More than just retail Sarah Holland is Head of Resourcing for Tesco UK, responsible for recruitment. This interview is the first of a series of dialogs with major UK employers who are members of the Future of Employment Working Group, a forum in which the REC is having frank discussions with employers about the future recruitment landscape.
What is your professional background, and how did you get into the field of recruitment?
I started as a geography and geology graduate so sometimes I do wonder about that myself!
I joined Tesco on their graduate programmein 1996, and have done a variety of jobs since then working for years in store, in operations,and only moved to Personnel in 2002. I worked on our absence programme and then spent two years as a regional Personnel Manager for a group of Extra stores before returning to HQ as Head of Resourcing.
Having been Head of Resourcing at Tesco for only five weeks, what do you see as the immediate challenges of the role?
With our size and international growth, how do we recruit the best people and ensure we have the widest choice of talent? We are in the fortunate position of having many opportunities for anyone who wants to work for us and anyone who wants to progress. We do have excellent training and development programmes, commonly known as options, but filling the vacancies we have with the best people all the time is quite a challenge.
How would you characterise the Tesco brand as an employer? What are the strengths and weaknesses of being one of the most well-known high street retailers?
The Tesco brand is universal as well as local – the issue we face is the word ‘retail’. We are not always perceived as a sexy business and people don’t think of us as the first choice of career. We are working to change this by offering qualifications to our staff in the form of Apprenticeships, and we are trialling Foundation Degrees this September.
With more than 20 million customers choosing to shop with us each week there are lots of opinions and experiences of our business. This can really help our brand if people share these views with their family, More than just retail friends and neighbours. Conversely, we will always face criticism and have done lots of work to develop local relationships.
You recruit an incredibly wide range of staff – is there any such thing as a ‘typical’ assignment? What attributes do you look for in your staff?
It takes all sorts to run a business like ours, so I don’t think there is a ‘typical assignment’. People think it’s all about shops, but there is a wealth of opportunity for distribution jobs, international jobs and those in head office with IT, commercial, property and so on.
We like people who want to be with us, and we encourage internal promotion and personal growth. Obviously friendly, helpful and happy staff is our goal.
Tesco is seeing significant changes in the way its products and services are delivered and growth in non-food areas and products such as financial services. How do you see these changes impacting your staffing requirements?
Continuous change is familiar for those who work in this business; it’s our ability to adapt and change that has allowed us to meet the needs of our customers. If there’s a new venture or way of doing something we think it through carefully, develop what the roles might look like and then spot the talent to fill them.
The different way we do things will impact staffing requirements – sometimes we will need more staff, e.g. dot com, new stores, extensions etc and sometimes we will need people to do things in a different way, for example in an area such as Tesco Direct.
Tesco is on record supporting a policy of workforce diversity – what steps has the organisation taken to deliver on this agenda?
We have a Diversity Council where the senior representatives across the business meet and discuss our strategy on further building the diversity agenda. We are challenging ourselves on the numbers and mix of diverse managers we have and are pushing ourselves hard to develop and recruit an increasingly diverse workforce. We have also produced training material for our managers to give them the skills to support all ages, genders, ethnicity, disabilities and sexual orientations.
We have taken practical steps to meet the needs of our staff – for instance, all stores have a religious toolkit, acknowledging important festivals such as Divali, Eid, black history month and national saints’ days such as St George’s.
How would you characterise Tesco’s relationship with the recruitment industry?
We have a great relationship with a number of recruitment agencies, who help us fill some of the gaps we are unable to fill internally.
How would you see the relationship with the recruitment industry evolving over the next five years?
I see the relationship growing over time. I think recruitment agencies have to help us find talent from new areas. I’d like to see agencies be more creative about identifying non-retail candidates who could excel in our business. Recruitment agencies will remain an important channel to bring new talent into Tesco, and will supplement the pipelines already in place.
What measures do you use to judge the success of your recruitment partnerships?
The quality, diversity and capability of the individual, the speed of the solution, being spoilt for choice on every vacancy and, of course, the cost.