In this blog, Steve Holliday, chief executive of the National Grid, discusses why investment in talent is as important as spending on infrastructure
As chief executive of an international utilities company, investment is a priority for me and the National Grid board. In the UK, we are investing around £26bn over the next eight years in infrastructure to ensure we can connect people to the energy they need.
Many factors contribute to a company’s success but, ultimately, the people who make good decisions drive everything else. Therefore, investment in employees is equally as important as spending on infrastructure because the future success of our business depends on the quality of those we employ.
Getting recruitment right is critical. It costs to advertise, vacancies can stifle the business, and if we don’t get the right people into the right jobs then costs spiral upwards. So when we reviewed our own recruitment practices, it surprised us to see that the areas where we advertised jobs – or the ways in which we defined our needs – were making opportunities inaccessible to a large number of skilled people.
They had the abilities we needed and many of them were unemployed. We weren’t the only organisation to realise this, which is why 90 UK companies joined National Grid and Business in the Community to create Generation Talent. We challenged ourselves to scrutinise our recruitment processes and make simple changes, such as advertising with Jobcentre Plus.
Together, we have pledged to make 25,000 jobs visible to the unemployed. And, crucially, we expect 10,000 vacancies to be filled by young people. Britain has the fastest-growing rate of youth unemployment of all the G8 countries. Studies by the UK Commission for Employment and Skills show that by 2017, 58 per cent of new jobs created will require skills in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (Stem). Yet if we look at physics alone – a key subject for engineering employers like National Grid – less than 10 per cent of all A-level students study it.
In essence, we are educating young people out of jobs, or at least increasing their chances of being unemployed and once they are jobless, our systems and processes are screening them out. This benefits no one. It’s bad for the economy and bad for business. Talented people are being overlooked because of how recruitment processes perceive, receive and assess the unemployed.
But we can turn this around. Large and small businesses can become more involved in education to influence young people’s subject choices at a much younger age. And we need to look closely at how recruitment works and get involved in initiatives such as Generation Talent to ensure that we’re not missing out on good people. It’s the right thing to do, and it also makes good business sense.