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Don’t miss a trick when developing and recruiting talent

Written by: SHP Online - Caroline Smith
Published on: 21 Aug 2019

The world of work is changing fast – trends such as the gig economy are having an impact in many areas, not least in the world of health and safety. Perhaps now more than ever, recruiting and retaining the right people is critical to achieving your strategy as a health and safety team – so how do you position yourself as the employer of choice for health and safety talent?

How to Attract and Retain the Best Talent in Health and Safety

Anna Keen, Founder of Acre Frameworks, challenged a panel of global health and safety leaders to uncover the secrets to attracting, developing and ultimately retaining the best talent in health and safety, during a recent discussion at Safety & Health Expo

“Employment is changing,” said Anna. “Gone are the days when people would be looking for a job for life. Instead, workers are looking to move more frequently in order to obtain new skills and experiences to help them to get to where they want to be.”

It used to be that the longer you were with an organisation, the higher you progressed up the ladder. “It’s not like that anymore, you need to build contracts that engage both ways. Employers need to ask themselves, ‘how can I make the business better, but also how can we make our staff develop as people and make them more valuable.’”

The seminar panel consisted of: Graham Finn, Corporate EHS Director at Amazon; Helen Davitt, Group Health, Safety and Wellbeing Manager at Vodafone; Ruth Gallagher, Head of HSSE Operations at APM Terminals; and James Pomeroy, Group Health, Safety, Environment and Security Director at Lloyd’s Register

So whether you’re currently leading a team, you’re an aspiring leader or you’re a health and safety professional trying to understand who should get the benefit of your talent, the outcomes from this session should provide a fresh and inspiring insight.

The panel explored the following questions:

What is ‘talent’ in health and safety?

It was universally agreed that health and safety professionals not only need to display core technical skills, but also soft skills – and the ability to develop them: this was a recurring theme in several sessions during the show i.e. that soft skills are imperative, with some speakers and panel members saying that the requirement for soft skills is at least as important as technical skills – for all elements of QHSE functions.

Other observations about ‘talent’ included that organisations need to:

  • Be agents for change;
  • Be proactive with their existing talent and take ownership of it;
  • Recognise there is talent and skillsets at every level of the organisation, not just at the top;
  • Recognise potential in current employees too, expose them to new projects and environments – for example, via secondments.

How do you attract talent?

Graham, from Amazon, shared his view that as a major brand, Amazon has no difficulty in attracting candidates – however, it’s not always the right one: so Amazon still has to work hard to attract talent. Another element of their recruitment strategy is that they place a strong focus on candidates’ soft skills, so that any personnel recruited knows how to engage with all levels of the business – which is a key consideration for Amazon.

Helen from Vodafone believes it’s critical that both the business and the brand is right for the candidate too, as well as vice versa – so candidates should do their research about this in order to ascertain whether the business/brand is right for them. Graham agreed with this, stating that candidates need to understand the strategic direction of the business and whether they would be the right ‘fit’ – asking ‘is this the right organisation for my talent?’.

James talked about the challenges of uncovering the candidates’ skills during the interview process – often, ‘safety’ people present themselves in a way that focuses on their inputs and not their outputs. He’s seen lots of high-claiming people during interviews, making quite implausible claims about what they think they can achieve in the new role – implausible, because it takes time to effect change. Also, candidates need the ability to articulate how they addressed situations and challenges, and must be able to describe the process and the tasks e.g. being able to describe how they approached a task; what mistakes they made;  and how they overcame the challenge. Another important interview question candidates need to be able to answer is “What has been your biggest failure, and how/what did you learn from it?”

One concern is that organisations can be ‘missing a trick in terms of talent’, it can be challenging to unlock the talent and nurture it in SMEs, particularly the very small enterprises – that it’s much easier in bigger businesses, due to there being a larger workforce and as a result, more potential for higher numbers of talented employees.

Another imperative is the need to attract the right people for the right geographical area and culture. A good example of why this is important would be that a candidate with experience of working in Europe wouldn’t necessarily be the right fit for a role in North Asia – because the cultures would be vastly different. They would need to have suitable experience or skills in order to succeed in this different type of environment.

What does development mean to you and your team?

James shared one of the methods utilised at Lloyd’s, which is the use of animations and video tutorials, which enables employees to have variety in their learnings and development.

The importance of focusing on soft skills was mentioned once more, in the context of helping employees develop their soft skills as well as their technical skills.

Other shared learnings included:

  • Thinking differently about how people in a team can make a contribution: encourage them to step out of their comfort zone and engage in different activities e.g. a special project or secondment;
  • Be “Agents of Change” to connect people to health and safety, and change behaviours by focusing on soft skills;
  • The importance of ‘owning your own development’.

Expanding on the last point above, it was stated that a really significant piece of advice once received was that 10% of time should be spend on ‘developing yourself – reflecting on your self-worth, attributes and shortcomings etc.’ Otherwise your development plan remains… just a plan, that you don’t have time to focus on it and implement it. “The only person who can develop you is you” and “I only want to recruit people who want to develop themselves.”

Developing the members of a team can have a very positive impact – it can create new energy within the team to re-invigorate both the dynamics and the individuals.

How do you retain the right people?

The various ways of supporting valued employees included: mentoring; advocating CPD; encouraging a non-traditional approach to development e.g. whereby the employee asks for a development programme and makes suggestions about it; using a collaborative approach, with mentoring, to help develop  a wide range of skills, and undertake projects that the employee might not normally think about doing; and retaining a continuing focus on soft skills development – to ensure skill levels are suitable and also remain relevant to the changing culture of the organisation.

When do you support them to leave?

The session closed with this question, with the panel sharing their thoughts and beliefs, such as: if the employee feels they’ve fulfilled their potential, and now wants to move on; if the culture isn’t the right fit for them – maybe they have changed or the culture has changed, and the most attractive option remaining is to move on to a new challenge and culture.