Latest Barwell Business Breakfast focuses on skills and recruitment

Ideas on recruiting and retaining employees were a central part of the discussion at the Barwell Business Breakfast: Recruitment & Skills, held in partnership with Kingston Chamber of Commerce.

Welcoming attendees to the event at unit 50 on 22 November, Chamber Chief Executive Forbes Low, said: “The point of this is really to start and to continue the conversations which many of us have had internally, about skills, retention of staff, future employability, and what is going on in this particular sector.”

Ken Butcher (left), Asset Manager, Aviva Investors, which owns Barwell Business Park, added: “There are estimated to be over a million unfilled roles in the UK at the moment, yet a very low unemployment rate of only about 3.6 per cent. This is reflective of a national issue and one likely to be just as relevant for people and companies at the Park, as well as for the wider area.”

Martin Randell, Employment Adviser, Kingston Job Centre Plus, invited businesses facing challenges with recruitment to contact the centre which this year alone has supported 600 people into employment.

He said: “I can book you in for a recruitment session either individually or at a monthly jobs fair which is attended by between 200 and 300 people. These are all local people, looking for jobs at all levels, from retail and hospitality up to senior management roles.

“The service we offer is free, it’s professional and it works.”

Clive Lissaman, Head of Employability at Kingston College, spoke about how work experience had evolved from just a few days with a company into the extended industry placement which was more beneficial for students and businesses.

He said: “With an industry placement you actually get to work with a young person for about a year before deciding whether you want to employ them.”

Cat Hinchliffe, HR Manager, The HR Dept, suggested that to retain staff business could look at their non-financial offer for employees.

She said: “It doesn’t have to cost much and it really is worth looking at a wellbeing policy – initiatives that you can bring into the organisation to show your employees that you actually care about them, that you’re willing to spend time talking to them and that your managers are trained to deal with mental health discussions.

“What we call employee value proposition is going to attract people and retain them. For very little money, you could offer your employees an employee assistance programme. It doesn’t cost much for you to run each year but gives your employees something that they can go to, a confidential helpline where they can get support.

“Having an awareness of things like bereavement or menopause, or what’s going on in people’s lives shows that you do actually care about them. The more you focus on wellbeing, the more engagement you’re going to get from staff, as well as more productivity, better performance and loyalty.”

Sean Gillen, Corporate Head of Employment, Skills and Enterprise, Kingston Council said the council wanted to know what challenges business were facing because “there are increasing opportunities for us to help”.

There is “now quite a clamour” from skills providers and councils involved in the discussion around the skills gap, he said, adding: “We’ve got skills providers that can provide your business with the skills to deliver what you want to do in future. But at the same time, skill providers really need to know what your needs are.”

Kingston Council is also changing its approach to employment services, Sean said, to “a more targeted approach towards those with barriers to employment, and that could be young people leaving care, people with mental health problems, people with disabilities, ex-service personnel, all sorts of cohorts of people that are further from the job market and might need that bit of extra support”.

He asked businesses to consider supporting individuals further away from the job market, saying: “We’ve all got hearts and we want to be part of our community and actually have impact. There are sometimes huge benefits to taking that step further from just going to the jobs market and thinking ‘actually, how can the job provide help to someone that may have more of a barrier to employment’ and if you want to think like that, there is support in place for you to do that to through the services that the council provides and through our partner organisations.”