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Call for collaboration on the youth agenda: HR director roundtable with Hilton Worldwide, Santander, Asda & Siemens 08/09/2014

While future talent remains a top priority at organisations in the UK, negative attitudes and misconceptions dominate. Mary Appleton speaks with four leading employers – in the hospitality, banking, retail and engineering sectors – to find out what it will take to create change.

Call for collaboration on the youth agenda: HR director roundtable with Hilton Worldwide, Santander, Asda & Siemens

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  1. Our skills base and future prosperity
  2. Hilton Worlwide - Leading on apprenticeships
  3. Santander – making banking accessible
  4. Asda - championing retail careers
  5. Siemens - developing tomorrow's skills
  6. Ben Bengougam
  7. Marcus Lee
  8. Hayley Tatum
  9. Toby Peyton-Jones

Our skills base and future prosperity

Despite their efforts to bridge the gap between education and employment, organisations face barriers. Prevailing attitudes towards certain sectors, outdated perceptions of what particular careers involve, and a proliferation of initiatives designed to ‘help’ are just some of these.

As we emerge from recession, our skills base dictates our future prosperity. To navigate around this and come up with a co-ordinated solution to match talent supply and demand, there is a need for extraordinary leadership and collaborative effort. So what will it take to drive change in the most fundamental leadership challenge of our time?

Hilton Worlwide - Leading on apprenticeships

With 314,000 staff globally and 15,000 in the UK, hotel giant Hilton Worldwide is a major employer. In 2013, in collaboration with the International Youth Foundation, it published Creating Opportunities for Youth in Hospitality. This whitepaper highlighted the industry’s position in providing pathways for economic opportunity and lifetime professional growth.

“The hospitality sector is expected to generate 73 million new jobs by 2022 – and there is a risk that there will be a shortage of skilled labour to fill these roles. A pipeline of talented youth can provide the solution,” says Ben Bengougam, VP of EMEA HR.

At this year’s World Economic Forum, the organisation announced a global commitment that aims to impact at least one million young people by 2019. It aims to do this by connecting them to the world of travel, employing them and preparing them for success by developing their life and professional skills.

For Bengougam, focusing on young people is critical for the hospitality sector and the UK economy. “It’s about building our talent pipeline and supporting development in the local communities where we operate,” he says.

Careers@Hilton Live: Youth in Hospitality Month is a series of events – including job fairs, career guidance talks and work shadowing – where hotels connect with under 25s. In 2013, hotels across Europe hosted 320 events reaching more than 20,000 young people, and this year Hilton Worldwide is expanding the initiative to hotels around the world.

In 2010, Hilton Worldwide set up a 12-month paid Chef Apprenticeship Academy in the UK, providing students with college courses and practical experience in hotels. This led to the launch of the Hilton Worldwide National Apprenticeship Academy in 2012, which has seen more than 200 opportunities successfully placed in 62 UK locations to date. Participants focus on professional cookery, front desk, food and beverage service, multi-skilled hospitality service or exercise and fitness. Courses are fully funded and once an apprentice has completed their programme they are offered continued employment.

The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills (BIS) recently announced Hilton Worldwide as the ‘Trailblazer’ apprenticeship lead employer for tourism and hospitality. Trailblazers are groups of large and small employers within a sector who work together to develop new standards for apprenticeships.

Partnering with other multinationals and suppliers is crucial. “We would be missing an opportunity by not supporting each other in creating the most effective schemes possible,” says Bengougam.

Impactful change in this area will be limited, he argues, unless employers prepare young people with the skills they need to succeed in the workplace. Bengougam has this advice: “Ensure you are relevant to the younger generation – your future talent pipeline – and that you are helping them make informed decisions about their futures.”

Santander – making banking accessible

In 2009, retail bank Santander brought all its offshore call centres back to the UK. This allows it to offer many entry-level jobs that other organisations may have lost, explains Marcus Lee, head of resourcing, people & talent.

While some employers have complained in recent years about lack of skills among young people, Lee does not see this as a problem. “It’s important that we have people aligned to our core values,” he says. “We can train them once they join.”

Young people make up 39% of Santander’s hires. “It’s a strong demographic we are confident about hiring from,” Lee explains, adding that employers need to concentrate on how to better support young people entering the workplace.

