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Hiring heroes to win the war for talent

For Steve Dutson, Bureau Veritas’ Strategic Resourcing Manager for North West Europe, a unique yet varied role, allows him to combine extensive knowledge in recruitment strategy with a genuine and personal passion for the armed forces.

Steve DutsonMore than just a job for Dutson, he talks to Rullion about current and key recruitment considerations including planning a strategic talent pipeline, diversity & inclusion and staff retention, alongside a deep involvement with Bureau Veritas’ ex-military recruitment programme,Joint Forces.

For many HR professionals, finding the right resource for their business can be a daily challenge; trawling CVs that at first glance appear not to tick the initial boxes, before tossing them aside without a second thought. But could companies be missing a trick through disregarding certain applications? When it comes to those of ex-forces personnel, Dutson argues “yes”.

He explains, “Once they [ex-military applicants] come to us, we look beyond the way a CV is laid out or written and head straight to their skills and experiences. We appreciate the military CV’s we receive have a different approach, for instance, the military are encouraged to talk about “we” rather than “I” and are in an environment where you don’t celebrate or shout about how great you are. Sometimes you have to tease that information out”.

In Dutson’s organisation, an ex-military recruitment programme was borne in 2012 as he and a colleague carried out an exercise and to ask ‘what does good look like?’ Listing the qualities of their top performers, a pattern emerged with a number of them sharing an historic HM Forces involvement and on noting that some ten thousand people leave the military every year through natural wastage, Dutson was encouraged to explore further.

“Looking at this long-term, we realised there was always going to be this wastage that we could tap into. As we started in 2012, our ambition was to basically take as many good performing [ex-military] people into our business as we possibly could, and essentially it started from there.”

Dutson continues that the recruitment process is probably more adaptive than a regular process. “We don’t have a special or different route for the forces, and I think that’s a mistake that people make – they tend to treat military people as different and they shouldn’t.”

For Dutson, everyone is assessed in the same way because the core hard and soft skills required are still the same, but the criteria is adapted so that backgrounds and specific skills are identified.

“It is often the soft skills of candidates in the civilian world that are not as prevalent as those of the military”, states Dutson, “The punctuality, the ability to problem solve and to deal with clients are all important, not just technical skills. If I were to say what good looks like in Bureau Veritas, I’d say those skills and behaviours and that’s why we’re always keen to speak to and employ military people.”

As an ex-cadet himself, Dutson is familiar with the culture of the armed forces: “The military is a family, a community and a lifestyle – it’s not a job as such”. He talks about speaking with people who haven’t interviewed for 25 years as their last one was at age 16 or 18 on joining up. Through this understanding, the business is able to provide help, support and advice to ex-forces personnel and more specifically offers transitional assistance in the form of existing ex-services employees who have already been through the transition process who can personally help and advise new service leaders through their own transition.

A strategic recruitment pipeline

Key to Dutson’s approach is, as for many businesses, the identification of a strategic talentpipeline, and his aim is to ensure a continuous pipeline of talent streams flow into the business. He says “It’s not as simple as ‘we have a role today, how can we fill it?’, but more ‘what will we need in two, three or four years time?’ What kinds of skills and people will we need and where are those individuals going to come from?”

As such, Dutson is constantly on the look-out for potential future leaders who can grow into technical specialists or area managers, not just someone who can fill a role today.

Research carried out by The Institute of Leadership and Management highlights that a steady stream of management talent capable of delivering strong economic growth is essential and that creating these leaders and managers should be the top priority for UK business.

Dutson explains: “It’s not simply about needing ten engineers to do a project, it’s also about what are those engineers looking for? What do they look like? Where do they come from? And, what else do they want? It’s not enough to just take somebody for today; it’s about where that engineer is going to be in our organisation in five years time. Are they a future leader? Are they able to grow into a technical specialist or an area manager? It’s looking at careers, not jobs.”

