These things I know…..

I’m speaking at a myHRcareers networking event this week. If you haven’t come across these guys, it is worth checking them out. One of the things that interests me is the chance to speak to people earlier on in their careers about HR, the world of work and what to expect (and avoid).

I kind of fell in to HR, as a lot of people did. And I made my way based on the good and the bad advice that I received from the good and bad managers around me. I never felt I particularly fitted in to the networking events or the branch events. They just didn’t seem to be people like me or who thought like me. I’m sure there were opportunities, I just never found them.

In looking back, and in preparation for Wednesday night, I thought back to the things that I’ve learnt about HR as a career and what that means.

1) Most people will have to do a whole lot of shit jobs, before they get to do a meaningful one. Most HR jobs are pretty tedious, in tedious companies, with tedious managers. You just have to realise you’re earning your stripes. Keep your head down and hold on to your dreams. In time you’ll get the opportunity to do something where you can make a difference. Remember the reason you want to, when you get there.

2) You’ll work for a lot of people who you don’t respect. The fact is that our profession is littered with more ineffective, unintentionally dangerous and damaging rejects than the QC department at Durex. That’s the way it is. Learn from them, remember what annoys you, what frustrates you and resolve to do things differently when you get the chance.

3) Nothing that you learn during your studies will help you in your employment. That doesn’t mean it is worthless; it just doesn’t help. Learn by speaking to others, listening, observing, trying and failing. You will make have less failures than you have successes, but you will remember them twice as clearly. That’s a good thing.

4) The difference between a great HR person and a rubbish HR person, is that a great person can tell you why they do their job as well as what they do. Never forget the why. And if it doesn’t have people at the heart of it, you’re a rubbish HR person in disguise.

5) This isn’t heart surgery. Nobody dies. That means that you can relax, have a little fun, be human and make people laugh. Trust me, they’ll love you more for it and it won’t cost you anything. Your reputation isn’t built on how far you can get the broom up your own arse; but if you really want to, there won’t be a shortage of people volunteering to help you with it.

A letter to Penny

Dear Penny,

I wanted to write to thank you for your letter. I realise that replying to it twenty-two years after receipt is probably considered bad form. But then, at the time, I wasn’t ready to reply. And it was only this weekend that I was going through some boxes that I came across it and read and appreciated it.

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Not missing the irony that, of course, this week people will be getting their own A-level results. And some of them will feel like I felt, back in 1992.

The strange thing about education, about our system is that we place so much importance on that very short period of time. You know, you and a few of the other teachers were absolutely right. I needed to go, I needed to get away and I needed to see what I could make of life.

At the time I was too obsessed with the opportunities that I saw diminishing before my eyes, to realise the world of opportunity that nonetheless awaited me. “But I was supposed to…” was the phrase that kept on going through my mind.

But life isn’t about “supposed to” or “should have”, life is about “can do” and “did do”. It took me the best part of twenty years to realise that. Before then I was too busy wanting to stick two fingers up to the past and show people I could be a success. I guess in some ways I’m grateful that this was my reaction to failure, rather than to get subsumed by it. Some people do.

The simple answer to your question though, is that I’m doing well. Life has been good to me, we’ve been successful and healthy and happy together. I’ve got to do things that I would never have dreamt would have been possible in that moment when I opened those results and saw the letters C,D&E. I’ve worked in amazing companies with some of the brightest people in their sectors. And together we’ve repeatedly made history.

And it makes me think that this week, like me 22 years ago, there are going to be people all over the country that are going to feel the world collapse under their feet as they look at the letters that they have on their screens (what happened to paper?)

My message to them is to, “go, get away and make what they can of life. Focus on what you can do and will do, not what you can’t do or won’t do. Your world feels limited, reduced and cruelly diminished. But your talents aren’t. You are everything that you were before and more. And you will be even greater still”.

With a bit of luck, they’ll have had teachers that cared for them, that nurtured them, that educated them. Not to pass exams, but (like I did) to help them grow. I hope they go out there and prove you right and the system wrong. I want them to be focussed, be successful and be happy.

Thanks for teaching me this Penny. I’m sorry it took me so long to realise and to learn, but maybe that’s why I didn’t do as well as I wanted. I’m a little bit slow. I hope life treated you well and I’m sorry we lost contact. Who knows, maybe the connected world of the web will rectify that.

From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

Neil

PS. You’re too kind about the poetry, it was always a bit crap. But I guess I’m still writing, so that’s ok?

NB. If anyone happens to know the whereabouts of Penny Salkield, it would be my absolute pleasure to thank her in person.

The skills debate is changing, but you’re still doing the same

I’m fascinated by the changing employment market. I’m fascinated by education. And I’m absolutely fascinated by the crossover between the two. Any HR professional worth their salt (and there are more than you’d imagine) should be intrigued, concerned and curious about the changing landscape of skills and education.

