Businesses need to take responsibility for securing their talent pipeline.
This was the overriding message from the region’s business leaders on Thursday night at a panel discussion hosted by Discovery ADR Group.
Opening the event, Sonja Stockton, Client Director at Discovery, stated that “CEOs don’t want narrative on the past – they want to know what to do now.”
“The real challenge is retention” said Stewart Towe, Chairman of Black Country LEP, in his opening remarks. “Other companies only take your talent if you let them. You must have a lifelong talent management plan for your individuals. We need to track talent like schools track the progress of their students – there is a lot we can learn from the way schools do this. I need to know who my top 20% and my bottom 20% are – and then have a plan to manage and develop them.”
Mr Towe went on to explain that monitoring talent can become more difficult as companies grow and that having somebody in the business who is thinking strategically about talent at every level, and is tracking it, is essential.
Panellists were in agreement that development of employees is central to retention and that the pay packet isn’t necessarily the biggest motivator for young people joining the workforce, or for existing people staying. They want training and development and ISR – individual social responsibility – the option and support to do charity work, school governance and other things outside of the business. “You have to earn their loyalty”, said Bhanu Dhir, Policy Director for the Black Country Chamber of Commerce.
“Companies also need to know how to sell themselves in a competitive recruitment marketplace”, said Sarah Evans, Managing Director at Discovery ADR Group. “Sometimes smaller, lesser known companies are very apologetic about who they are and what they offer – they don’t know how to compete with the big brands. They need to focus on the exciting opportunities that they do offer and think about themselves in a different way. I find that companies often think they’re a lone voice but it’s the same for companies up and down the supply chain.”
The way companies recruit their employees, and the people they recruit, is also something that’s changing, said Suzie Branch, Director of the Greater Birmingham Professional Services Academy. “It’s early days but things are changing – two or three years ago you wouldn’t have got a look in in certain sectors without higher education.” This was echoed by Jason Wouhra, Director of East End Foods, “We employ based on willingness to work – they have to have a strong work ethos. We focus on the employee as an individual rather than the qualifications or experience listed on a CV.”
There was a consensus in the room that working with the region’s schools and learning institutions was central to securing the skills needs of the region – not only to ensure that young people are developing the skills that they need, but perhaps more importantly, that businesses are opening their doors to show young people the variety of careers and opportunities that are available.
“If you run a business it’s your responsibility to work with schools”, said Bhanu Dhir, “but”, he added, “there is a vocabulary problem between schools and businesses. Schools know the value of work experience but they often don’t have the time, or knowhow, to do it well. Businesses need to be enabled to work with schools and vice versa”.
Stewart Towe added that, “Young people often don’t have the opportunity to experience the back office. They don’t know what goes on behind the doors and what the opportunities are. If you ask them what IKEA does, they tell you they make furniture – they haven’t thought about the furniture design, the engineering, and global logistics for example.”
Suzie Branch, agreed, “The more you do the show and tell, the more you raise aspiration. Birmingham is the biggest professional services hub in the UK and it’s very attractive to those who have access to it. The issue is breaking down the barriers for those young people in the city who don’t. All companies need people from a diverse range of backgrounds – why on earth would we want advisors who all think the same way?”