Never lose sight of the importance of your people

Curium | 05 Jun 2017 | News | General News

I attended the HR Professional’s Conference last month, and was thoroughly drawn in by a thought-provoking keynote speech given by Kevin Green, CEO of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation. Kevin was the HR Director at Royal Mail at the time of the turnaround led by Allan Leighton and Adam Crozier.

Over the course of the last nine years, Curium has worked across many sectors and, throughout our engagements, we place a huge emphasis on the importance of people and talent. Only this weekend, there were interesting stories about the challenges HSBC is facing in filling roles at the new Birmingham based HQ. It is also reported that Sir Philip Greens Arcadia Group fashion empire is undergoing a review with talent being moved around the organisation.

So, Kevin’s talk was very timely, and touched on key issues around talent and recruitment challenges in general.

In the Midlands, we talk about a skills shortage across the region. In fact, there is a UK-wide labour shortage, split into three broad categories:

  • Labour shortage: not enough people to fill available jobs.
  • Skills shortage, lets take engineering as an example. It is estimated that circa 50k people are retiring from the sector each year. Whilst 30k students are studying/preparing to enter the trade, only 15k will eventually enter. So, a current shortfall of 35k pa!
  • Talent shortage: but what do we mean by talent?

Kevin shared (not 100% verbatim!) how they defined talent at Royal Mail and I found the three key attributes enlightening, relevant and challenging:

  • Understand the strategic landscape and big picture, while drawing conclusions from data and delivering against that backdrop.
  • Change orientation be the catalyst for change and lead the organisation to compete and transform the organisation.
  • Ability to inspire and motivate others.

Quite a list and if you find people who can deliver against all three categories, then hold on to them!

However, therein lies the challenge as there is an emerging talent crisis, which is driven by:

  • We are demanding more flexibility in our working lives and there has been a move towards self-employment/contracting, as people leverage their experience and expertise without being tied. This is particularly pertinent for more experienced employees.
  • We are ageing as a nation and the working population is shrinking.
  • Social attitudes suggest that big businesses are viewed with cynicism by the next generation of talent. There is a lack of trust in big business and therefore a desire to challenge/disrupt, rather than follow traditional employment routes.
  • Brexit will result in the return of circa 2m employees to the EU, which will hit some sectors/industries particularly hard.

This suggests that we are we at or very close to full employment?

As recently reported, unemployment levels are nearing levels last seen 40 years ago, so the challenge is clear for all to see. I’ve always believed that people create value in organisations. Creating the right culture and environment to develop and nurture talent is key and a room full of HR professionals agreed.

To make ourselves feel a little better, towards the end of the discussion we looked at some mitigating factors that may help offset some of the challenges, such as:

  • Recognise the importance of people in your organisation. It is people who deliver value, so it is obvious to say but recognise that and put them at the heart of your business. Aviva plc have for example promised to retrain employees who flag opportunities for robots to do their job more efficiently than they can.
  • Yes, the robots are coming. They will impact some sectors sooner than others, but for every job lost there will be opportunities to create value in different ways. For example, manual and repetitive tasks will start to disappear, but this will then create the need for new roles, such analysis and customer insight.
  • The gig economy will increase and it is estimated that the freelancer industry may be worth £72bn pa in the next 10 years or so. Clearly this will create some flexibility in the future, but what about loyalty and the employer/employee relationship?

My parting though is a reference to guru Simon Sinek, who summarised the challenge when he said:

“Happy employees ensure happy customers. And happy customers ensure happy shareholders in that order”

Be interesting to see how things pan out in the future especially with the much-anticipated rise of the robots and all things digital.

Whatever happens, the importance of your people should never be underestimated.

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