Need a loaf? Bake your own. Need talent for your business? The same...
The pandemic and its myriad restrictions have caused abundant issues and problems for businesses across Warwickshire...and businesses across Warwickshire have responded with abundant adaptability and resilience. Richard Giddings, Graduate and Apprenticeship Manager at Warwick-based Telent, recalls what happened when lockdown threatened to drive a coach and horses through the company's recruitment programme.
Early one morning in March 2020, I was driving to one of our annual graduate assessment centres. A TV was showing the news, which included a short article about a new pandemic which was spreading throughout China and Italy.
"I hope that none of our candidates is coming straight from Italy," I naively thought to myself as I prepared for the 12 candidates and 18 assessors to gather at Ashorne Hill Conference Centre set in the safe Warwickshire countryside.
At Telent, we are proud of our assessment centres. Candidates regularly comment upon our honesty and friendliness. We provide a really good lunch with our assessors at a local hotel and have as much face-to-face interaction as possible. 2020 was set to be a big year for Telent's early careers programmes; we were poised and ready to recruit 16 graduates and 15 apprentices – our future talent.
Then, with two Graduate assessment centres to go, the seriousness of the pandemic became apparent and all gatherings were cancelled. We paused recruitment for two weeks and waited for the storm to pass...
To the surprise of everyone, the storm worsened. The likelihood of assessment centres taking place before summer was very low. Telent’s mission of “Keeping the UK and Ireland connected and protected” became more important than ever as the nation moved from meeting room to virtual meeting room, travelling along fibre optic cable. As a communications business working at the cutting-edge of technology, we were behind the scenes ensuring that the country could communicate. We were in lockdown but the need for new talent was bigger than ever.
On a personal note, one of my enduring memories of the first lockdown was that most supermarkets were facing panic buying, so fresh bread became scarce. I love fresh bread. I found myself learning to make bread at home and it became a new obsession.
Meanwhile, work began behind the scenes to move our assessment centre fully online. A team of apprentices helped me find the best technology solution and we spent several weeks designing a new approach to hosting events in a way that was fair to all candidates.
Moving the assessment centres online was a test of our creativity and flexibility and required us to think on our feet a lot of the time, even on the day of the event. One assessment centre took place on the hottest day of the year, causing some candidates’ computers to overheat and crash. Fortunately, we had designed some flexibility into the process and were able to switch to mobile devices. Our assessors coped by wearing shorts (with shirts on top to look professional)...but the candidates will never know!
The assessment centres were successful - we recruited a great group of graduates and apprentices. We were proud to have achieved this, starting our new recruits in September whilst many within our industry made the decision to delay. The 2020 Graduates and Apprentices met our directors at a virtual dinner, we even provided the food. For this group, online training became the norm.
As the pandemic continued, we continued to innovate. We created a film with Warwickshire County Council to show people the diverse range of things that we do. This helped massively in an online setting. We worked with schools to provide interactive, live talks to over 1,000 students at a time. We partnered with American students to create virtual museum exhibits. We attended a ministerial visit. We held graduation ceremonies. All of this took place in our homes - bedrooms, dining rooms and kitchens.
Narrowing the skills gap is so important. In a recent survey of children aged between seven and ten, 26% of girls wanted to become vets and 17% wanted to become teachers. In boys, 23% wanted to become professional footballers and 11% wanted to become policemen (apparently because they wanted to drive a car with flashing lights!). Telecommunications engineers sadly didn’t feature on the list (despite some of our vehicles featuring flashing lights!). So if we don’t inspire people to join us, who will be our future talent?
In 2021 we are due to recruit 18 Graduates and 47 apprentices. It’s clearly working.
Which brings me back to my lockdown obsession with bread. If businesses need talent, they can go to a supermarket and fight over the last loaf…or they can make their own...