· 2 min read · Features

Talent management through Brexit uncertainty at Formica


We asked three organisations about the talent management strategies they’re putting in place for a post-Brexit world. Here manufacturer Formica details its investment in training and development and apprenticeships

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 manufacturer: Formica

It’s one of the few manufacturers whose main product is so famous it’s become a term in its own right. But that doesn’t make Formica – which recently joined the ‘Made in Britain’ scheme – immune from Brexit. Its European headquarters is based in North Shields, Northumberland, from which four manufacturing plants (two in the UK, one in Finland, one in Spain) and various distribution centres, covering a total of 1,000 staff, are managed.

According to people and performance director Michelle Robson, being in the manufacturing sector means “there are skills concerns at many levels”. “We’re a business based on freight, and not knowing how easily imports/exports will move is a concern. We may need to find an expert who has specific experience in dealing with export issues, because currently we don’t have anyone in the business with this skill,” she says. “Having an expert in this narrow specialism could be the difference between having continuous production and production that has to stop and start – the latter of which would also affect resourcing.”

But this isn’t the only concern. Robson says Brexit could affect Formica’s ability to source the right talent to deal with its multinational customer base, namely the 40 people speaking around 15 different languages that make up the European customer services division. “These are highly-skilled people, and it would be a real business risk to lose any of them. While it’s easy hiring people who can speak a foreign language, it’s much harder getting someone who is multi-lingual and also wants to deal with having tough interactions with customers,” she explains. To keep staff, the past 12 months has seen Formica make its biggest investment in training and development. “For instance, we’ve been doing lots of training around tone of voice and having difficult conversations – all of which we know will better equip our customer services team and help keep them engaged and with the business,” says Robson.

Also introduced in the past year has been its first apprenticeship scheme, while 200 leaders have been put through a new pan-European emerging leaders programme. “This could be a significant project, because we know that with Brexit looming another way we can protect ourselves is by ensuring we’ve spread our expertise across as many different plants as possible, to ensure any one of them can take up slack if another is affected by tariffs, logistics, or supply and demand difficulties,” she says.

But while some see Brexit as nothing but trouble, Robson is also optimistic: “You could look at everything as being potentially bad – even things like the ease with which people make business trips, which lots of our talent needs to do,” she says. “We have eight or nine people regularly on international assignments, and there’s the potential these could stop if it becomes difficult. But then again, being in manufacturing I like to think our people are used to being in an almost-constant state of change. It sort of comes with the territory. Who knows, Brexit could even present opportunities too!”

Check back tomorrow for another case study