have to do it the right way. I have to do it the good way. When I did it, I was on my way to becoming what I am today. 

Can you reflect on your experiences in the human resources management diploma program? Did you have any favourite instructors or key learning moments? 

My experience was eight years ago. But I remember Ted McNicol, he was my teacher for about four to five courses. Ted was very competent, he was very hands-on, it was very helpful. He emphasized that we have to make people the number one focus. So he was the one who told me that and that was, I think, a gem. Even after the course, I consulted with him on a couple of HR issues. And he was very accommodating. He gave me good advice. He’s a great teacher. And it made for a great experience. So, I was very thankful to him and Ashton College. 

Was there anything that really surprised you about the experience anything unexpected with the learning? 

It was the first time for me to take an online class. We were pretty new at that time. I think the class was about the class was at 4:30 pm. I was still at work. trying to hide while listening to my lectures, and at times, I had to do it at home and I had a three-year-old baby. It was very difficult to juggle work and studies and family. And because there were some nights that we had some glitches, too, but I’m sure that it’s better now. The concepts that we discussed are also new to me. I had to get used to HR speak. I had classmates from all over Canada, they had different backgrounds and experiences. And some of them had experience in HR. They provided a different perspective. The concepts, the delivery of the courses were new to me. They were challenging. It was challenging, but it made everything very interesting. 

How has your career progressed since your time at Ashton college? 

After graduation, I was interviewed for an HR manager role. And I got the role. I was very thankful for that. What otherwise would not have been available to me became available, so that door was open. And it meant in no uncertain terms that going to school in Canada works that it opens doors, so I became an HR manager. Because of my legal background, I also became a legal officer of the company. I then pursued my law accreditation. I am now a registered lawyer, licensed to practice law in the province of British Columbia. There are only a few lawyers [who are also human resources professionals], and I feel quite privileged to be a part of this group. Ashton College made this possible for me. I’m very thankful for that. 

What do you love the most about your job? Or about human resources?  

It is the ability to look at it from a different perspective. When you have the HR perspective, your perspective is how the other person feels, bringing your depth of understanding to both situations. I represent the company and at the same time, I represent the employees. I’m in the middle and having a balance of both of that and trying to understand and trying to go for a win-win situation is hard. That’s how I handle my legal practice. It is the same way it’s not just the law. Sometimes the law can be hard. But when you have experience with people and know how to work with them in the most humane and understanding way possible, then you get better results. This training has certainly been beneficial to me. 

Did the program also help to improve your confidence in the workplace? 

Absolutely. The concepts were made clear to me. I was taught to provide guidance and solutions to the work that was necessary to ensure that the company runs efficiently and that our employees are rewarded in the way they deserve. When employees are right, and when they’re made number one, then the company also benefit from that 

How has the industry changed for you since graduated from Ashton College eight years ago? What sort of trends or shifts have you noticed? 

There has been a lot of changes, I think that HR now has a place on the table. A lot of companies are listening to HR managers and to their HR personnel as to how they want the company run. There’s more engagement, there’s more openness on the part of management to listen to HR. That’s a good thing. In terms of trends, I think it’s the same that HR is still irrelevant. I was thinking because of the pandemic, the HR department would be well relegated to a to our less, less frontline role, but I think not because a lot of issues have cropped up, you know, we have to arrange with employees as to how they would be working from home. What about COVID? policies? How are we going to shape that and I think it became even more relevant because of what has happened. There is a lot of change because the business is composed of people. It can only be successful if the people are successful. We have to find a way to give back something that benefits both parties. 

What are you reading these days for pleasure or for educational purposes? 

I personally like historical fiction, I read the novels of Clara Vine. She talks about the Nazi occupation, and it’s been fun, and sometimes bordering on dreams. So that’s very interesting. And then the most recent ones that I like, that I’ve read is the Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. And the Wise Man’s Fear, but lately, last night, I was just reading Iron Rand atlas shrugged. It’s an 1800s book. It’s a work of fiction, but it’s philosophical fiction. I like it. I don’t like nonfiction books. I think we learn through stories. The stories that we read, and the story that we tell, that’s really what makes us different from other species.  

What advice would offer to someone who is considering taking our human resources management diploma program? 

Dive deep. When you get into it, just put your heart and your soul into it. It is a very interesting program to study, and it is very rewarding too. You can apply the learning in many areas of your work and your life. It’s not just human resources, it’s psychology, it’s finance, it’s total rewards. You learn business too. With HR, you get the feel of the people, you get to participate and shape the future of the company, the future of employees. It’s very rewarding. 

Do you have any final thoughts to share? 

I think HR is evolving, so learn as much as you can. If in doubt, reach out to your teachers. Reach out to people who may know more than you. Participate in mentorship, and mentorship programs. If you already know where to go, go the whole way, and while you’re doing it, just learn as much as you can. And enjoy the process.

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