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Ben Gledhill, Head of Resourcing Transformation at Thames Water joined us recently to discuss the future of Talent Acquisition and Recruitment. Ben has worked in a variety of recruitment roles since 2005. At Thames Water he’s leading a function wide transformation of resourcing looking at everything from capability, people, technology, process, experience, and the culture of recruitment that includes the importance of hire and retention.

Where do you see TA and recruitment right now?

It’s clearly a tough time for TA right now and the Covid-19 pandemic has shown how fragile it is. When the economy starts to struggle, companies begin to cut budgets and it seems TA is one of the first teams to suffer. Some might say that if there’s no hiring, then TA is obsolete. The pandemic has highlighted that it needs to become more advisory and strategic and get involved in internal mobility, skills mapping & development, and guiding and advising the business on not only new talent, but the talent that can be developed that’s already in the business.

Watch it back → Talent Acquisition and Recruitment for 2021 and beyond with Ben Gledhill

How can we change to a talent advisory model?

Some TA teams see remote onboarding, remote hiring, virtual interviewing, etc as something of a special project and often have been implemented post Covid. However, TA should be doing these things anyway - they need to be agile and adaptable and embrace technology. When TA is doing these things, the business sees the value and ultimately respects what they do.

Is it time for more automation in recruitment, especially with hiring attracting huge candidate volumes currently?

I’ve always been a fan of automation. Some may say it takes away the human element, but what does the human element mean? Hiring is always going to be a human to human function - what a machine can’t do is have one-to-one conversations and automation will never replace this.

Automation should be used for administrative tasks such as comms, engagement, or contract generation. I went through a process with O2 recently and only interacted with a human once. Each step of the journey was either a text message or an email and the tone of voice was friendly and personalised.

At Thames Water, we’re receiving 500/600 applicants per vacancy – to reply and speak personally to each one would be impossible. Look at what technology and automation can do for you, freeing up your human recruiters to add value in those human to human touch points. Use the 80/20 principle - focus 80% of time on the top 20% of candidates but ensure everybody gets a considered experience.

What other resources and skills could TA teams utilise from within their organisation?

At Thames Water, we’re working closely with our brand and customer experience teams to map out candidate journeys. We’re using the experience they have of doing this day in day out and implementing it into TA.

What resources are available in your organisation? Business analysts, a copy writer, or a project manager - utilise those different skills and make that candidate experience feel like an experience rather than a just a process.

There is a lot of uncertainty in terms of jobs and the first thing businesses have done is to strip out costs. That creates clear challenges from a financial perspective for TA and resourcing – where do you think we are right now?

Some TA teams will unfortunately be part of a cost cutting exercise. This brings us to leadership and the value that’s placed on a TA team.

As a TA leader, a lot of what I do is planning budgetary control, business case writing and showing the financial value of what hiring retention is to the business. Work with your vendors - can costs be cut if services are reduced, etc?

Understand the costs and the value of TA and move from being a cost centre to a profit centre and adding real value to the bottom line. What is the cost of an empty seat to the business if a vacancy is not filled? Add costs and a value to everything TA does and become less transactional and more strategic.

For example, at Thames Water, if we don't fill technician vacancies, there are more calls and more jobs that get unanswered. That ultimately leads to longer waiting times and poor customer experience.

How can TA be more strategic and get the attention of the C-suite to get buy-in for projects?

Everything TA does has to link to the overall strategy of an organisation. The only way TA will do this is to have conversations with the C-suite. Get direction from the top and outline what it is you want to do then work it backwards. These high value conversations with leadership help to influence. My HRD praises our resourcing team in board meetings and that's because I have influenced her with solid data. She will know what will happen if we do not transform and if we don't have this investment.


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