Have you got the skills? #TagTeamBlog2

Here it is folks, the second Tag Team/Co-blog from myself and my “spiritual partner in HR”, the one and only Mr Perry Timms (@PerryTimms). This time we’re discussing skills and to resolve the UK conundrum of skills being viewed as a social and economic panacea (a point raised by Keep & Mayhew back in 2010). Continue reading “Have you got the skills? #TagTeamBlog2”

White Noise

Noise exhausts me. Particularly background noise. I have a husband who listens to the radio and television at the same time. I have a house full of children who enjoy the hellish din soft play centres. I have to overhear all the problems of my fellow travellers during my twice-daily commute. At times I’ve sat at my desk my my fingers in my ears wishing more people appreciated silence. Continue reading “White Noise”

Mind Games


My interest in how the mind works has it’s unfortunate roots in the fact that my mother was struck with incurable brain cancer. Her rapid deterioration into a childlike state would have been fascinating had it not been devastating. This in itself underlined the extreme delicacy of our internal systems which may, unbeknown to us, be working to destroy us at this very moment. Alongside this, the pervading reality that the mind is everything. It is our only reality. The brain is responsible for memories, imagination, thinking. When it’s functioning well we experience the World as we were meant to. If this vital organ is damaged or impaired it is often very confusing and sometimes even frightening. Continue reading “Mind Games”

People Analytics is not just for the Big Players


A few months ago I attended a mini conference, the title of which was something akin to “HR game changers”. But don’t let the title fool you. It was a self-organised, by the sector for the sector, event. We have a good network but it’s fairly insular, and as not for profit organisations we’re relatively poor. Therefore a free event really appeals to us, although it means cramming into a room above a shop in Leeds to hear speakers whose quality is by no me Continue reading “People Analytics is not just for the Big Players”

Situation Vacant: Employee Brain Power


As a teenager, I had the lucky experience of spending the whole six weeks of the summer holidays travelling with a German exchange student. I went to some fantastic places. I jumped off a waterfall. I learned to play cards. I’m not sure I learned much German. Yet there is one memory from that trip I’ve thought about much more than any other over Continue reading “Situation Vacant: Employee Brain Power”

Why I’m Looking Forward to #CIPD14


It looks like I’m finally going to have to crack. I’ve been blogging now for nearly 10 months, and in that time I’ve resisted writing a blog about blogging. But in less than two weeks I’ll be living every HR blogger’s dream by taking my place on the Blog Squad for the CIPD Annual Conference 2014!

Just over a year ago things couldn’t have been more different for me. I was still on maternity leave and never imagined that another social media site would pull me away from the addictive clutches of Pinterest. Apologies to those followers who enjoyed the cake decorating tips I used to share as once I’d discovered Twitter I didn’t look back!

A few months later I decided to combine my love of writing with my passion for my career and started my blog. Now here I am – feeling very honoured and little nervous, but mainly excited! Here’s why:

1. Blogging
Blogging to me is like the introvert’s version of standing up and giving a presentation to a room full of people. Writing is a skill that’s often underestimated, and yet it’s essential. The written word is a powerful reminder of an idea or an inspiration and there’s going to be plenty of those at #CIPD14.

2. Networking
Networking is still such an essential business skill but if you’re the type of person who dreads doing the rounds churning out small talk, social media is a godsend. I enjoy connecting with people on an individual level, and I’m really looking forward to meeting those people who are part of my online professional networks face to face.

3. Learning
I’m constantly thinking, searching for new information and analysing it against my work context as HR and Business Strategy Manager at livin housing. The sessions I’m particularly looking forward to are focussed on strategy, agility and wider challenges – can’t wait!

I hope to see you there – please say hi!

Skills versus Qualifications


I attended an interesting debate last week regarding UK skills policy – specifically how to ensure that young people leave school with the skills employers need. It was one of those things where you’re ready to give all the answers, but when you get there you realise everyone else already knows the answers too. Just nobody is doing anything about it.

And who can blame them? It’s a problem much bigger than any of us.

The setting for the debate was rather apt, given the subject. Beamish is an open air museum that recreates life in North East England 100 years ago. Travelling to the meeting location on an old fashioned tram, we passed the pit village where the school, moved brick by brick from nearby East Stanley, provides a model of education in the Victorian era.

