Talent management through Brexit uncertainty at Blenheim Palace Estate


We asked three organisations about the talent management strategies they’re putting in place for a post-Brexit world

Brexit is, to put it mildly, an ongoing source of uncertainty for business. But, while no-one seems to know what’s going to happen, it is clear that the outcome poses the biggest talent management risk to businesses in the UK today.

So what are HR teams doing now to futureproof their talent management strategies for what is to come? HR magazine asked three very different organisations what they are doing to ensure they will have access to enough of the right talent in the future…

The charity: Blenheim Palace Estate

Formerly the home of Winston Churchill, and current ancestral residence of the 12th Duke of Marlborough, this 2,000-acre World Heritage Site on the edge of The Cotswolds is also the place 450 people call ‘the office’. With a spread of employees ranging from shepherds to hospitality staff, antiquities experts to curators, managing talent “is a task in its own right”, even without Brexit, argues head of HR Sarah Morris.

“Staff range from 16 to 80 years old, and recently numbers have grown considerably from 300 to 450 people since 2012,” she says. “We’ve never had trouble attracting talent, it’s more retaining them. But since the Brexit vote we’ve also seen some subtle changes in our recruitment patterns – for instance seeing a decline from EU-originator people who apply for visitor-facing roles.”

Although the estate doesn’t have a large cohort of EU staff (there are 28) it’s still a significant minority, and there’s always demand for seasonal Summer staff. This demand, coupled with Blenheim wanting to be an employer of choice and the fact some European staff have already left, led the estate to introduce its first-ever training function last year: the Marlborough Academy. “With Brexit still feeling quite abstract we want to control what we can with our talent, so we’ve decided that improving our people’s capability is a good policy anyway, which will also protect us should unforeseen talent issues arise,” she says. Part of this includes a commitment to train 100 apprentices in the next 10 years, and two HR apprentices have already been charged with the task of looking at ongoing skills needs.

Management training is being launched to help managers identify talent pinch-points, something that has already seen some temporary staff being transferred to permanent roles. “Giving staff stability is a good way of protecting our retention, and we’re bolstering this by improving our employee offering. We’re not the highest payers, but are introducing more flexible working and our health and wellbeing proposition,” Morris adds.

Support is also being given around the logistical concerns Brexit brings. “If issues do arise – such as with visas – we’ve said we’ll support staff. We’re already helping an Australian staffer who was having issues.” She concludes: “With Brexit so difficult to plan for we just have to think ‘what can we do to be the best employer?’ The first thing we did when we introduced the Academy was get rid of appraisals so that skills development is an ongoing conversation. This way we can be responsive to staff needs earlier, before they may want to leave.”

Further reading

The manufacturer: Formica

The recruiter: Gi Group