Neil Carberry, CEO, The REC

Moon Consulting has been a member of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) since August 2005. We adhere to their code of Professional Practice and standards, and have aligned our corporate values of being distinctive, ethical and approachable with their code.  In addition, the good governance structures and regulatory updates provided by the REC are particularly important as we approach Brexit

  Neil Carberry, CEO of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation

Neil Carberry, CEO of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation

However, operating in a candidate led market demonstrates the importance of respect, transparency and trust. In the latest of our series of articles with leading business figures, Neil Carberry, CEO of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC), talks about the challenges facing the recruitment industry, what organisations need to do make themselves attractive to employees and how the issues of retention, diversity and social mobility can be addressed.

What attracted you to the role of CEO at the REC?

I wanted to get back to a role that had more commercial exposure and the REC was particularly attractive because it’s an organisation I know and, of course, I started my career in recruitment.

My role over the next three to five years is to make sure that the REC is a business that represents and helps recruiters as they are now and will be in the future, but not necessarily as recruitment has been in the past. That’s a big change programme but we have a good team here to deliver it and it’s an exciting bit of work to be involved in.

What's the biggest challenge facing the recruitment industry at the moment?

The recruitment industry is at an interesting point. The new technology that’s being utilised across the industry could be viewed as a threat to recruitment firms but actually it’s more likely to add value. The threat only exists if you think that the value in using recruiters is to churn through CVs.

We live in a world where employment is high. The right candidates are difficult to find and attract because they aren’t just interested in the cash package, they want to be told the story behind the business and the story of where the business is going.

In addition, your clients’ business models are changing all of the time. Recruiters need to be able to demonstrate that they can move with their clients changing demands and that they understand the business model. They also need to have a candidate attraction and onboarding process that really works and tells the right story.

That’s a professional services model. By the end of my time as a REC Chief Executive, I’d like our sector to be seen as a genuine professional service, alongside the lawyers and accountants, because that’s where we belong. People are the most important part of a business’s success.

In order to achieve this, recruiters are going to need to be labour market experts, whether it’s locally or in a sector, and they need to build relationships with the senior management team where they can add value and react to the clients changing requirements. It is about having a different conversation, being consultative, and being able to advise and say ‘actually because this is happening in the market you should look at this’, rather than just being that CV factory.

How can organisations make themselves attractive to employees?

It goes back to telling the story of what you do and your purpose. To do this you need to be able to answer two fundamental employee questions - Why do they want to be here? How does working for you align with what they want to be?

It is no longer enough to think that if you get the benefits, salary, performance management system and, at the risk of sounding ridiculous, the company song right, then people will be engaged. People come to work with their own set of reasons for wanting to be there, and companies need to think about how they mesh these into the reasons the company has for wanting them to be there. This is a much more iterative process which comes back to using your recruiter as an added value service.

What do you think organisations need to be doing to retain their staff?

Good leadership starts from the idea that you cannot average your staff out. Every staff member will have a different set of needs. You need to understand the baseline, hear different views and then design communications that are honest and open, that provide clarity and look beyond your immediate need. Don’t try and spin every announcement as a grand positive - your staff are clever and know business jargon when they see it.

Organisations also need to think about growing their own talent, as well as attracting new talent into the business. Rather than getting locked into a short-term culture when it comes to people development, a good leader will always be thinking about where someone is going to be next year, and the year after and the year after that. They will be looking at their organisational structure and continually adapting it to meet the needs of the business and to provide opportunities for their employees to grow.

What can leaders and influencers like yourself do to foster a positive working culture?

To talk about issues with clarity, humanity and authenticity, to use plain English, and to remember no-one is 100% perfect, we are just human beings.

Take, for example, Antonio Horta-Osorio, CEO of Lloyds taking a leave of absence because of stress. There has been growing concern in companies about mental health, and by being very open about it, Antonio has highlighted the need for change, for modelling different behaviours.

There are always going to be times where you need to send emails on a Saturday or Sunday as a chief executive, it’s not a 9-5 job.  But, if you’re doing it every weekend then you need to think about what that implies to your more junior staff about your approach to work and what you are implicitly expecting of them. Leadership is about putting up sign posts, whether you mean to or not, and as managers take their lead from their managers, you need to consciously put up signposts that point the direction you want.

What more needs to be done to encourage wider diversity in organisations?

We are getting better at the obvious stuff like monitoring shortlists, but there are other areas which are more challenging - how inclusive is the workplace culture? Do some of our normal modes of operation actively encourage certain type of people to work here?

Companies need to make themselves aware that some of the things that they’ve always done and not thought of as potentially exclusionary, might be. If you want to be more inclusive, then this needs to change. And it might be something as simple as the number of dinner events that employees are expected to attend. Changing these to events which allow people to get home for seven o’clock is not a benefit for just one group, it will benefit any working parent.

Equally, cultural practices in the business around social mobility are important. One of the challenges that we have is that BAME progression is low because social mobility is low. Our BAME community is disproportionately from less well-off backgrounds and that’s a challenge we need to address as employers by opening up opportunities in our businesses.

If you look at the South Asian community, for example, social mobility has been strong on average in some areas, due to great belief in education as a route to social and economic progress. However, surveys show they have concerns about trusting the apprenticeship route to higher skills – despite the huge opportunities it offers.

This is where education comes into play. Take the West Midlands, which has a large South Asian community but a lack of engineers. If you reach out to the community on the benefits of apprenticeships - you can have fantastic career, be based near home, and earn whilst you learn – then you can start to address this skill gap and open the door for the BAME community to get involved in careers they may not have traditionally chosen.

How can employers and recruiters help to encourage social mobility?

Skill shortages mean that the idea of workforce planning is having a long overdue renaissance, and this is also a space where recruiters can add value by becoming jobs ambassadors, by talent mapping people as they progress through in their careers and by understanding the paths into different careers.

Part of this is about understanding the potential that’s out there and looking at how the candidate and the opportunity is packaged. For example, where there is a skills gap in the market, recruiters need to be having honest conversations with their clients to help them shape their needs. They need to be saying “I know you want a plug and play solution for this job, but there isn’t one. What there is, is a developmental option where you take on someone a little earlier on in their career and train them. The costs and retention benefits of this kind of option for employer are often high.”

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