In those days, manual jobs were as much a feature of children’s daily lives as they were in the classroom. Alongside the “3 R’s”, practical subjects such as woodwork, baking and needlework were taught in school. At home it was expected that children would undertake housework and chores on a daily basis from an early age. While school was already compulsory at that time, many left between age 12 and 14 to start work and earn money or help to run the family business.

Practical skills have all but disappeared from the modern curriculum. There is little time for them in a system focussed on only one outcome – not skills, but qualifications. We recognise, anecdotally at least that the traditionally academic route through university isn’t for everyone. Yet our culture continues in it’s attempt to force everyone into the same mould, inevitably leaving those who are unable to conform excluded and branded as failures.

While it is no doubt a good thing to open up the potential of a university place for everyone, to make it in essence compulsory is a mistake. The degree has unwittingly become the minimum entry criteria of employers who little understand the constantly changing education system.

The lack of alternatives (or the stigmatisation of alternatives) coupled with the removal of compulsory work experience and careers advice, on top of the requirement to stay in education longer means that many young people have no opportunity to find out what they are good at and little clue of what the world of work is actually like. Our teachers do an amazing job within those constraints, but they don’t understand the world of work either.

I could say that I don’t expect things to change with the general election approaching etcetera, but I’m not at all optimistic that things will ever change. Yes it’s all very well placing more emphasis on outcomes and destinations after education, but without more fundamental changes performance isn’t going to improve.

There isn’t a simple fix but ceasing to confuse qualifications with skills would be a good start.

Keep the debate going – let me know your thoughts below

Modern Day Mastery


You could be forgiven for thinking that nothing ever endures amongst the fast changing fads and fashions of modern living. It’s not just talk that’s cheap. Clothes, cars, cash are all consumable clutter used to communicate status. Money, people and even love, are a means to an end. Everything is temporary and we can always get more, more, more.

But there’s one thing we can’t control. It’s infinite, yet we can never get enough. We try to  apportion it, manage it, record it and analyse it, yet it continues on regardless. It is both a harsh mistress and heals all ills. We spend it more freely than money. We can’t stop it, or turn it back. Yes, our time is precious, ticking away towards an unknown end as sure as the sun rises. Yet how many of us can say we use our time wisely, doing something worthwhile.

Of course defining a good use of time is extremely subjective. Time is constant, yet how we use it is infinitely variable. Some of these uses are dictated by government policy, employers, family and cultural norms. The vast majority of us attend school, college and work as regular as clockwork in order to avoid punishment for non compliance. Whether we engage fully in that time by concentrating, learning and performing is a different matter. There’s always choice.

Just as one person’s trash is another’s treasure, one person’s time well spent is to another wasted. As employers we want our staff to conform to our definition of a good use of time, and we’re paying them to do so. As recruiters we pass judgement on whether a candidate’s life up until that point has been used wisely. We question whether their time spent in a job is too long or too short. Whether they’ve spent enough time doing academic training. Whether they’ve spent any time doing nothing and what that means. If we conclude they’ve made good use of that time, we ask them to commit their future working time to us and reward them with a job and salary.

It takes a significant investment of time to master a skill – according to Malcolm Gladwell, 10,000 hours. This is much longer than a typical modern day apprenticeship or degree and implies sustained dedication towards a singular goal. It’s easy to see how this lengthy time period could lead to mastery of a physical skill with measurable tangible improvements demonstrating competence. But for many modern job roles, focussed on gathering and assimilating knowledge, time is a poor measure. Neither is mastery as whether what we know is correct is subjective, may have little impact and changes quickly. Think of technolgy – we might invest a significant amount of time mastering certain digital processes – only for them to be obsolete tomorrow.

So modern day mastery is not just about learning, it’s about looking ahead to see what we don’t know now, but might need to know in the future. But how have our recruitment and development processes evolved to identify the presence of indicators of this behaviour, such as potential and talent? The answer is, they haven’t. And that’s a problem.

Learning is Culture Dependent


A couple of weeks ago the CIPD’s People Management magazine featured an interesting article about how we think the French are lazy (but they’re actually not). Aside from the truths about cultural perceptions, generalisations and misinterpretations from what sounds like a fascinating role, I thought the article title (no doubt intended to provoke), misleading. I’ve never met anyone who’s labelled the French as lazy. Rude, perhaps, but never lazy Continue reading “Learning is Culture Dependent”