'There's nothing straight-forward about working with people – that's why I enjoy it'

Helen Coult, director Asia Pacific at Armstrong Craven, on how an accidental fall into HR evolved into a life-long passion

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Helen Coult, HRD Asia Hot List

[00:00:15] Today we have

Speaker1: [00:00:16] Helen Colt, Asia Pacific director of recruitment firm Armstrong Craven and HD Hotlist twenty twenty two winner. Hi, Helen, it's great to have you here with us. Welcome.

Speaker2: [00:00:25] Thank you very much. It's nice to talk to you.

Speaker1: [00:00:28] So tell us a little bit about what motivated you to start working in HR in the first place? And what is it that you enjoy best about the role that you hold now?

Speaker2: [00:00:38] So I never meant to get into air. It was one of those things that kind of happened. I think that might be a familiar story for a lot of people in talent acquisition in nature. So I realized I was good at sales, but I was a little bored of the very sort of singular outcome of selling mobile phones and things like that when I was just at university trying to earn some money to get through my studies. So I moved to an executive search firm, and that's where I started working in the media industry. I worked at Ellis Bank in the UK and it was fantastic learning curve. And the reason that I liked that role is similar to some of the reasons that I love this role and that I've stayed in the talent space. Talent, talent, intelligence, H.R.. It's working with people. It's there's nothing straightforward about working with people. You can't control the situation. I enjoy that because it enables you to really test your skills about being fluid and flexible and being able to adapt. And that is something that's that's that's incredibly important in my current role. I mean, we're looking at business solutions, so it's not an off the shelf product that we offer. It's incredibly bespoke. It could be that a client needs us to do a combination of the the major service lines that we offer mapping, client planning, insights, exec search. It could be and it's scoping a solution that really works for them. And sometimes those projects need amending halfway through and we have to adapt and we have to work with people. So working with people is always interesting and it's something that I'm always going to do.

Speaker1: [00:02:22] I'm looking at the air landscape over the last year or so. How was it changed from your perspective and how has it changed, particularly in response to the pandemic?

Speaker2: [00:02:31] So it's been an interesting 15 to 18 months. The landscape for air and tunnel acquisition has changed immeasurably from an incredibly buoyant Q1 2020 to a sudden shutdown lockdowns across the world. And clearly, companies were not necessarily looking to acquire talent anymore, and the switch turned to managing the talent that they had internally. And some of that meant redundancies. A lot of that meant restructuring, stripping out management layers, moving people internally into new positions of which they may or may not have been fully qualified for at that point in time. And some companies got rid of their talent acquisition teams or certainly slimmed them down a huge amount. We we, as Armstrong Craven, managed to retain all of our staff. You know, we were very careful with what we were doing, but we were, you know, we were we were we were struggling for six months in that we certainly had work coming in, but nothing like what we had predicted within 2020. And then it came to Q4. So in Q4, all of those strategic projects that had been shelved, the the immediate hires that needed to be made have been put off, started coming back through. And clearly some companies had got rid of their talent acquisition team. So they were looking to us for external support. They were looking to us for our insights and talent analytics projects to start mapping out how they were going to do new restructures or or moving certain functions to different areas of the globe where it was lower cost. There was just a lot of activity and a lot of fresh green shoots and a lot of optimism. And clearly then we had twenty twenty one, which was just phenomenal for us. And across the world, clearly there were still lockdowns, there were still challenges.

Speaker2: [00:04:30] But within the tech sector, we saw throughout the pandemic a huge need for not restructuring and stripping out costs, but hiring more people and doing all of these big investment hiring programmes of work, which we've been helping with. And so it's very different, according to sector. But the challenges that are very obvious are a lack of talent because, you know, a lot of people left left the work place, and that has continued since a lot of people haven't returned. A huge amount of people are switching jobs because there's so much opportunity to work in different, different companies. And so retention is a huge a huge press point now that the all companies are looking to wellbeing is much more prominent as a as a core value for companies that we're working with. Borders have restricted the movement of talent, so we're now working with very small talent pools. You've got remote talent, so people are now all working remotely when that was a huge change. So, you know, having people that can manage and influence remotely was a new skill that needed to be brought into a lot of companies. So there's a lot of new skills, there's a lot of competition on the talent pools. And when it comes to the types of acquisition of talent that you know, the ways of acquiring talent, contingent recruitment just doesn't necessarily it isn't necessarily as effective as it was previously. For all of the reasons I've mentioned, there's so many, so many roles out there. The talent can go wherever they want. The costs are going up. And you know, it's it's a very different landscape from our point of view. It's it's a very buoyant landscape, and I see that continuing. So I'm very optimistic about the future.

Speaker1: [00:06:23] And so moving on to talk a little bit about Armstrong Craven, how is Armstrong Craven different to the traditional types of recruitment firms that currently exist in the market?

