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Are you hot property for 2014? Recruiter roundtable with Berwick Partners, Oasis HR, Ashley Kate, Oakleaf, Eton Bridge Partners and Hudson

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Specialists, generalists and analysts are just some of the HR people in demand this year. Six industry experts shared their views in this roundtable with Mary Appleton.

Describe the current global HR recruitment market

Debbie Sutton, partner – HR practice, Berwick Partners [DS]: The market has become more buoyant, particularly among members of the FTSE 250 and organisations contemplating initial public offerings or M&A activity. Talent acquisition and leadership development roles are firmly back on the agenda. Smaller businesses are taking HR more seriously and ensuring it is represented at the executive leadership table. Good reward and compensation and benefits candidates are in demand.

We are seeing a lot of internal lateral moves, enabling generalist HR or business partner candidates to broaden their skills without switching organisations. For example, an EMEA HRD might become group head of comp & bens, while a senior HRBP could move into an EMEA head of talent development role. The outsourced HR model is also unravelling with some aspects moving back in-house.

HR is still coming under fire and attempting to justify its position in an organisation. By increasing its focus on data and analytics it will prove its value and be under more pressure to deliver.

Jeremy Thornton, founder, Oasis HR [JT]: The market has picked up over the past 12 months, and there has been greater investment in staff development as a whole. We’ve seen L&D and talent opportunities more than triple since the same period last year.

We’re moving into a much more candidate-driven market. Job seekers rarely just have one opportunity on the table – it’s now a battle between counter offers and second and third opportunities, so employers need to ‘sell’ their organisation effectively and ensure they work at a fast pace to keep talent interested. As the market thaws, candidates are taking more risks with their job searching and are more open to challenges.

This is probably a reflection of the previous couple of years when candidates were more likely to accept less appealing jobs because of economic pressures and fear of leaving their steady employer.

Kim MacNamara, HR business director, Ashley Kate HR [KM]: There is confidence in the air and a greater call for HR to manage a more diverse and remote HR workforce. Firms are also fine-tuning their HR services; for example, in shared service functions, true business partner skills are in high demand. Organisations want HR people who can offer game-changing strategic skills involving altering talent, cross-cultural and often international management behaviours. Salary levels are also rising.

Lynne Colgate, partner – interim HR, Eton Bridge Partners [LC]: We’re seeing good activity across the UK and EMEA within specialist roles and transformation. This has led to an increase in change management-led roles in the UK, as many companies are looking to consolidate or create back office functions in eastern Europe.

Richard Colgan, founding managing partner, Oakleaf Partnership [RC]: We’re beginning to see multiple offers, buy-backs and sign-on bonuses – phenomena we haven’t seen for more than five years. Our FS clients have started hiring recruiters again, which is a key indicator of the broader health of the UK economy. We have placed candidates around the globe, including in Russia, Abu Dhabi, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Singapore, France, Germany, Switzerland and Spain.

Across the board, there’s a genuine desire to hire for growth, rather than just make tactical replacements. Time to hire remains a challenge.

Sarah Greensmith, manager director – HR, Hudson [SG]: The ability to manage ambiguity, change and complexity is needed across the globe, but a one-sizefits-all HR strategy cannot be applied across continents. In HR, you must identify people who are of value in the context of change and look at how to place talent in places that can develop a business.

What skills are employers struggling to find?

DS: Global experience (more than one continent) and future international mobility are highly sought after. Also, employers want people whose experience extends beyond being a business partner and includes time working within a specialism, projects or centre of excellence. Proven commerciality is also in short supply.

JT: There is a shortage of well-rounded HR generalists. With many organisations operating a shared service model, there no longer seems to be the ecosystem for junior HR professionals to gain in-depth exposure to the full spectrum of HR and develop a broad skill set.

KM: Data-hungry businesses want HR analysts, which are scarce. Across the UK, there is continued emphasis on streamlining structures and HR’s geographical remits are widening. In the south of England, there is high demand for strong employee relations and TUPE skills as firms respond to changing legal pressures. We are also seeing a surge in interim HR projects as timescales become challenging.

Organisations and the government need to invest more in developing talent and perfecting recruitment processes. For future prosperity, it’s also important to strengthen links with education sectors.

LC: Specialist roles remain challenging to source for, particularly in reward. Many organisations are capitalising on their own internal talent, which means there’s a strong incentive for employees to stay. Companies that are looking externally are finding it hard to attract the best talent.

RC: Candidates with excellent organisational development and effectiveness skill sets are in high demand and are commanding good compensation packages. Commercial HRBPs in the £60-90k base salary range are extremely hard to come by. Over the last five years, few generalists have accumulated all the skills they need to be true business partners – especially in the FS sector. The number of CVs I see from HRBP candidates without any mention of money, metrics or percentages is concerning.

SG: Businesses are struggling to find key talent in compensation and benefits. Also, for global projects around change and transformation, employers want people who can create organisational effectiveness.

As the projects vary and can require very specific experience, finding the right talent can be difficult. People with good talent management and learning and development skills are hard to find. They have become more important as organisations seek to attract, retain and ultimately generate a highly productive workforce. With economic recovery on the horizon and L&D and talent firmly back on the agenda, attracting these people will be crucial to an organisation’s success.

How can HR stay ahead of business competition?

DS: Provide your organisation with good MI, data and analytics as well as added-value solutions that line managers can do something with. You also need to develop good talent acquisition and retention strategies. Personal development and individual career management will be key to keeping employees, as will performance culture and boosting business growth.

