The loss of talented employees from an organisation can have a devastating impact on the ability of a business to function, increasing inefficiency and resulting in a significant drop in productivity. Imagine this scenario replicated on a much wider geographic scale, a skills drain from an entire region, with educated graduates moving elsewhere nationally or internationally and skilled employees relocating or otherwise lost to the active workforce through early retirement or unemployment. In this scenario the role of the Human Resources director seeking to attract skilled employees or retain their workforce takes on a vital new dimension. This is not a hypothetical situation; this is the reality facing communities and regions both within the UK and internationally.

There is a legitimate case for introducing a new paradigm for talent management to prevent a skills drain. Too often fears of a talent drain are viewed in relation to a single enterprise or industry, witness fears of talented bankers relocating to Switzerland as a result of the introduction of the fifty per cent income tax rate and levies on their bonuses. Little attention has been given to addressing a talent drain affecting multiple industries across a wider geographic Diaspora. Despite the introduction of enterprise zones and a plethora of welfare to work initiatives across the UK we are still witnessing a concentration of wealth generation and talent relocation to a select few hubs. Across the UK and internationally communities are suffering as a result of talented and skilled individuals moving geographies to secure employment, higher remuneration or better conditions.

In this environment what can an individual HR Director do to attract talent and prevent skilled employees leaving, especially when there are constraints on monies available to ‘buy’ these skills on the open labour market? The answer could be found in the introduction of Marco Talent Management (MTM) a new paradigm to prevent a skills drain from a region or country. This stratagem brings together stakeholders from the public and private sectors, treating the issue as a macro-economic concern with ramifications affecting everything from council tax revenues, business failure rates even through to social and cultural cohesion.
This model sees HR directors sharing intelligence, creating an early warning system relating to skills shortages and dynamic market insights, which are shared with public sector stakeholders in regionalised working groups. This will reduce the visibility lag for the public sector, where regional authorities simply don’t have these insights and identify the issues ‘after the event’ when business rates fall as a result of rising company failures or the number of localised benefit claimants rises. Where the public sector comes into its own is in providing an objective view as to whether the trend is localised to a minority of firms, were they simply mismanaged and doomed to failure, or is a wider problem emerging. The public sector in this model also has a duty to feed information to local businesses if they have advanced warning of information that will affect the economy of a region. If for example it is known a major employer will cease operations in a region, say it was Nissan in Sunderland, this will have a major impact on local businesses be they retailers supplying food to the workers or logistics firms organised transportation of goods and materials. A plethora of enterprises are impacted in a domino effect by a major regional business closure.

The sharing of insight into market changes is all well and good, however the real challenge is developing a strategy to cope with the situation and reverse the trend, preventing a long term skills drain. Bringing together private and public sector stakeholders in a working group is a valuable first step. For private operators there is always a desire to keep competitive advantage, but in the long-term there is little benefit of being the only business standing in an economically and skills deprived region.

Proposing the establishment of working groups is just the first step. These groups must agree workable and measurable deliverables and generate clear outputs. There are a plethora of committees, bodies and panels across the public and private sector that are little more than talking shops. What is ultimately needed is action to prevent a talent drain. Practical measures and recommendations evolving from a regional MTM programme could include:

• Attracting European or national government resourcing to fund economic regeneration programmes. These funds can be used to stimulate organic business growth within a region or attract inward investment.

• Resource sharing – bring together private and public enterprise to fund training programmes for complementary industries. If a major employer is located in a region, or is establishing a new facility, what support services will this business require and do employees in the region have the skills to work for these companies. If a manufacturing plant is being established, are there local transport and logistics companies with suitably trained employees? Can companies band together to fund training schemes?

• Intelligence sharing – establish early warning systems so businesses can adapt and diversify. If a company with skilled employees is set to rationalise their business and make a number of people redundant, why not highlight to other organisations this talent pool will soon become available before they enter the open labour market. There are reputational and commercial considerations, but it can be argued if a firm is making employees redundant, in terms of CSR and positive publicity, it is far better to say you worked with another company to create a ‘skills transfer ’ than made workers redundant.