Speaker2: [00:06:34] The very different, actually. I mean, I've worked in traditional executive search. I've worked in house. I've worked in a recruitment firm doing senior roles, but it was still just contingent recruitment and moving into Armstrong Craven. I've not looked back. It's a full consultancy. It's a talent solutions consultancy. And whereas you have contingent firms which find a role in very reactive, they have to put in candidates who are readily available into positions that are needed. Now you won't necessarily get the best talent because it's the most. It's the first talent that you come across and then you have traditional executive search firms, which are very straightforward offering. There's, again, very reactive. We need to hire someone. An exact search firm will go out there and find one person or find a group of people who could be suitable for that role. And there's one hire. Now what Armstrong Craven is able to do is have a proper business conversation. It might be with the business leader, it might be with H.R., it could be with talent management, or it could be with talent acquisition, depending on what point of that buying cycle that they're at. It might be a very strategic initiative that is fully, fully full insight project that they want to understand. I mentioned before where to relocate a certain business function like software engineering. Where should they put that across the world? That would be lower cost and sustainable for talent in the next five to 10 years.

Speaker2: [00:08:02] Or it could be understanding why or how to get senior female engineering leads into the retain them and attract them into the roles that they've got. So again, that diversity focus. So we offer talent mapping, talent, planning, executive search where that's required and full insight projects. And quite often it's a full combination of all of that, which is the actual solution that the business needs. So no longer does a company need to just take something off the shelf. Every conversation I have with a business is totally bespoke and it's down to what that business really needs. And that is that is the reason that that we're able to work with clients across all of their regions, across all of their roles, across all of their needs and their business needs from a talent perspective. And it's it's really rewarding the the clients that I come into contact with and the clients that I now have longstanding relationship relationships with and now consider friends are just phenomenal. I mean, these are companies that I wouldn't necessarily have thought 20 years ago that I would ever have exposure to. And now actually being having these conversations and understanding what the business really needs is is incredibly rewarding and being able to deliver against those needs on a global scale with really high quality results is it's fantastic.

Speaker1: [00:09:28] And you've talked a little bit about talent, pipeline and talent intelligence there. How is Armstrong Craven supporting companies who are looking for talent intelligence? And why is it that companies are starting to look for that?

Speaker2: [00:09:40] So more and more companies are setting up their own talent, intelligence functions and the whole purpose of this is to become much more strategic and less reactive when it comes to talent acquisition and the analysis of their internal talent as well. The way that the way that Armstrong Craven is supporting this is helping companies and this is required now helping companies find out where a new talent pools. You know, where is the talent gone? How do we need to attract them? And it's the collation of data that enables them to start putting real strategies and plans together to ensure that they have a pipeline of talent that they continually can tap into for the next three, seven, 10 years. And those skills will change. But so long as they've got a really thorough view of the market and really gaining that overview, then that becomes a much easier hill to climb with. With Armstrong Craven, we support that with talent mapping. So that's the intelligence intelligent identification of usually quite niche skills. It could be market size mapping, location insight, understanding where the talent pools are talking to the talent. And that's where Armstrong Craven comes in. Very, I would say, cut above the rest as the primary insights that we overlay. All of the data that you could pull from a, you know, you can sometimes pull quite aggregated data from things like talent, neuron or LinkedIn recruiter. Well, Armstrong Craven overlays over the top of that primary insights, so it's all very well knowing where the talent you're looking for is.

Speaker2: [00:11:17] But unless you know how to attract them to your company and what they really need and what they want to be hearing from you, you're going to struggle. So, and quite often, if it's a senior niche skill set, they're probably getting headlines. By everybody else as well, you may only have one opportunity to attract them to your business, so that first shot needs to be well tuned and you can get straight in there. So that kind of intelligence we run talent intelligence project or talent insights projects on a daily basis, and quite often it's, you know, we need to hire, you know, these types of people. We know what our current talent pool is internally. We want to know what's outside and because of borders, because of skill shortages, because of other challenges, we're finding it challenging to attract people from the outside. Now, if we're able to tell those, tell those companies where those people are and provide that intelligence, if we can then speak to them not as a direct business, so as a third party to find out, OK, what do they want to hear? What do they want? Remuneration work environment? You know, would they consider relocation? What do they need? Then we're able to feed that back to the client and then they're able to make that first approach and make it really, really worth something. So we support them in all sorts of way with talent and intelligence.

Speaker1: [00:12:42] So looking towards the future, what are your aspirations for Armstrong Craven over the next 12 to twenty four months?

Speaker2: [00:12:49] So I'm really excited about the next couple of years when Armstrong Craven, this company has taken me around the world several times, relocated me from Manchester to Singapore and whatever's next. We've grown, we've doubled in size in the last 12 months and that trajectory is continuing. We're putting more people into Asia Pacific. I've just made some other hires. We're moving into developing our our existing offering, which is already strong in the US. So looking to expand into LATAM and there's no there's companies are companies are getting it. So companies are realizing the value that we can offer, especially in Asia Pacific. There is there is a there has been up until a couple of years ago a bit of a reluctance to move away from contingent recruitment or headhunting. And it's finding that middle ground and getting in front of enough clients for that, for us to advise that there is actually another way. And you can actually have a bespoke solution and clients are getting it. And 80 percent of our work comes from referrals. And clearly, as our client base continues, then our referrals will continue. So we're really excited. We'll work across all sectors and the growth is is phenomenal.

Speaker1: [00:14:06] Helen, thank you very much for joining us today. It's been great to have you here. This has been a hard Asia-Pacific.