The impact of Brexit means the private and public sectors must work together to deal with change, according to two prominent HR directors.
Debbie Alder, HR director general for the Department for Work and Pensions, and Pippa Greenslade, group HR director at food manufacturing company Bakkavor, are trustees at The Whitehall & Industry Group (WIG), a charity and membership organisation that promotes cross-sector learning.
In an interview with HR magazine, Alder said that cross-sector collaboration has moved from being “a nice to do” to “a business imperative”, because of the challenges the UK faces, particularly those linked to Brexit.
She said that the negotiating skills required by the civil service and the newly-formed Department for International Trade meant attracting people from the private sector with relevant experience.
“It’s fair to say we don’t yet have the capability and capacity that we need in the Department for International Trade,” she said. “We need to be bringing people in and encouraging them to think about working [in the Civil Service] for 18 or 12 months. If you don’t want to negotiate on behalf of the country what gets you out of bed in the morning?”
A government review published last year by Simon Fraser, former permanent undersecretary at the Foreign Office, revealed that Whitehall was lacking in skilled trade negotiators, with only 20 “active hands-on” trade negotiators in post. By comparison the European Commission has 600 experienced trade specialists.
Alder added that because these skills may not be needed in the long term models like secondments should be considered. “There are questions about: how do we leverage an appetite to go and have a different career experience and provide some kind of win/win between the individual and UK plc?” she said. “The more business leaders, charity leaders and public sector leaders are sharing and understanding perspectives the better.”
Greenslade agreed that a range of perspectives from leaders across the sectors is needed to help navigate turbulent times. “In times of change we need leaders with diverse experiences and perspectives and that’s about pulling on all the things we have available,” she said.
“Given where we are at as a nation and the issues we face, and the way in which we have to proportion resources, we do ourselves damage if we silo ourselves within a particular sector. To get the best outcome we have to partner.”
“Brexit, industrial strategy, solving climate change: all of those need government, business and the voluntary sector to work together,” added WIG chief executive Peter Unwin.
A full interview with Alder and Greenslade about cross-sector collaboration will be published in a future issue of HR magazine.