#CBI2018: Attracting the next generation of talent

21 November 2018 | By Joe Marshall

Understanding what young people want and keeping pace of change isn't easy. But a panel of business leaders offered their tips

The ambitions of young people entering the workforce are changing. What makes an attractive job many not be the same as it was a generation ago. Work-life balance is the number one factor after pay when choosing a role. And the concept of a job for life is becoming an alien one to the next generation.

These trends were confirmed by the CBI’s survey of young people, which also found 49 percent of those aged 17-23 believed that their education has not prepared them for the world of work.

Add into the mix technological advances, the impact of Brexit uncertainty on access to talent and the number of graduates failing to keep pace with the increasing number of new roles, and it’s clear employers have their work cut out.

As Alistair Cox, Chief Executive of Hays Worldwide put it when he addressed the CBI Annual Conference this week, “the talent agenda is now hugely complex – and it’s only likely to get more so.”

So just how do modern businesses rise to these challenges?

The panel of industry experts assembled at the CBI Annual Conference set out to explore just that.

Keeping it competitive

For Warren East, Chief Executive of Rolls-Royce, competing for talent means just that – beating others to the best by offering attractive roles that offer work-life balance.  “We see the desire for that in our graduate recruits and we respond to it,” added East. Rolls-Royce also has programmes allowing staff to move around different parts of the business, giving people variety and making sure they can see clear career paths.

For Romana Abdin, Chief Executive at Simplyhealth, the competitive edge is provided by the purpose, culture and values of the workplace – young people want to know that the work they are doing has a positive impact. “Having fun at work, as well as making a difference, means that Simplyhealth is punching above its weight because people want to work for organisations like ourselves,” she said.

“Competition is still high in the technology space,” said Claire Valoti, Vice President International at tech firm Snap. “People want to know the culture and purpose of the business and how we make decisions. They aren’t looking for job security anymore. What they’re asking is ‘what can that job do for my life?’.”

Looking over the horizon

“In all organisations the culture needs to keep pace with the times,” said Valerie Todd, HR Director for UK & Ireland at Siemens. With young people starting out in careers that could last 40 or 50 years, the electronics firm makes sure that it also pays attention to their development needs. “One of the biggest challenges is not with the skills that we have now, but we’ve got to look over the horizon and think about the skills of the future.”

“People’s priorities will change over the course of their careers,” adds Todd. “Employers have to get on the front foot and think about it strategically.”

A different approach to sourcing talent

When Barclays started creating their apprenticeship programmes, they went out to find untapped talent sources – including young people who have no qualifications or may have not finished school and older people looking to get back into. “We have had some phenomenal talent coming through those routes,” said Lynne Atkin, HR Director and Group Head of Employee Engagement at Barclays. “That has helped us rethink how we hire.”

Barclays realised that they were too narrow in their focus of what talent looks like and traditional methods just weren’t working. “It forced us to look at things like strengths, potential and mindsets. We’ve seen amazing results,” added Atkin.

Enabling change

The fast pace of technology has the potential to cause uncertainty among a talent pool that could fear for its job security, especially when it comes to AI and robotics. But Warren East argued this shouldn’t be the case. “These technologies are just tools,” he said. “Tools that will better enable people to do their jobs.”

“I often get asked what makes people successful in tech companies,” said Claire Valoti. “My answer is change. People need to be adaptable to change.” With growth in the tech industry so high it is not that unusual for a person to be hired for a job, and then find that job evolves as the company scales up. “For future workforces,” she added, “that ability to adapt to change is absolutely key to driving success.”

Taking a slightly different approach to change is Simplyhealth. “Instead of asking people to adapt, we explore the challenges and then ask them to drive the change themselves and enable them to come up with the solutions,” said Romana Abdin.

Developing a capable workforce

But offering continuous learning opportunities is the only way to keep up with change. At Siemens, for example, future skills are explored via a course at their Learning Campus. It’s accessible to everyone in the company and they can train at their own pace. “People feel really empowered that they can take control of learning what the future of work will look like,” said Valerie Todd, about the programme that is having a positive effect on retention at Siemens.

At Barclays, the Life Skills programme has been running for around five years helping young people transition into work. It has conducted research into the core skills that will enable people to be successful in the future work environment and identified potential skill-gaps where schools and colleges may not yet be addressing those areas. “With the rate of exponential change we’re seeing at the moment,” added Lynne Aitken, “we need to move away from job titles and focus on capabilities.”

Read more from Claire Valoti on keeping up with tech and creating a culture that retains talent in this interview with Business Voice.

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