US and UK talent sectors compared: Our interview with Catherine King

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Karen Haynes

Anthony Haynes writes: We’re delighted to publish this interview of Catherine King by Karen Haynes.

Catherine has vast leadership experience in the talent industry. She is the founder of Crown Talent Assets, a US-based talent firm specialising in senior executive recruitment for North America and European markets.

This builds on three decades’ experience in international markets, including country management positions for major talent firms.

Based now in United States Midwest, Catherine and Fiona Wilson, Managing Director of FJWilson, worked together in the UK and are now looking forward to a new collaboration.

In this post, the first of a two-part interview, Catherine discusses some of the similarities and differences in talent management across the pond.

KH: How would you say US and UK talent strategies compare?

CK: Businesses’ view of their people is not that different overall. Most leaders in the United States and UK understand that talent is the heartbeat of any organisation.

Whether you are a private company, government, academic or other institution, a good talent strategy is vital. Lack of a cohesive talent strategy leads to an organisation’s demise.

Generalizing about how talent management practices differ can be difficult. Exactly how an organisation attracts, rewards, trains, develops and retains its people is often shaped by jurisdictions. In the United States, for example, that could mean federal and state-specific requirements.

Despite the widespread understanding that talent is key, I do encounter what I call an “infection of complacency” – that is: organisations making assumptions that their people will want to stay with them and that outside candidates will always want to join them.

When demand for skills is high and supply is low the organisations that suffer are those who don’t pay enough attention to talent management. Companies with a good talent management strategy will not be victim to a low supply.

Balance sheet health is totally reliant on the performance of your people.

To achieve that performance, you need a good fit between the person and the role. The fundamental question is: Does this person have the necessary skills to do the job? The more important question is softer: Is there a cultural fit? If their values do not align with yours, your ways will eventually part.

KH: Are there notable differences in the two talent pools?

CK: In the United States, possessing a four-year university degree is critical to a professional career path – alternative routes into a profession are not common.

In the US, apprenticeships are available and exist primarily within the skilled trades.  Among the OECD countries, European and other countries offer a broad range of apprenticeship routes into professional careers for non-university graduates.

University education in the United States can be expensive, making the lack of such alternative routes into professional sectors a barrier that excludes people with much potential.

However, skills shortages in the United States are kindling interest in developing people without four-year university degrees in some sectors.

KH: Are there any differences as to how talent firms are used?

CK: For recruiting senior executive or C-Suite positions, companies in both countries tend to utilize search firms in a similar fashion. Organisations, particularly larger businesses, utilize outside search firms to broker connections at executive levels.

As you move along the recruitment spectrum, there are differences in how companies execute their recruiting strategies.

In the UK, it is common practice to utilize talent firms for the next level down an organizational hierarchy, in the ‘C-minus 1–3’ mid-level appointments generally.  American companies tend to utilize in-house talent acquisition teams at these levels for direct hires.

In the recruitment of interim managers and contract workers, American companies, like their UK counterparts, routinely go to outside recruitment firms to help fill professional and managerial roles.

KH: A trend we hear a lot about is the impact of technology on recruitment. How do the US and UK compare?

CK: Both countries are rapidly adopting technology in recruitment.

In some aspects Europe was faster to adopt mass communications with job seekers. For example, the UK began using text messaging to communicate with candidates before other countries, including the US. Recruitment process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI) has made great strides in the US and is now a standard screening procedure in the hiring process.

There is a real danger in replacing the human touch with AI and other technologies. People must feel connected to their employers early in the hiring process. They must experience from the outset that the company values people. Rather than disrupting the human touch, companies must learn to use AI to enhance the human touch.

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