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How would Bowie deal with our Ch- Ch- Ch- Ch- Changes?

As the legendary pop singer David Bowie once sang, this is an age of Changes. And reinvention certainly is the name of the game in today’s rapidly changing world. It’s a skill that is becoming more of a necessity than just a useful addition to one’s portfolio of talents if we’re to cope.

So whether you are a committed Bowie fan or simply observed the arc of his phenomenal 50-plus year career in the fickle world of popular music, you have to admire his agility in repeatedly recreating himself anew to fit in with the next prevailing fashion, or even to set it.

From the outrageously androgynous Ziggy Stardust to the Thin White Duke and the stripped-back and spare minimalism of the Berlin Years, right up to the artful choreography of his final days last year, he nimbly changed his tack to navigate the ever-changing musical landscape. I know from my own experience – setting up Ennis & Co six years ago after a career in recruitment working ultimately for others rather than taking the responsibility on my own shoulders – that sometimes you just have to take a deep breath and dive in. You have to make your own weather, no matter how wild is the wind.

Events of the last couple of years are proof enough that change is the new norm in the modern world so we’d better get used to it and perhaps learn a few lessons from Bowie. At Ennis & Co we have an advisory group of plugged-in experts in their respective areas which keep us ahead of the curve with the latest employment trends and changes. At our last meeting one of the key areas we considered was how innovation and change is disrupting ‘business as usual’ and specifically how this is affecting recruitment in the automotive industry.

Nothing is standing still. Some of the talent pools in Original Equipment Manufacturers (OEMs) and retailers are running dry as people move more rapidly through – and often out of – organisations to take advantage of new opportunities. In some organisations, these talent pools are rapidly draining and they cannot fill the resulting spaces quickly enough, nor develop sufficient replacements quickly enough from within.

In the automotive sector particularly, retailers and supply chain companies have become the new talent pools for OEMs. The scale and sophistication of large retailers are now producing quality business leaders, invaluable to help manufacturers’ growth, whilst suppliers now nurture the engineering talent previously found within bigger OEMs. Much of this shift is driven by the increasing complexity of modern vehicles which are essentially being run by car-makers as outsourced programmes rather than being developed in-house. The result is a buoyant market for ‘interim managers’ and ‘project consultants’ to bridge the gap.

But that’s simply not sustainable, although it’s happening across all key areas.
Human Resources or HR - once known as ‘the personnel department’ – has grown massively in scope in recent years.
With responsibilities spanning commercial performance, people engagement, company policy, health and safety, and legal, the post is now more akin to a chief operating officer.
Companies want to recruit HR leaders who have a clear commercial approach and can bring practical experience such as a track record of providing continuous development of middle management by embedding coaching into a business. It’s no longer enough to follow the progression from ‘Head of HR’ to ‘HR Director’ and expect to get the next job.
Marketing was once a relatively narrowly defined and specialist field within the corporate world. Today companies want ‘generalists’ as marketing leaders, backed up with leading specialists who understand how to get the best out of everyone. They need a suite of skills necessary to deliver real customer-focussed digital marketing. And they’re prepared to pay a handsome premium for general managers who fit the bill.
’IT’ or ‘Information Technology’, as it was originally dubbed back in the days of the BBC Acorn computer, has long escaped from the ghetto of perceived geekery.

Now organisations are actively looking for technology specialists with real social skills who can work with people, run a big budget, and understand what the customer wants, including mapping and supporting the development of the customer journey. It may sound obvious. But the days of tolerating the genius but socially incapable geek in the IT Department really are over.

Skills-wise, there’s also a desperate need for computer coders to write and manage data that plays an increasingly important part in the modern car. An electric car alone generates 25GB of data every day.

Car retail is undergoing a revolution with new business models and an increasing number of online purchase solutions from manufacturers, franchised dealers and others. And then there are self-driving cars.

The changes are being noticed.

Steve Nash, chief executive of the Institute of the Motor Industry, the IMI, commented recently on the challenges for automotive businesses seeking to attract and retain talented staff. He said: ‘The situation is compounded by the changing wants, needs and expectations of a new generation of prospective employees.

‘It’s not surprising that many employers are looking beyond traditional models to find solutions to attract and retain the talented people their businesses need.’ Like Steve, I am not at all surprised by the list of demands made by the ‘millennials’ deciding where to work: ‘Actual examples include higher fixed salaries for new sales staff, considerably increased holiday allowances, flexible working, guaranteed 12 months maternity leave, critical illness cover for all staff, and many more approaches that would not have been seen in the automotive retail sector in recent years,’ he said.

Unlikely to stick to one career through their working lives, millennials put a high premium on training, qualifications and development.

To many existing staff wedded to old models of work, this may well feel like Life on Mars or ’nice work if you can get it.’

But change is here to stay. So whether in career terms you’re an absolute beginner or about to enjoy your golden years – and career wise I’m certainly enjoying mine right now - with the right approach we really CAN still be heroes. So let’s dance.

by Lynda Ennis

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