Part-time and Online Education

Ready for anything: Admin. Assistant training leads to career path in human resources

January 30, 2019

Red River College delivers job-ready graduates to employers, and Ronda Henley was as job-ready as it gets.

In 1987, while still enrolled in RRC’s Administrative Assistant program, Henley was offered a job with the Health Sciences Centre.

“It was in the department of communication disorders, working with speech pathologists and audiologists,” says Henley, who had previously completed RRC’s Secretarial Machine Transcription course in 1986.

“After completing an interview and passing their medical vocabulary and typing tests, they offered me the job, but I thought to myself, ‘Wait, I still have to do my final exams. I haven’t finished school.’”

And while Henley did complete the Administrative Assistant program, she still wasn’t finished furthering her education at RRC.

In 1997, she returned to the College to take the Human Resource Management program, having at the time been recently hired by United Grain Growers in an administrative assistant position in HR.

That put Henley on her current career path: HR in the agricultural sector. She’s held HR positions at UGG, Agricore United, Viterra, and for the last 10 years, Cargill.

Presently, Henley is Cargill’s employee experience/employee relations senior specialist for Manitoba.

“The role covers everything from onsite training to employee engagement to performance management — different realms that support employees and managers,” she explains.

Henley says she loves working in HR at Cargill.

“For a large company, it feels very family-like. It’s down to earth. We feel we can be ourselves at work. That makes for a very enjoyable work environment.”

As for the work itself, Henley says there’s a lot of variety in it.

“It’s never the same thing. It’s different every day because I’m dealing with specific situations and people.”

The agricultural industry is a good fit for Henley. In fact, it’s in her roots.

“Agriculture is close to my heart. Both my grandfathers were farmers, and my one grandfather went on to become a grain buyer for Cargill in Rhein, Saskatchewan,” Henley says.

“My brother and I also used to visit my aunt and uncle in Saskatchewan for the summers. My uncle was managing a grain elevator at the time and we helped out with grain sampling and coopering railcars.”

Speaking of family, Henley met her husband through an RRC classmate, and her daughter was recently accepted into the Legal Assistant program at the College.

Henley is excited for her daughter — who is currently in university — to have the same hands-on college experience she did.

“When I went to Red River, they treated it like a job. You were  expected to be there,” Henley says. “The classes are small, so you get very personal and individualized attention from the instructors. The instructors also talk from experience, not just from a textbook.”

Henley definitely speaks from experience. Since 2012, she’s been a member of RRC’s Administrative Assistant Advisory Committee.

“I felt like I couldn’t put my hand up fast enough,” she says, of her decision to join the committee.

“I am proud that I am able to give back for all that I’ve been given — I feel this is kind of a legacy to me, to say, ‘I went through this program and now you can see where I am in my career.’”

“It’s so good to hear what’s going on in the program. The committee members and instructors talk about different aspects that we feel are important to the success of the students, such as types of  software that companies are using, employers’ expectations of employees, and what skills are important.

“Really it’s about how we can equip the students to meet or exceed employers’ needs. I can share my knowledge from being on the other side — being an employer —and what I see are valuable skills that can be learned in the classroom, that will help new administrative assistants achieve success.”

Profile by Jared Story (Creative Communications, 2005)