It is this approach to sourcing and developing good personnel and that makes the business’ ex-military recruitment programme work. Personal Development Plans for all Bureau Veritas employees ensure that an individual’s career goals fit within the long term strategic goals of the business. “So a career here can take you to many different places and stages...we can say to someone quite genuinely, ‘you can join us here today but where you are in three years may be very different – it’s up to you’. It’s good to hand them that empowerment.”

Talent Sourcing

Upwards of 200 people per year are currently recruited by Bureau Veritas and an estimated 8-10 per cent of those are ex-forces who join through the ex-military recruitment programme,Joint Forces.

To reach his target audience Dutson uses a variety of sourcing methods, including inviting services personnel to open days where they can speak directly with business managers, extensive networking on sites such as LinkedIn and a dedicated careers page within the company’s website. Often though, Dutson prefers to go straight to the core and works with a number of services resettlement officers with whom he has built up relationships. He says, “There are a lot of links that we use and a number of avenues for getting people to come to us.” 

A diverse and inclusive workforce

Diversity and inclusion is, as it is for many companies, another item high on the agenda for both Steve Dutson and Bureau Veritas. He tells us that in some ways, this is precisely what the ex-military recruitment program is: “From our point of view we very much see it [the programme] as an inclusivity project in the sense that we are taking people that traditionally may not have the background we’d naturally look for. But what we’ve proven is that they have skills and experience that are of great practical benefit to our organisation.” He goes on to say, “...we’re looking at diversifying our workforce, and it’s not only about gender, it’s about what people’s backgrounds are and where they’ve come from.”

Dutson feels that working in this way can help to tackle recruitment issues, for instance, STEM skills shortages, in that by being more inclusive and diverse in our searches – including taking people from diverse backgrounds - and committing to the development of those people, employers are able to not only fill roles, but retain their staff too. 

Staff retention

The retention of staff for Bureau Veritas is viewed as probably a more accurate measure of the success of the ex-military programme, than a just a headcount of the number of ex-forces hires. Dutson states, “We’re not on the same scale as some of large companies that are able to offer placements to hundreds of workers at once, but we’re really proud of the fact that we take a good number of people and we keep them.”

Nearly 100 permanent recruits have come via the programme, and interestingly, almost ¾ of them can be classified as being retained over a number of years. “Civilian transition is very difficult and we’re really proud of that! Some of our people have been here for more than ten, twenty years” Dutson adds.

Retention for him begins at the very start of the recruitment process, where psychometric assessments are seen as critical to enabling the best judgement possible to be made on an individual’s suitability. After hiring, Dutson describes three parts; one being benefits, salary and total rewards package with the second being the continual development of the employee. Thereafter, according to him, retention comes down to the full understanding of people’s backgrounds and circumstances, including offering support through flexible working, part time working and working from home, where possible. Empathy and understanding are key.

The Perfect Partnership

The programme has additional benefits for both parties. For example, in return for the promotion of the reserve forces at recruitment events, the organisation is able to access and provide to their employees some of the best leadership and management training in the world, delivered by the military.

And further, Dutson works with the likes of the cadet services, offering apprenticeships to cadets who don’t necessarily want to join the regulars but want to join the reserves alongside a technical career with Bureau Veritas.

Offering much more than jobs to ex-military workers, the organisation also provides assistance with CV training, CV writing and interview training to individuals looking to enter into civilian employment or education, raising self esteem and confidence.

The initiative has led to Dutson recently receiving a silver award on behalf of his organisation from the MOD for employee engagement. Dutson proudly explains,

“This shows the military world we are a military friendly organisation and we have a certain amount of kudos from that.”

He concludes “ ...I am very fortunate to say that I am part of a business that sees the value of military personnel, and of their skills, and that allows me to go out and do something like this.”

Although not every business can go to the lengths of Steve Dutson with the implementation of a specific ex-military recruitment drive, he encourages recruiters everywhere to look outside of the box and to embrace diversity with the ultimate goal of reducing your time to hire, retaining those individuals and improving employee engagement.

Steve Dutson has been working in recruitment for more than ten years and has been with Bureau Veritas for five. He currently manages and facilitates both the recruitment and associated strategic recruitment programmes across North Western Europe, focusing on multinational and large scale mobilisation projects.