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Alumni

Graham Atkinson

Career Path: Managing Director, Atkinson HR Consulting
Location: Whaley Bridge, UK

I have 15 years of experience as a senior leader, and now a consultant, in the field of strategic HR management. For the last two years I have ran Atkinson HR Consulting, which is a small consultancy business. On top of this, I worked over 5-years as The Director of People, Governance and Performance at the National Union of Students, as well as 7-years as The Director of Membership Services and HR at Northumbria Students’ Union.

My early career focused on volunteer management, training and development within the voluntary sector. I enjoyed the opportunity to work closely with people and facilitating opportunities for others to develop and learn. Having progressed to a senior manager role relatively early in my career, I was fortunate to have the opportunity to broaden my expertise to include more formal HR management. Having worked in these two senior HR roles for 12-years, I then decided to fulfil a long-term ambition by setting up a small business, Atkinson HR Consulting, in 2017. The business has gone from strength to strength over the first two and a half years, and we were very privileged in 2019 to be recognised by the CIPD as the HR / L&D Consultancy of the Year.

What are you doing now?Graham Atkinson

I'm currently the Managing Director and Lead Consultant for Atkinson HR Consulting, a small UK-wide business. We exist to create change and build capacity. We also drive quality people management, performance and leadership in values-driven organisations across the UK. We work predominantly (though not exclusively) with small- to medium-sized charities and our clients have included the Scouts and Community Transport Association UK as well as a number of Universities and Students' Unions. Our work ranges from providing ongoing HR support, advice and project work for clients, as well as working on specific areas of people management such like recruitment, induction, training etc. We love the work that we do and are passionate about the voluntary sector and the positive change it can, and does create.

What was it about Northumbria that made you decide to study here?

At the time, I was already working within the Students' Union at Northumbria University. The Business School had a strong reputation and I knew that the quality and focus of the course would be excellent. The facilities, learning approach and great teaching staff helped make the decision about where to study easy.

What was it like studying at Northumbria?

There was a great blend of learning during my Masters at Northumbria. Studying part-time involved weekly evening lectures / seminars as well as lots of reading. Some of the assessments included project work and team presentations. These provided a great opportunity to meet, and work collaboratively with, other colleagues and peers on the course. We also had a two day residential alongside other Masters courses to help build our breadth of understanding around leadership and business development.

How connected was your course with industry?

The course was extremely well connected to the HR profession. Content was balanced between theory and practice. The teaching staff were always mindful to help us relate our learning to everyday practice. Having the opportunity to learn, whilst trying out ideas in a new senior HR role, was invaluable.

What was the best thing about your course?

The best thing about the course was the combination of critical thinking and challenge to pre-existing ideas and ways of working, but always grounded in the realities of day-to-day practice. It was also great to meet, and connect with, talented HR professionals from other organisations and sectors.

How did studying at Northumbria help you achieve your career goals/ give your career an edge?

I feel that the Masters at Northumbria helped me with the critical thinking and pragmatic tools to develop my HR career, as well as the confidence to ultimately set up a HR business. I'm very grateful for the role that studying at Northumbria played in both my learning and career development. 

Which skills/knowledge did you learn on your course that you use most now throughout your career?

First and foremost the tools and confidence to think critically about existing HR practices and to be able to challenge other professionals' theory's. It also gave me some really practical tools and techniques that I could apply and test within my own work context at the time.

What did you enjoy most about your time at Northumbria University?

The thing I enjoyed most was studying and learning, in a great environment with inspiring teaching staff, alongside bright and talented students.

What advice would you give somebody who is considering studying at Northumbria? 

My advice to somebody considering studying at Northumbria would be to embrace the opportunity. Part-time study, in particular, can be really challenging to juggle alongside a full-time job. But throw everything into it and take advantage of any chance to apply new ideas and skills into your everyday work and life.

How would you describe your time at Northumbria in three words?

Fun, challenging, game-changing

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