JT: Employ people with strong commercial acumen. You must be able to benchmark the existing talent within your business to understand your top performers’ values, motivations and behaviours and use these metrics to assess talent during the recruitment process. Also, understand how you can operate a talent pooling model effectively. It can enhance your employer brand, increase time-to-hire windows, reduce cost per hire and reach ready-now niche skill sets.

Where appropriate, provide your employees with a flexible or agile working environment and train your managers to promote this among their staff. You should also embrace your Generation Y workforce and understand what drives them. This will help create the right environment to develop future leaders.

Another tip: find the time to do and learn new things. Stepping away from the ‘coalface’ to understand new innovations and initiatives will help your business.

KM: Create effective coaching and mentoring programmes to develop innovative HR leaders. And use collaborative HR supplier arrangements to source the best HR talent while using flexible recruitment strategies to meet timescales. Get involved in networking to broaden minds and credibility as well as increase social media presence. I’d also suggest using imaginative employer branding and offering market leading development, career paths and flexible working patterns.

LC: Create an environment where HR is seen as participating in the business agenda and offering attractive opportunities for talent to grow and contribute at a strategic level.

RC: You need to deliver but innovate in the same breath. For many firms this is a contradiction or countercultural. Headcount has been stripped to the bone but in organisations that embrace innovation, HR teams are delivering cutting edge solutions and interventions. For others, it’s about doing more with less.

SG: Increase hires for more complex HR roles. Teams are not getting any bigger but organisations are replacing roles with broader responsibility and hiring innovative HR teams to help them achieve tough business objectives. Also, develop the skill set of the marketing manager, who should be clearer on segmentation, selling ideas into the organisation and CEO, and become a digital expert. Identify barriers to innovation, address them, and overhaul slow and ineffective organisational processes.

Which HR directors are innovating in the boardroom?

DS: Those who have shifted the culture towards people, revenue and profit and into one that values engagement and good employee communication.

Innovative HRDs are developing an EVP rather than relying on the corporate brand to sell the company, and actively managing the careers of their high-potentials.

KM: Valerie Hughes D’Aeth, group HR director at Amey, has a good track record in developing and implementing transformational and organisational design strategies. 

SG: Doug Watson, director for organisational development at HMRC. In three years, Doug has led a programme of transformational change, with an HR team dedicated to strengthening the organisation.

To do this, he has made the development of HMRC’s own leadership capability a priority. Using a range of compliance, operational and customer service measures throughout the year to assess business performance,

Doug has achieved a record £476 billion in tax revenues for the UK economy, while reducing costs and delivering £245 million in efficiency savings.

What are your expectations for HR recruitment in 2014?

DS: I expect to see increased candidate confidence and less reliance on Linkedin, with ‘traditional’ approaches and sourcing solutions becoming necessary again. The number of roles in the HRIS arena – where there is a limited, experienced, talent pool – will rise, as will demand for candidates with international experience.

JT: There will be a greater focus on time to hire instead of the more cost-driven objectives we’ve experienced over the past few years. As businesses expect a quicker turnaround on staff hiring, internal resourcing functions are going to face more pressure to deliver. They will need to focus on more innovative and proactive sourcing methodologies to prevent a reliance on staffing agencies and avoid hiring managers going out of process to acquire new talent quickly.

KM: The market will become more competitive as firms fight for the best HR talent. HR will be prepared to develop skills during the induction process and interims will be needed to cope with the peaks and troughs of project deadlines – allowing a role evaluation before committing on a permanent basis.

Firms need to work with HR recruitment partners to build pipelines and upgrade selection and assessment capabilities to ensure HR hits the ground running. The diversity focus means suppliers will recruit HR professionals who will create a more harmonious and understanding workforce and as social media advances we will see an increase in HR recruits who can play a more collaborative and motivational role to engage fully with employees.

Data-hungry HR will want more detailed KPI and MI from their recruitment suppliers, so consultancies will need to be ahead of their game.

We expect ongoing growth, with a continued focus on change management and transformation. Those who thrive in ambiguous and unstable environments will perform well.

RC: I hope to see more senior HRD roles opening. In the past five years, supply has outstripped demand.

SG: Mobile technology will become the key platform for job applications. Social recruiting tools are becoming increasingly popular and next year we will see programs dedicated only to HR and recruiting.

Other factors – including the ageing workforce, a more complex legal environment with laws affecting employer legal compliance and influencing employee rights – will ensure the expertise of the HR professional will be indispensable to any organisation.

Debbie Sutton

Debbie Suttonpartner – HR practice, Berwick Partners

Debbie recruits for senior HR professionals across the UK at Berwick Partners, which is part of Odgers Berndtson.

Jeremy Thornton

Jeremy Thorntonfounder, Oasis HR

Jeremy founded Oasis HR with his business partner in 2004.

Kim MacNamara

Kim McNamaraHR business director, Ashley Kate

Kim drives and leads the HR recruitment client development strategy while hiring senior HR professionals in the Midlands.

Richard Colgan

Richard Colganfounding managing partner, Oakleaf Partnership

Oakleaf supplies HR talent to clients on a permanent and interim or contract basis.

Sarah Greensmith

Sarah Greensmithmanaging director – HR, Hudson

Sarah has more than 20 years’ experience in recruitment , most recently within Hudson’s IT, HR and public sector divisions.

Mary Appleton

By Mary Appleton

Changeboard

Mary is Changeboard's editor in chief.

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