Nestlé HRD: Why a 'strengths-based' approach can help recruit the best young talent

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Unemployment levels in the UK continue to be high. Like other businesses in the UK we believe there is often a mismatch between the skills learnt at school and those needed in the workplace.

As a result, in recent years we have struggled to recruit the right talent needed to help our business grow and develop.

The Government's focus on apprentice and graduate schemes and unemployment levels across the UK only highlight further how high the stakes are and how important it is to get young people into the right jobs.

As the world's largest food and drink company, we know how important it is that we attract outstanding young talent into our sector, which is now the largest manufacturing sector in the UK. Despite its size, young people don't always think about choosing a career in the food and drink industry and just 32% of employees in our sector are female.

As part of our involvement in the recent IGD Skills for Work Week, we were part of a focus group with several young unemployed people. They told us about the challenges they had faced in traditional interview situations with no practical work experience, and the resulting barriers they had come up against through lack of confidence and understanding of the interview process.

We believe there is a much fairer way to test today's graduates, who have great potential and talent but no experience to lean on in traditional interview scenarios.

That's why we've adopted a new 'strengths-based' approach to recruiting young talent. The key difference is that we are looking at strengths rather than competencies. When people are exhibiting a strength they enjoy doing it, are good at doing it and are energised by it. Research tells us if individuals are doing things they are good at and enjoy doing them there are lots of benefits to the organisation, for example, reduced stress, turnover, absenteeism and higher performance.

Reviewing strengths are different from reviewing competencies in that candidates don't know what to expect and can't give well-rehearsed or 'googled' answers. An individual may have a strength that is inherent but not yet know that it is a strength.

We have been working with an external consultancy CAPP who are experts in this area. They have spent several months reviewing internal data to come up with the Strengths key to the Nestlé Graduate programme. They have used these to develop a series of exercises suited to our requirements. This is quite a big step for us and is going against the norm of how we have traditionally recruited.

Using this method, we believe we can better match young job-seekers to the roles we have at Nestlé.

We've already seen a real improvement in the calibre of applicants. In the first three days of recruiting for 2013, 480 candidates registered their interest - and we're on track to offer more than 50 talented young people graduate roles at Nestlé next year.

We hope our new approach can help open the door to a more diverse mix of applicants and make the industry more accessible After all, attracting new talent and investing in skills for the future is vital to the continued success of Nestlé and the UK manufacturing sector as whole.

Matt Stripe (pictured) is Group HR Director at Nestlé UK & Ireland

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