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Alex Merrylees: Work harder at recruitment to future-proof your business

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The head of HR, resourcing and development at Virgin Atlantic Airways on how he would secure Britain’s Talent

This is an excerpt from Securing Britain’s Future – read the full publication online now:
London business leaders tackle skills gaps, leadership issues, youth unemployment and workplace diversity

MY KEY IDEA

Too many companies take the wrong approach to recruitment, thinking of it as a monetary transaction alone. Employers need to work harder if they want to hire and retain the best people. Whether it is through your brand, your training or the perks you offer, businesses need to invest in their people to guarantee the long-term success of the company.

Many companies find it difficult to recruit the right people. While a few companies do recruitment well, many do not.

Some organisations think of recruitment as a transaction, that it’s a job to do. Others see it as investing in people: your labour bill is always going to be big so you want a good return on it.

In our case, we’ve built our brand around our people, so it is vital that we get the supply of talent for the business just right. If you make mistakes in recruiting staff, it manifests itself further down the line.

It starts with education. Schools struggle to meet the needs of employers because they are vocational rather than employment-aligned. The world of work ends up being a big thing that happens when you leave school – something that you just crash into.

The purpose of education needs clarifying. We have an education culture where you can “learn the exam”. But employers seek the deeper life skills that potential employees can bring, not whether they have four A*s. We have to ask ourselves what the UK economy will look like in 2020 and, crucially, whether we are developing our education system for that. Right now, I’m not sure we are.

Invest in skills and education

Britain is good at a lot of things: manufacturing, the creative industries, engineering, design, finance and tourism, among many others. But if we want to build on these areas, develop new expertise and continue to be brilliant in 10 years’ time, we need to invest in skills and education now.

It’s about finding and hiring the people with the right threshold skills but also the right attitude and outlook on work – then moulding them through training and leadership.

Pay is often a short-term motivator. It mitigates the unhappiness for a little while. Retention is a deeper issue that relates to the quality of work that you do and your experience of working in an organisation – how the business is run every day.

In my own business, Virgin Atlantic, we have a high retention rate. The reasons for this are that the jobs we offer are quite broad; aviation and travel is intrinsically interesting; and above all, ours is truly a service and people business. This all helps to keep employees interested in what they do.

We also make sure that employees have the opportunity to progress through their career. This isn’t necessarily in a structured way, where you map out everyone’s future moves on a spreadsheet, but there are visible and clear vacancies and processes by which an employee can progress.

To prepare your business for the future, ask yourself what your workforce will look like in the future, then work backwards to decide how you will achieve those goals.

Alex Merrylees is head of HR, resourcing and development, Virgin Atlantic Airways

This is an excerpt from Securing Britain’s Future – read the full publication online now:
London business leaders tackle skills gaps, leadership issues, youth unemployment and workplace diversity

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