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An Employer's Perspective on the Global Talent Pipeline

by guest blogger Katie Fitzgerald

In the United States we often talk about the need to have industry more engaged in the education system. In the UK, there has been a recent effort to greatly expand apprenticeship opportunities. Today, Aaron Coulson, New Talent Manager, National Grid, explains the vital role that industry is playing in this work both abroad and in the U.S. This interview was conducted by Katie Fitzgerald of NASDCTEc as part of our ongoing partnership with NASDCTEc's Learning that Works! blog (National Association of State Directors of CTE Consortium). 

Can you describe a little bit about your company and your need for global talent?
National Grid is an international electricity and gas company based in the UK and the northeastern United States. As owners and operators of the high-voltage electricity transmission network in England and Wales and the high pressure gas transmission system in Britain, we are committed to safeguarding our global environment for future generations and providing all our customers with the highest standards of service through investment in our networks and through our talented, diverse workforce.

EOF-Liverpool with Eamon Massett explaining pipefitting techniques_highres.jpgIn my role working with Our Academy, our largest training center in the UK, I am responsible for all of National Grid's entry-level talent development programs, an integral component of the company's "grow your strategy," that helps develop the skills and knowledge of new employees in the company. The following best outlines our focus areas:

  • Providing the resources and support they need to develop and build on the wealth of experience and talent that already exists across the organization.
  • Attracting and retaining high-quality employees.
  • Developing new talent through apprenticeships, our graduate training program, and engineer training program.
  • Supporting the development of our employees in order to ensure the future success of our organization.

Our Academy has garnered much recognition for our approach to developing new talent and our training programs receive a high number of applicants per year.

What is your organization's interaction with CTE (career and technical education) system?
We run a range of entry-level talent programs in the UK including apprenticeships and school leaver programs (which are targeted to 18-year-olds and older who have attended some college but do not wish to continue on in a university setting), student placements, internships, and undergraduate and graduate development programs. In addition to programs designed to develop the skills of potential employees, we make sure our programs, specifically our apprenticeship programs, align with UK government bodies such as the Department for Business Innovation and Skills (BIS) and the Skills Funding Agency (SFA). 

Our apprenticeship programs serve approximately 70—100 apprentices every year across all program areas, and are seen as essential in meeting our skill and workforce requirements for the next decade and beyond. The program is made up of four core elements:

  1. An academic qualification that is often attained at a college or university while a student participates in an apprenticeship;
  2. Off the job training or a specific specialist training, which is composed of a mix of classroom and hands-on practical skill building at our state-of-the-art facilities;
  3. On the job training and assessments to prove that individuals have the skills and competencies to carry out complex engineering tasks; and
  4. Regular tracking of core behavioral elements throughout the program ensuring that individuals' attitude and behavior is aligned to our National Grid core values.

What are the major goals in furthering your partnerships within the CTE community?
We will look to continue to engage widely with UK government departments as well as other bodies to further influence and pass on our own vast experience to better the wider community and inspire the next generation.

Our key messages and takeaways for other organizations are:

  • Ready for work: Business needs future recruits with layers of skills and experience who are ready to question, create, and deliver solutions.
  • Teaming up: Working together we can better understand the challenges facing society and combine ideas to create better positive impact.
  • Shattering stereotypes: We want to be a part of solutions for a better society by actively supporting programs that aim to change stereotypes of our industry—accessing hidden talent and the value it brings.
  • Skills through service: We believe service to others not only breeds qualities critical for the workplace but also helps to create more thriving societies. Reflecting that what you do and how you do it are equally important.

For example, we have been a lead employer in developing the new Trailblazer apprenticeship standards in the power sector, whereby a tailored approach led by employers will ensure that apprentices will have the right skills and knowledge to succeed within our organization and sector.

Every system has its challenges—what are yours? What are some solutions you are looking to implement?
Until recently a major challenge was that we were slightly restricted by the standards that were put in place by external awarding bodies. This resulted in us having to deliver elements of apprenticeship programs that were not necessarily applicable to the roles apprentices would be doing on our operational sites. The new Trailblazer standards will help us to deliver exactly what we need as an employer and as a sector, and ensure that individuals have the knowledge and experience to work competently in the workplace.

What advice do you have for other organizations attempting to partner with CTE systems? What are some of the policies in your organization that could assist others in overcoming the challenges they face in CTE?
Vocational training and development is fundamental to our organization and has been for a number of years. We have recruited almost 700 apprentices into our organization since 1995 across a range of different programs demonstrating our commitment to the "grow your own" strategy. By harnessing this new talent, we can be more innovative and embed new ideas deep into the organization for years to come.

While employers may not see the immediate value of investing in someone who may not be fully competent for two to three years, we have seen the longer term benefits that make it well worth the investment. Ultimately, growing our own leads to a more engaged and productive workforce within National Grid, while also enabling us to support the wider skills shortage in engineering in the UK.

We have various policies that help manage the overall quality assurance of our programs, which includes protecting people's health and well-being and ensuring all our trainees are safe at work. These are essential in maintaining the quality and high standard of our program and ensuring learners complete their qualifications on time. We have also looked to embed technology within our programs by automating many of our processes that track performance and behaviors. This provides us with instant feedback on how individual learners are progressing, allowing us to review these results with individuals, and help inform development plans.

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Image courtesy of National Grid.

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