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Recruitment industry leader is embracing L&D and coping with COVID-19

May 20, 2020

In the latest of RCSA and LinkedIn’s The New Face of Recruitment: Female Leaders Paving the Way series, Melanie Clark, Learning and Development Consultant, with Randstad, talks to LinkedIn's Hannah Kissel and Clara McCarthy about the increasing focus on L&D within the recruitment industry, the impact ofCOVID-19 on the workplace and her advice for smaller firms looking to keep their staff educated and engaged.


Q: What’s been your experience with L&D and what drew you to L&D in the recruitment space?


I’ve been with Randstad for over 25 years, so I can’t say with my hand on my heart that I set out to have a career in L&D but I definitely feel that I’ve landed in my space. I started as a recruiter with Select Appointments, who were purchased by Vedior and then by Randstad, as we are now known.


I fell into recruitment. That long ago, it wasn’t as well regarded as it is now. There were a lot less barriers into entry in terms of who we might have chosen to recruit. I was a decent recruiter but I wasn’t the best recruiter so, about five years into my career, I put my hand up and said “What else can I do?” and I was lucky enough to get an opportunity in our IT department as a data base trainer.


So that’s really where the teaching side and the L&D side of what I do began.


We didn’t have a dedicated L&D team then either. It always did, and still does for us, fall under the HR banner. Our HR Director, Felicity Empson, is incredibly interested in all things learning, so she and I work together. We actually have the largest L&D team we have ever had. Usually it’s hovered around one or two people, but we actually now have a dedicated Operations L&D team who specifically hone in on onboarding and the consultant piece, in terms of training.


My focus is fairly heavily around leadership and I retain the role of Technical Trainer. I personally have quite an interest in IT and tech, so when we went to Google, I was naturally part of that project team. We’re in the midst of revamping and revisioning our CRM and I am part of that team. So I have retained that tech piece, just because I like it, more than anything else.


Q: The recruitment industry, and indeed the world, is going through a uniquely challenging time because of COVID-19. How has that changed Randstad’s approach to L&D and your role in that process?


Interestingly, whilst we have had to be agile in our approach to what we are delivering during these unprecedented times, we were already well equipped to provide virtual training as it is part of how we deliver to our teams normally due to the breadth of our business and number of offices we support. From onboarding being provided virtually (using Google Hangouts) to ensure all new team members get the same experience to our consultant program also always offered a virtual experience to ensure all the offices that were not covered by our Trainers Network.


For Leadership training, we began a project of converting our F2F training to “just in time” learning modules that can be accessed by our team via a dedicated L&D intranet page at any time as needed.


This is supported by larger training programs, which are also conducted as blended learning programs virtually. The team have had to pivot somewhat in terms of adjusting our training content to the current climate to ensure it is relevant. This has been done by virtual group discussions and surveying our people to target the business needs.


We’ve got a huge breadth of offices and a huge breadth of locations that our leadership team work in, so it was really difficult to get people to get out of their offices, to get out of their businesses to come to a location for often a three-day period. That role is such a pivotal role in driving business, it was often difficult for people to feel they could come along unencumbered, and we could only run them a certain number of times a year.


So things like trying to save money on travel and accommodation – all those sorts of considerations – meant we had already gone pretty far down the path of converting all of that to “just in time” so we created a dedicated L&D intranet internally and it acts as a skin to deliver these modules to people when they need them.


So, a newer manager would be encouraged to go through those in potentially a more dedicated, ordered fashion but it also means that our longer-term, in terms of tenure, managers can go back and revisit them. So if they were about to do A Great Conversation, which is our performance management process, they can go back and look at that content just before they do that conversation to make sure it’s going along the right track.


And that is supplemented by three major programs – one that focuses on sales, one that focuses on leading transformation in the digital age, where we partner with London Business School, and the third one is our Global Mentorship Program that is run out of our Frits Goldschmeding Academy in The Netherlands. The last two were actually virtual already, so we feel quite lucky in that we haven’t had to pivot that much, in terms of how we were already delivering to our people.


Q: Now, more than ever, businesses are relying on strong leadership to get them through this crisis. What does “strong leadership” mean to you? How are you showing it in your role?


For me, a strong leadership is an empathetic leader. One of my favourite leadership voices is Brene Brown who talks about great leaders needing to be vulnerable first. Leaders need to be able to adjust their leadership style to suit each of their team members to ensure they get the best out of the individual. The best leaders want to see their teams succeed and learning how to ask great developmental mentoring questions ensures the person understands they often have the answers within themselves, they just needed someone to ask the right questions!


After having worked on my own for much of the last two years, I recently added to my team so I’ve had to brush up on my own learning and practice in this area, along with working completely remotely. To adjust to this, we have incorporated a daily WIP meeting so project and tasks are discussed often and we are working towards the same goals, along with tools like Google Jamboard as a visual representation of the items we are working on.


Ensuring that I am checking in often in these “face to face” sessions and gauging energy levels and motivation of the team are more important than ever during this pandemic as everyone can and will react differently as the weeks go by.


I believe Randstad has done a spectacular job of ensuring the wellbeing of our teams here from a very early stage. Our senior leadership team have lead the way with having a plan that was communicated to the entire group, using our internal communications tools to repeat messaging and provide updates to the group, converting activities to virtual ones (CEO roadshow to CEO virtual team meetings), holding a wellbeing month to encourage healthy work and home habits during April and “walking the talk” with regard to pivoting to meet the needs of our clients and candidates.


Q: What would you say to recruitment agencies that are just on the beginning of their L&D journey or are interested in exploring L&D? Some agencies could potentially be hesitant because they might not recognise the ROI right away and some agencies are very much revenue focused.


If I think about some of the feedback I get, and obviously we are a larger organisation, I think things like EVP questionnaires where we ask people what attracts them to us, time and time again, Learning and Development opportunities come up as a reason people want to join us.


It doesn’t have to be as grandiose. When we started out, there was only one-and-a-half of us and what we offered was certainly not to the level that it is now. When I think back to my Select days, we weren’t doing all these technically-based things. We had VHS video tapes that we had to watch when we first started and documents we had to go through and read that formed L&D.


So you can start small and still have people feel like they are getting some form of development.


Something as simple as having an IDP. I’m not saying we do this exceptionally well across our business – it’s still something we have to push some of our management teams to do. Having an IDP means understanding some of the competencies that make up a person’s role. It’s about underpinning what someone does and helping them understand that. Having that conversation is the most important thing.


There are so many things out there now for those smaller, boutique places that are not going to have a budget to potentially have a dedicated LMS and ways to deliver training through that. It’s as simple as having a list of the competencies for the role and being able to work through them via conversations and, with some regularity, going back to them and revisiting the goals. It can be as simple as that.


I’ve actually been mentoring a lady in the recruitment industry through the RCSA’s Pearl Mentoring Program. She was in a sales role in her business and, again, she was pretty good at it but just didn’t love it. She ended up building a role for herself because she was naturally that person who people came to, to ask her questions. So she has built herself an L&D role in that business.