Nicole Kopchia is the human resources manager for the Capilano Group of Companies, a group of tourism businesses anchored by Capilano Suspension Bridge Park in North Vancouver.
Since 2009, Kopchia has been responsible for recruitment and training at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, Moraine Lake Lodge and Cathedral Mountain Lodge in the Canadian Rockies, and their affiliated gift shops and restaurants. “I am responsible for all our recruitment,” she says. “All job applicants have contact with me.” She thrives on that initial interaction, of seeing a spark in their eyes and then watching team members grow in their roles. With a workforce of more than 300 during the peak season, from May to October, recruitment for the lodges begins in January and for the bridge in March. The off-season is her time to review policies and procedures, and upgrade job descriptions and manuals.
Kopchia credits her 15 years of experience in the retail sector for helping to perfect her people skills and bring a mature, multi-faceted perspective to her HR role. Relocating from Alberta to Victoria, BC, to work for Eaton’s, she eventually moved her way up the sales ladder, working for several brands, including the Gap and Sears. Along the way, she learned merchandizing, operations, sales, the seasonal nature of retailing — particularly as it relates to staffing — and a great deal about the intricacies of branding. However, she felt increasingly drawn to the human resources side of the business. “I felt it was time to focus on my strengths — team development and recruitment — so I went back to school at Camosun College” and then landed her first human resources role with Sears.
The move to tourism wasn’t that great a leap, as most of her retail experience centered around Government Street in Victoria. “In a sense, I was already in the tourism industry, because Government Street is a tourist attraction in its own right. Most of the customers in our stores were not local, often cruise ship passengers.” She could not resist the allure of tourism, and eventually applied for her current role with the Capilano Group.
Her office is located at Capilano Suspension Bridge Park, where she manages a close HR team. She walks the park as much as possible to talk with team members, is constantly checking her voicemail and email, and attends many meetings. Kopchia credits much of her success so far to being a good listener and being able to place individual team needs into the broader context of the business. “I have a lot of different work experience with a sales background, which is unique for HR. I understand the needs of the business and the needs of the team. I am a business partner with our departments and a voice for the team.” She refers to it as a balancing act.
Her advice for anyone considering a career in her field is first to gain some customer-related work experience. “Take everything you can from your positions. It’s great to understand what a front-line team member is going through, important to get work experience along with your education.” The combination of work and school, she says, “builds compassion and understanding. A successful HR manager doesn’t come from school alone. Life experience and work experience have made me a better HR manager. Fifteen years ago, I wouldn’t have been the right fit for this job. But now I love the tourism industry, and I am lucky to love my job!”