Going for growth: People, purpose and collaboration

The CBI held its annual conference in November. With the government setting out its levelling up agenda, what are the key conference takeaways for global people and mobility? Ruth Holmes reports.

Panellists on the CBI talent session


Think Global People Winter Issue 2022
This article is taken from the latest issue of Think Global People magazine.
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Seize the moment” was the strapline for this year’s CBI virtual and in-person conference. Using eight locations around the UK as its platform, the business representative body’s national roadshow set about showing how the levelling-up agenda is primed and ready in many of the UK’s regions, and how businesses from all sectors are working to make this aspiration a reality.Panels on topics like attracting and retaining talent for the future of work, breakthrough technologies, leadership and COP26 reflections over the three-day meeting illustrated how some companies are already pulling the four levers the CBI believes necessary to achieving the levelling up agenda: high-value sectors, high-value firms, high-levels skills and higher investment.The business leaders represented also showed how the UK continues to be a heavyweight contender in global enterprise and gave reasons for cheer amid continuing Covid, Brexit and environmental disruption. Emerging from the conference are many examples of good practice and a vision where everyone has a stake in building the future – no matter which sector or organisation they work in.
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Regional growth clusters

The CBI conference’s distinctly regional flavour offered signposts for everyone involved in the global people agenda – HR global mobility expertise, corporates, start-ups and SMEs, as well as the relocation supply chain – around how they can get involved in re-gearing business practices for growth post-pandemic. While panellists and delegates differed in opinion on whether they are surviving or thriving after the past two years, most agreed that UK business has shown resilience and proved that things can change at pace when necessary.The CBI’s upbeat gathering launched with the representative body announcing its new Centre for Thriving Regions. Its aim is to co-ordinate private sector involvement and fast-track growth in the UK’s “branch-line economy”. The Centre will build on the economic clusters model, create a levelling-up playbook and be led by a new Director, supported by businesses, academic institutions and the CBI’s regional network.“I have spoken to companies far and wide who want us to do this work, who want to ensure that we throw the full weight of private sector involvement, ingenuity, and investment behind a shared mission to level-up the country,” said CBI Director General, Tony Danker, in his opening address.Highlighting the appetite for investors to look beyond London for future returns was delegate Simon Robeson, Managing Partner of North East Capital. Responding from the audience during the “On the march to a thriving UK” panel held on Day One at the Port of Tyne, Newcastle, Mr Robeson said that Q1 2022 will see the company “become the first, private-led fund to provide scale-up funding to support tech companies in the north-east.” Raising £200mn from the City of London, it will be “a finance bridge from one of the biggest capital markets in the world to the north-east.”The type of companies he is backing are like those attracted to the Port of Tyne’s 2050 Maritime Innovation Hub. This space for collaboration is developing solutions to the technological challenges that the maritime sector and wider logistics industry face nationally and globally. Panellist Matt Beaton, Port of Tyne CEO, said that such investment will be the missing link. “We collaborate with thousands of people, hundreds of businesses. One thing that has struck me is that there are so many ideas out there that can make a huge difference to business, but actually linking those ideas up to capital is the next stage for us.”  

International talent attraction

The appeal and potential of the UK’s regions for global talent were also in evidence at the CBI conference. Serial entrepreneur, Gilbert Corrales, came to the UK under the government’s global talent-attraction campaign.Co-founder and CEO of Leaf, an end-to-end performance marketing solutions tech company based in Newcastle now employing over 50 people, Gilbert Corrales said the region’s impressive higher education network, as well as its proximity to markets, is appealing to start-ups and supporting growth.“In our case, we wanted to be closer to Newcastle to give us that access to the market without the cost and distraction of being in London, but also with the access to the European market.”That the UK can continue to attract and support global people and be home to thriving international businesses continues to be a concern for leaders and sits squarely in the global mobility remit.During November, the CBI increased the volume of its calls to the government to address severe skills shortages through immigration policy as net migration fell to its lowest level for decades alongside a record 1.1mn live vacancies across the UK, compounding pre-pandemic skills shortages. Three-quarters (76%) of employers responding to the CBI/Pertemps Employment Trends Survey 2021 published during the conference said skills shortages are threatening UK competitiveness.Asked how they are managing ongoing talent and skills shortages, panellists on the Hays’ Breakfast Panel debate on Day Two from Westminster agreed there was more to be done on the high-skills agenda. Panel host, Caroline Roberts, interim HR Director at the CBI, said, “Employers are competing for staff in ways we haven’t seen for a long time. There is a real need to act now so businesses have the pipeline of talent they need to grow and prosper.”

Attracting and retaining global tech talent

At Arm, a world-leading semiconductor company with its global HQ in Cambridge, panellist Ben Murphy-Ryan, Senior Director – Talent Acquisition, said that it engages early with undergraduate internships to build long-term relationships with tech talent. “It’s really important for the UK that we have that really vibrant early-careers market.”Arm has also started to widen the diversity of schools and academic institutions it works with to increase its early-career talent pool and the profile of technology across all communities, which aligns with Relocate Global’s emphasis on education over the past few years.The company continues to be a net importer of talent. It recognises the key role of location in recruitment and retention and is working on many fronts to keep up with candidates’ needs, including on hybrid working and wellbeing.“We are growing and needing more skills in a really tight marketplace,” Ben Murphy-Ryan explained. “The UK is still a really popular destination for people to come from overseas and bring their skills and capabilities. Location is important to people. It’s not just about where they work. It’s around families and life as well. We hire a lot into Cambridge, to Manchester and Sheffield. The commonality there is the lifestyle and the environment.”

The future of recruitment and retention

Most panellists also agreed that attracting and recruiting people at other stages of their careers, eg people looking to retrain and change careers and those returning to the workplace after a life event, is an emerging space and about assessing for potential and learning mindsets. With the multigenerational workforce very much here to stay, this is another area for global HR and the relocation supply chain to adjust, innovate and meet the challenge.The CBI and leaders present emphasised how now is a key moment to make change. Collaborations, like those identified in the CBI’s new Centre for Thriving Cities and the Port of Tyne’s 2050 Maritime Innovation Hub, and partnership are going to be even more important in going for growth during the uncertainty of the pandemic and towards a zero-carbon future.Kevin Fitzpatrick, Senior VP, Manufacturing and Supply Chain, AMIEO Region, of car manufacturer Nissan, a panellist on Day One, suggested that ongoing change and uncertainty is about looking for the conditions of success to face challenges. Nissan’s shift to electric vehicles, for example, is a “Massive partnership and the alignment of a lot of things coming together. It can’t be done by single companies.” 

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