Debi Bell, head of HR services, Lanes Group Appointments, Skills, Strategy & management, Opinion, Skills

“Focus resource and effort on the key HR functions that touch the lives of employees.”

The Utility Week HR Forum I attended in September gave a good flavour of current concerns across the utilities sectors: skills gaps and how to fill them; aligning recruitment with national strategy; embedding female retention; the impact of technology and the need for change; and developing the new generation of engineers.

These are all really important issues, and they exist as a thread throughout everything we do. However, dare I say it, everyday life in human resources can involve a good deal of fire-fighting as well as strategising. When you are beginning to feel you might be losing the plot, it is important to be absolutely sure you are doing the basics right. Focusing resource and effort on the key HR ­functions that touch and influence the lives of ­employees is essential.

By concentrating on doing the basics right you can also drive forward the changes you want to improve key business indicators such as staff ­retention, a reducing skills gap, and operational ­productivity.
So what are the basics? In my view they are recruitment, induction, review and appraisal, training, personal development and continuity planning, and communication.

There was discussion at the Forum about the need for honesty and openness during the recruitment process. This is especially the case in the wastewater sector.

Being a drainage engineer is going to be a challenge if you’re squeamish about bodily functions or smells. But you can emphasise the strong customer service element to the role, something we, as a sector, probably do not do enough.

We will keep doing the basics. But that does not mean we will not be seeking to accommodate more of the broader range of issues we know are having a big impact on our business.

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