He admits this is not just a role for employers – it requires collaborative effort with careers advice and guidance, which he describes as ‘inconsistent’ in UK schools. “We can do more to support young people in their career decisions by working closely with schools,” he says.

To ensure Santander attracts candidates from a range of backgrounds and career paths, the bank offers various development programmes, including for graduates, school leavers and people who are already working but looking to switch career.

Giving people an insight into what it would be like to work in financial services is a fundamental part of this, so Santander has launched a new work experience programme which aims to place 600 people in the next two years. The bank also supports high achievers from low-income backgrounds by offering internship opportunities with help from the Social Mobility Foundation.

Santander also sponsors internships with SMEs and in 2013/14 has committed to placing 1,500 interns this way. “We want to help other businesses prosper too,” explains Lee.

He would like to see continued progression in areas such as traineeships, as well as more focus on targeting the most vulnerable young people in society.

While he acknowledges this is a complex issue, to gain maximum return from these initiatives he suggests a co-ordinated framework would be useful. “As a business we need to understand how and where we engage for the best value,” he says.

Asda - championing retail careers

With the proliferation of online shopping, click and collect and relentless price wars, the retail sector has experienced unprecedented change in the last five years, says Hayley Tatum, senior vice-president – people, at Asda.

She emphasises that it is essential to have digital natives in the business to respond to this change and bring innovation. “Young people have so much to teach us about new ways of communication and thinking,” she adds.

Yet Tatum believes the perception of working in the retail sector as a ‘last resort’ still prevails. “Even today, students in our schools are being told: ‘If you don’t buck up your ideas, you’ll end up stacking shelves’. It’s so far off the mark,” she says.

With 170,000 employees in 576 stores, Asda operates in most communities across the UK. It offers flexible working and employees do not need qualifications to join. For her, demonstrating the quality of careers and training available in retail is crucial for attracting young talent.

“We hire for attitude and train for skill,” she says. “There’s nothing stopping anyone becoming the CEO. We need clear and transparent career paths to encourage people to stay.” Tatum – who started her own career as a checkout operator – is keen to prove that retail can, and should be, a career of choice. “Our chief executive, Andy Clark, is an excellent example – he started off on the shop floor and now runs Asda.

“I want to inspire people to join retailing and have a career that can be diverse, satisfying and rewarding – and choose to do it,” she says.

Asda employs 36,320 people aged 16-24 and runs several programmes to reach out to young talent. This includes work experience, a school leaver scheme, apprenticeships, a retail honours degree and various graduate programmes.

Once employed, there is a strong emphasis on structured development to help employees progress while in role. ‘Step In’ is a four-week induction programme for new hires, which culminates in an accreditation certificate and performance review to allow people to move into the ‘Step On’ stage after six months’ service. This includes coaching, a City & Guilds retail apprenticeship and responsibilities such as first aid training, moving to a new department and becoming a training buddy. Next is ‘Step Up’. Following a positive performance review, colleagues can seek career progression where they can build on their knowledge to deliver excellent customer service within a variety of roles.

Asda is also actively involved in community initiatives and works with the Prince’s Trust to reach out to disadvantaged young people. “If you don’t have any role models in your family, or experience of work, it can be difficult to get onto the career ladder,” says Tatum.

“With so many NEETs (not in education, employment or training) in the UK, we feel committed to doing something to break that vicious cycle,” Tatum says.

In 2013, the supermarket giant ran several four-week ‘Get into Retail’ programmes, offering unemployed 16-25 year-olds the chance to gain work experience, accredited skills and retail-related training in stores across Cardiff, Birmingham and the north east of England.

All 36 participants were offered full-time, permanent jobs and there are plans to reach a further 200 people this year.

“We give people a chance. We show them role models and give them mentors to develop their confidence. As they grow, they volunteer for more – they start enjoying their role and we see them flourish,” says Tatum.

Ultimately, she wants Asda’s future talent initiatives to become more scalable. “We’re investing a lot of resource into this so we want to start ramping up the numbers,” she says.

As a sector which employs over three million people – around one in seven of the UK’s workforce – Tatum says retail businesses are collaborating well. She highlights the ‘Feeding Britain’s Future – Skills for Work Month’ which last year saw 190 companies offer pre-employment training to thousands of unemployed young people. It included CV tips, interview training and behind-the-scenes tours of supermarkets, factories, depots, farms and offices. 