• Cooperative promotion – Leverage simple economies of scale. If a number of firms in a region fund a move to attract investment from overseas, say for example targeting funds from India. The costs of promoting the region and a range of businesses can be significantly reduced if companies share resource, rather than launching individual moves to attract investment from these markets.

Discussing a theoretical model is always easier than tackling the harsh realities of preventing a talent drain from a region. In North Wales, a new pilot has been established, which will hopefully serve as an exemplar for this new model MTM programme. The region is set to lose two large employers that are key components of the regional infrastructure when the Wylfa and Trawsfyndd nuclear power stations are decommissioned. ‘Shaping The Future’ is bringing together businesses, the indigenous workforce, local public sector bodies and expert external consultants to prevent a skills drain from the region – a true MTM programme. Shaping The Future blends strategic HR and comprehensive socio-economic logic, a sweeping regional development programme that combines investment opportunities with workforce development. The project sees up to 1,200 highly skilled individuals offered additional training and support to match the needs of new employers, as well as to anticipate and capture opportunities from changing markets over the next three years.

Shaping The Future offers training for beneficiaries, developing skills from a base that ranges from ‘hands on skills’ through to PhD educated individuals, ensuring they are a perfect fit for emerging new technologies and businesses expanding or relocating in the region. The programme provides a regional platform for inward investment, with collaborative working between six local councils and private enterprises. It has also deployed a network of influential ambassadors to promote North Wales as a great place to do business, highlighting the highly skilled indigenous workforce and that there are monies available for companies relocating to the region to ensure people are trained to meet the specific needs of their enterprise. This combination of activity is designed to prevent a ‘brain drain’ from North Wales. It also highlights how by working together public and private sector bodies can launch effective talent management programmes.
For an individual HR director working for one company it provides a model they can either seek to jumpstart or participate within, helping address the challenges they face at a macro level. It helps them understand and tackle the wider socio-economic pulls for employees in the region where they are located, while allowing them the flexibility to maintain competitive advantage through their own people retention and talent management programmes.
Developing talent management programmes on the scale outlined is not easy. Overcoming vested interest and commercial sensitivities can be incredibly difficult. However, the potential benefits and rewards of developing such MTM programmes are significant. In our modern economy and globalised labour market there are challenges that a single business simply cannot address. HR Directors increasingly need to embrace a macro view of the market, taking a wider strategic vision and engaging proactively far more with external stakeholders. This presents a great opportunity for HR professionals to help set the agenda and affect change, funded by greater resources than a single enterprise could ever deliver. Increasingly, we will see HR professionals involved in establishing programmes and schemes for talent management on a scale not previously realised, an exciting future for all involved in this sector.


MBA, BSc (Hons), CMgr, FCMI, CMC MIC, FCIPD, Sqn Ldr (Ret’d)

Judy is Project Director for Shaping the Future. She has board experience in strategy, human resources, business planning, operations, marketing, proposal development and contract management, including the co-ordination and communication of business strategies across international boundaries with exposure to unexpected mergers & acquisitions start-up ventures and integration of brands.
Between 2005 – 2010 Judy worked for Magnox Ltd at an operational nuclear power station. Her work was motivated by the perceived socio-economic resourcing needs, as well as the new skills required for the development and regeneration of North Wales.
In 2010, profoundly concerned at the plight of North West Wales in facing the impending job losses that nuclear decommissioning would bring, Judy compiled a successful bid for European Social Funding, finding several Local, Regional and National partners with whom to create a £4m project called ‘Shaping the Future’. Now, as the Project’s Strategic Director, Judy’s vision is for a career ‘road map’ to place personal development at the heart of economic success.
This project has allowed Judy to capitalise on her entrepreneurial capability to recruit and attract high profile industrialists to the region, providing realistic and meaningful interventions to deliver the programme’s bottom line.
Judy was previously the Head of Communications at Universal Sodexo in Paris.
After graduating from Sheffield Hallam University in 1984 with a BSc (Hons), Judy briefly joined British Airways in 1984 purchasing galley equipment for Concorde and their Boeing 747 & 737 fleets. She then joined the Royal Air Force in 1985, rising swiftly to the rank of Squadron Leader by age 30.