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Think creatively about talent in your business: A Sideboard interview with Catherine Boddington

Leadership Coach & Talent consultant, Catherine Boddington is spearheading an innovative new approach to attracting, developing and retaining talent across The Northern Powerhouse Region. Backed by the Northern Powerhouse, Catherine is kicking off a pilot for The Northern Talent Exchange (NTE) in September. She has interest from a range of businesses including Channel 4, Sky Betting & Gaming, Shulmans Llp, BJSS, The Data Shed and Leeds Nexus (the new business innovation centre at Leeds Uni). NTE provides bespoke career loaning and coaching, inviting organisations to collaborate by sharing their people to develop the skills they need for the future.

We caught up with Catherine to find out why the changing workplace, automation and an increasing desire for better work life balance is inspiring progressive organisations to look more creatively at how they can attract the best talent.

Why is a different approach needed?

People’s attitudes towards work are changing, people value experiences of a diverse career and work that we love with purpose.  People are looking for varied career opportunities that fit in with where we want to live and balance with commitments outside work. Forward-thinking employers understand that today’s job candidates are asking themselves:

  • What really makes me happy?
  • How do I get balance in my life?
  • Do I really want that promotion and all that goes with it?

What’s more, the organisations that are providing an environment that responds to these changing needs are proven to be more profitable and have happier customers. Their employees are more productive, engaged, loyal and innovative.

What are the big influences on workplace change?

It’s not only about changes in what workers want from their employer. The pace of change in work itself is driving change. The integration of artificial intelligence and automation of the workplace means that the jobs we do are rapidly changing. Inevitably automation will mean different things for different people but essentially, we all need to be able to cope with change and keep our technical skills sharp to reflect the evolving needs a rapidly evolving work environment, especially in the tech sector.

Another factor is our increasing life expectancy. We will all be living and working longer and that means we are likely to make career changes more often in longer careers. It’s anticipated that people will work until they are 80. Having transferable skills, for different stages in this longer working life is increasingly important. One of the opportunities that springs from this is the potential for intergenerational mentoring which can create a sense of purpose and connection to the community throughout longer working lives.

How do these changes translate to the psychological contract between worker and employer?

The concept of a ‘Job for life’ a thing of the past. These days, workers want a job with purpose and flexibility that offers self-directed, autonomous work. They want continuous, experience based, varied learning and value remote working, freelancing and collaboration.

Is there anything that businesses can learn from other sectors about talent and skills?

Having recently worked in a sports tech unicorn business, I witnessed an environment where talent was at a premium. Given the sporting connection, I began by looking at talent practices used by football teams to develop people and a culture of high performance. How did they develop a diverse team of players, enhancing different skills and abilities? How did they keep players motivated and at the top of their game for as long as possible?  The thing I got interested in was the regular transfer windows and the practice of loaning their players out between clubs.

Whilst some organisations use secondments, most don’t do this. It’s certainly not common practice across our region. It got me thinking about how this would work in business too. How could career loans help solve the challenge of finding the right job that develops skills and keeps people engaged in their career and allowing people to live where they want and balance their commitments beyond work?

How does career loaning work?

Career loaning can take many forms. One might be graduate rotations, where grads spend time rotating in different organisations in your city/region to get a varied and valuable breadth of experience. This benefits both individuals and businesses alike.

For those who are slightly further on in their career development, they might value broadening their experience by going on loan to get that injection of experience, skill,  knowledge and work in a different sector or organisation.

Returners after maternity leave, travel breaks, etc might find their skills need refreshing or they need more flexibility so, rather than leaving their job they can return into a different role that provides the right fit.

There will also be people who are stuck in a job and want a change of direction but don’t know if it’s the right move for them. A loan to another business would help them trial this change and make a more assured career decision. They can then return to their employer either knowing they will stay where they are or feel certain there are ready to move departments.

Career loaning can also be attractive to leaders who want to expand their experience or experienced professionals who want to share their knowledge with others. 

What other steps can businesses take to manage talent and skills in this rapidly changing workplace?

There are four key steps businesses can take to help their business and people navigate the changing world of work:

  1. Promote a culture of learning and career long learning
  2. Help people solve their own problems rather than the Leadership solving them all for them
  3. Think creatively about talent and be open to finding people with the motivation, not just the skills.
  4. Collaborate between organisations to deepen the talent.