The workshops were designed following a focus group – involving 50 young unemployed people – in 2012, and a successful pilot week in September of that year. In the business world, which Tatum argues is becoming increasingly ‘mashed up’, employers have a shared responsibility to help people get their first experience of work and make it positive. “People don’t join one business for life – new talent at McDonald’s could be the leaders of the future at Asda,” she says. “If we take care of people early in their careers, we will all benefit.”

She argues that the government must ensure the education system can help prepare people for all eventualities as they leave it. “Careers advice needs to be better,” she asserts. “It feels like everyone else is holding [young people’s] cards right now – and it’s time to give them back control.”

Siemens - developing tomorrow's skills

In the view of Toby Peyton-Jones, HR director at Siemens, there’s still a lot of work to do to make engineering a career that young people aspire to.

“Confidence and aspiration is the firework we must light to gain traction,” he says.

Some 4% of Siemens’ 15,000-strong UK employee population are aged 16-24 and, for Peyton-Jones, the entry-level talent pipeline is crucial for the realisation of the organisation’s ambitious growth programme, which involves the implementation of large projects and manufacturing.

“Building a power station, creating offshore wind turbines or developing new infrastructure for the HS2 railway requires a talent pipeline to sit behind it,” he says.

Siemens has critical skills shortages in a number of areas, largely in engineering and project management, which Peyton-Jones puts down to the UK ‘losing focus’ on STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and maths) in recent years, and a lack of excitement about engineering as a profession.

“People think engineering is the ‘oily rag’ of occupations, which is far from the truth. Engineers will shape the world we live in and solve big problems in the future,” he says.

He also believes that the UK has lost sight of the skills pathway into a career. To address this, Siemens is working closely with the government to get apprenticeships back on the agenda for UK plc.

For Peyton-Jones, one of the unintended consequences of putting a £9,000 premium on degrees is that people start to question its value. “People begin to realise that, if done well, the vocational route can be a great alternative,” he says.

Siemens has 400 people in apprenticeship roles, lasting three years or more. “These can take you from shop floor to top floor – several of our UK MDs are ex-apprentices.” Integrating learning and doing makes apprentices ‘more rounded’ individuals and gives them an appreciation for teamwork, problem solving and applying learning to a business context, which is not always explicit in academic routes, says Peyton-Jones.

He believes that the way funding is channelled – often going to providers rather than directly to employers – has resulted in a mismatch between the kind of skills being developed and those employers want.

Siemens launched its own apprentice model as it could not find a provider that could deliver the skills it needed. “The funding needs to flow to employers who can source providers to fill their skills gaps,” Peyton-Jones suggests, pointing to the UK Commission for Employment & Skills ‘Employer Ownership of Skills’ initiative which aims to do this. “When we channel the money through a demand-led system, employers will be more engaged.”

In 2012, Siemens opened the Crystal building in London. It houses an exhibition showcasing global trends and challenges, alongside existing technology to build environmentally sustainable cities. “Young people can see the kind of engineering that is needed in the future,” he says.

Siemens also has an education website, where teachers can download work programmes and play online games – linked to the curriculum – with their pupils. “It gets children excited and they start talking about it at home – then attitudes start to change,” says Peyton-Jones.

For him, structured dialogue between employers, students and education providers is important. He concludes: “A strategic relationship between employer and education must be built into the curriculum. Getting work into the lexicon of education will lead to profound employer engagement.”

Ben Bengougam

Ben BengougamVP HR EMEA, Hilton Worldwide

Ben looks after people strategy and operational delivery and support for Hilton Worldwide EMEA operations.

Marcus Lee

Marcus Leehead of resourcing, Santander

Marcus is a member of the people and talent leadership team. He has experience at JPMorgan, Deloitte and EDS.

Hayley Tatum

Hayley Tatumsenior vice-president – people, Asda

Hayley has been a member of the Apprenticeship Ambassadors Network since 2007. She is also on the Talent and Skills Leadership Team for BITC.

Toby Peyton-Jones

Toby Peyton-JonesHR director, Siemens plc & North West Europe

In 2012, Toby was appointed by Business Secretary Vince Cable as Commissioner to the UK Commission for Employment & Skills.

Mary Appleton, editor, Changeboard

Mary Appleton, editor, Changeboard

Mary Appleton is the editor for Changeboard.