Let me put it simply,

  • If you’re a carpenter, you need to know that you’re going to get enough good quality wood.
  • If you’re a butcher, you want to know where your meat is coming from.
  • If you make wine, you care about the grapes.

Do we have a skills shortage, a skills deluge or a skill mix problem?

Well, probably a bit of all three.

I was taking part in an interview last week about over skilled and under utilised employees. I won’t take you through the whole thing, you have better things to do with your lives. But a couple of comments stuck in mind.

At the end the interviewer said to me, “thank you, it is great to hear from a company that recognised the presence of a skills mismatch. Most of the companies we’ve spoken to said they haven’t witnessed it.”

Really? My response was, “ask their employees what they think”.

The second was an observation that had been stuck in my brain for a while. When I talk to my colleagues in Germany, a large proportion of the HR people have a PhD. I can’t think of a single one in the UK. Clearly they are over skilled and over qualified. Or not?

I’m not sure there is any point to this. I’m not sure I have a great reveal to make or any insight to give, just more questions.

At a time when we are talking about a skills shortage.

Do we actually have more than we think? Is the labour market broken? Has immigration, the democratisation of tertiary education and the mobility of labour changed the rules of the game?

And are we all struggling to catch up?

Open up your door

If I promise not to rant, will you bear with me a minute? Because I need to get serious, just for a while.

Back in 1992 I left my state school. I didn’t come from a particularly privileged family, but by no means was I disadvantaged. My dad was a civil servant and my mum was a lecturer at the local FE college. I didn’t get particularly good A-levels, in fact they were poor….the letters, C, D and E were involved. More than once.

As a result, I didn’t get in to any of my first choice universities. I went in to clearing and eventually got a place at the University of Sunderland (Polytechnic) and went there to study Psychology. I graduated in 1995.

What is he talking about? I can hear you say it. Where is he going?

But, if I told you…..you might not keep reading. And you need to read on.

1995 wasn’t a great time to be graduating, jobs weren’t abundant, businesses were on their knees. I applied for graduate schemes but I didn’t have the university, the school or the polish to pull it off. I was directionless.

Not being able to get a job, someone suggested I study for the IPM (Institute of Personnel Management). Given I had nothing else to do, I did. Working nights to fund the fees and moving back in with my parents with my newly married wife. It wasn’t great. But it wasn’t horrific.

Even then, with my shiny postgraduate, I still couldn’t get a job. I have hundreds, HUNDREDS of rejection letters in a file at home. Everything asked for experience, but no-one wanted to give you experience. It was a classic Catch 22.

Then something special happened to me. I applied for a job at a crappy old hospital in a crappy part of the world. But, I didn’t know it then, there was someone willing to take a chance. The interview was a blur, but I remember cracking a joke about my wedding being in French and unsuspectingly marrying the wrong woman…..it wasn’t my greatest joke.

I left and walked back to the bus that would take me to the train, that would take me to the other train, that would take me to the ferry, that would eventually take me home.

And then I heard a voice behind me. It was a guy called Colin Moore. And Colin offered me a job. A chance. An opportunity.

That moment took place nearly 17 years ago.

The work wasn’t brilliant, the job wasn’t amazing, the location was frankly shite. I spent Sunday to Friday in a bedsit, before travelling for four hours back home for Friday and Saturday nights. But it was a chance. It was an opportunity. It was proper experience and it gave me a chance to start my career.

Nearly two decades later, I’m not doing too badly. I’m doing ok. I think I’ve grown a bit, I’ve learnt a bit. But it was all down to that one person that was willing to take a punt on a snotty nosed idiot with no experience.

And that’s why I’m so proud today to be supporting the launch of the Open Doors Campaign and particularly through the Talent Tour taking place. I don’t care what your politics are, the issue of social mobility and talent management are intrinsically linked. And Open Doors is trying to change the way that we, in business, do things to open up opportunities for young people regardless of their backgrounds.

I’m proud that my company was an early signatory to the Business Compact on Social Mobility. I’m proud of the work that my team do to increase transparency of opportunity.

If you work in HR or you are a business owner, no matter how big, no matter how small, I’d urge you to get involved. If you are on social media I would BEG you, today to publicise the campaign by following @dpmoffice & @JamesCaan or the hashtag #MissionOpeningDoors. And if you have a personal story to share about your own career break then please use the hashtag #MyBigBreak.

This is an opportunity for the HR community online to show their power, their influence and to raise awareness of an issue that many of us have debated time and time again. So go tweet, go Retweet, put political boundaries aside for today and be the people that really make change happen.

Thank you. This means so much to me, both personally and professionally. Maybe together we can really make a difference.