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Howard Sloane Top Tips & Interview Highlights

Howard Sloane is another keynote speaker at “Using Data to Optimise your Talent Acquisition”, our complimentary breakfast seminar taking place at the Mere, Knutsford on 17th March. As Group HR Director at Peel Ports Ltd, Howard will be speaking about some of the recruitment challenges he’s faced and overcome. Here we revisit Howard’s top tips and highlights of his interview with Rullion.

Introducing an in-house recruitment team, dispelling industry misconceptions, tightening the PSL, and increasing employer branding are just some of the changes Howard Sloane’s HR strategy has included since taking over as Group HR Director at Peel Ports in 2011.

So how has he done it? And what are some of the challenges has he faced along his journey so a far? 

MISCONCEPTION OF THE PORTS INDUSTRY

The UK ports industry is a traditional industry with a long history. Many cities were built around ports and because of this a lot of people – and therefore candidates – have the misconception that organisations like Peel Ports are part of an old industry with old ways of working. They couldn’t be further from the truth!

The UK ports industry is booming with a large amount of import and export which relies on modern technology, said Sloane. According to him, Peel Ports is already established as a leading port group in Britain and plays a major role in the movement of goods, with five major gateways strategically located around the UK:

  • Port of Liverpool
  • Manchester Ship Canal
  • Heysham Port
  • London Medway Port
  • Clydeport

The Group also operates out of Dublin and Belfast.

However, when you turn to recruitment, it’s possible that a lot of people have not heard of Peel Ports. Sloane’s aim, therefore, has been to address this in line with Peel Ports’ overall business objectives around growth and acquisition.

In order to achieve this, Howard’s HR team has focused on three principle areas:

  1. Working closely with the organisation to ensure Peel Ports has the right staff to run the business and achieve ambitious growth targets;
  2. Ensuring that existing employees are developed and remain engaged;
  3. Improving the employer brand, removing the anachronistic view of a career in the ports industry and attracting the best possible talent. 

EMPLOYER BRANDING

When Sloane first arrived at Peel Ports in 2011, a number of school children at a Liverpool Careers Fair had never even heard of the company and some didn’t even realise that Liverpool had a busy port. This realisation not only shocked Sloane, but propelled him into action.

Fast forward a number of years and children are now queuing to speak to Peel Ports’ HR representatives at careers fairs. Peel Ports has engaged further with apprenticeship programmes, reached out to local schools/colleges and become more actively involved in social media.

“We’ve really opened up our doors and said ‘look, if you want an exciting career in logistics, this is a really great place to be’.” said Sloane.

ALIGNING YOUR HR STRATEGY TO YOUR BUSINESS NEEDS

Peel Ports’ business strategy is aligned to that of the Peel Group and is based on growth and acquisition, particularly in the North West. As such, Sloane’s HR strategy is based on both existing and future growth and acquisition needs.

“Unloading and distributing the staggering volumes that come through our ports is not something that can be done with a spreadsheet and computer” Sloane explains. “You not only need exceptionally advanced technology to automate this process very accurately 24/7, but you also need the right calibre of staff to manage such an important logistical operating system.”

REDESIGNING YOUR HR TEAM FROM THE OUTSIDE-IN

Since joining Peel Ports in 2011, Sloane has completely redesigned the HR team.

It has gone from a very transactional focused, localised function to a technology based transformational HR team with a shared service in place, he said.

“Our focus now is always about adding value as well as removing waste out of our people pipeline. Our systems allow us to secure a lot more real time employee data for Peel Ports’ managers such as performance, absence and labour turnover. The HR team is then able to analyse and make insights on that data with the operations managers.”

Part of this redesign has also involved introducing a small in-house recruitment team of highly skilled recruiters, reducing the number of recruitment agencies on Peel Ports’ PSL from 30 down to a handful, as well as implementing a new Applicant Tracking System that has much improved the candidate experience.

AGENCY OR IN-HOUSE TEAM?

A substantial number of third party labour supports Peel Ports’ operations during peaks and troughs of the operations and to help manage the supply chain in terms of human capital, said Sloane.

The Group HR Director stressed he doesn’t have anything against agencies, and believes that it is entirely healthy for an organisation with the recruitment needs of Peel Ports to have good relationships with a select handful of agencies to deal with those aforementioned peaks and troughs.

“We know what is coming up in the next 12 to 18 months, two years, three years. So we know when to start building talent pools. We have designed a method of talent projection which shows us what we need, what will likely be available and in all fairness to agencies, business don’t always give that information readily.”

USING AND WORKING WITH YOUR PSL

It is important to have good relationships with agencies based upon openness and honesty, said Sloane.

“Today, Peel Ports has taken a blended approach to recruitment, using the in-house team to fill the majority of vacancies and a PSL to augment it when the volume is high or for niche roles” he added.

“So my view is that the resourcing team within Peel Ports will have to work much more closely with our PSL, which is very small in number, to help our agency partners understand what we are trying to achieve, where the peaks will be, the certain skill sets that we are looking for and then, in doing that, they will be able to pool their resources far more strategically.”

THE RIGHT CANDIDATE

“For me one of the biggest recruitment challenges is all about behaviour,” said Sloane.

“Our real challenge is not about the technical skill sets. If somebody has worked in a similar industry then you can likely find the necessary skill sets if you look hard enough. I think the real challenge is finding the right people with the right behaviour.”

Skills can be trained and are in fact often trained because the UK educational system is not designed to meet all of the direct educational needs of the ports industry, said Sloane. There are some academic providers who work in our sector, but many don’t. We are now working with a number of universities to help design degree courses and for others, higher apprenticeships, in order to tackle the skills agenda.

TOP TIPS

Howard shares three top tips for how to overcome similar recruitment challenges:

  1. Forge closer relationships with your recruitment partners and help agencies to understand your organisation’s competency framework so that both sides can deliver more effectively.
  2. Innovate in terms of co-branding within the recruitment industry. E.g. working on joint case studies and papers with the education sector gives students industry insight. Use social media engage.
  3. Recruiters, large employers and the educational sector need to focus on celebrating success more, particularly when organisations like Peel Ports are involved in large scale projects. This will ensure pride in the industry and put the business in a stronger position to attract top talent.

Learn more from Howard at our Data Analytics event at the Mere on Thursday 17th March.