The HR Heads Career Profile Series: We speak with HR specialists within our network to find out what 'a typical day in the office' looks like, what they consider their greatest career success to be, what advice they'd give their 20 year old self and we also explore some of their favourite things. This edition features Dylan Wickenden, HR Director at EMCOR UK.
What does a typical day in the office look like for you?
There isn’t a ‘typical day’ which makes this a really enjoyable role. My day always starts with an email check to see if there’s anything high priority I need to action quickly – we have both shift and night workers as well as a client base that work long and varied hours so emails can come in all through the night. I’m based out of our Eastleigh office, but I’m on the road about three days a week visiting our managers and employees at our client sites. When I’m office based, I spend the majority of my days working on elements of our strategic HR plan. It’s fairly new, so we’re still in the process of rolling elements of this out and making sure that it links to our Critical Success Factors.
At EMCOR UK we have identified six critical success factors, and I’m proud to head up the ‘People’ factor. We regard our people as our number one asset. We don’t own a lot of material assets such as buildings- it’s all about the people that deliver the service for us. Currently, we’re focusing on areas around competency and effectiveness as an HR function, however Well-being is probably going to be our biggest focus in 2018.
As an HR Director, what do you love about your job?
The variety – I expect you would get that answer from most HR Directors! I get to see and experience behind the scenes on some of our external client sites, the day to day activity that goes hand in hand with that, and the people I deal with every day varies too – I interact with so many people, and I really enjoy that aspect.
My team is a huge part of what makes this role so great. I have four people in our L&D team, four in our HR Shared Services, four regional HR Business Partners and a recruitment team of seven. On top of that, we have our field based HR Officers. I also work closely with the board. I’m a Board Member myself and report directly to the CEO who I have a great relationship with. I’ve spent most of 2017 working closely with him on setting our people agenda and I also act as his HR business partner. The role is still fairly hands on which I really enjoy.
Are there any aspects of your role that you find challenging?
We’ve had a fantastic year in terms of new business wins – we certainly don’t stand still! This year, we’ve TUPE transferred close to 800 employees from sixteen different companies into six brand new contracts that we’ve won over a period of just ten months. Our current headcount is just under 4100 employees, and as an HR team we run a very lean operation. As you can imagine, the amount of new business wins over such a short time period and the work required alongside this has presented some real challenges. Despite this, every transfer has gone smoothly and the team has coped fantastically under enormous amounts of pressure. It has been frustrating at times due to the TUPE transfer process – it’s so absorbing that it affects my team’s day to day work which can be challenging, but I’m very proud of the way the team has performed.
What lies ahead for you over the next 12 months?
We have three major projects to focus on over the coming year. The first is to fully embed Wellbeing into our activities, which is a major step forward for us as a business. We can already see the significant changes to how our workforce behaves and feels with a good Wellbeing strategy in place. We’re trying to make sure that our workforce remains happy and content in what they do.
The second is to introduce a flexible benefits platform with a third being a new grading structure. These are two major transformational changes to our business and will span UK wide. One of my direct reports will soon be taking on the role of Head of Employee Relations and Projects and will be overseeing a lot of this work, but I expect that these two changes will probably be our biggest delivery as an entire HR function for certainly the next two or three years.
I attend a number of external forums and conferences each year and I find that lots of businesses are not too dissimilar to us in terms of facing rising costs associated to sick pay or absenteeism. We also see the external pressures on people such as home life, the financial strains of everyday living, and for a lot of our non UK national employees; Brexit is a real concern. It’s really important that we look into these areas and review what we can do to support our workers.
We have found that there is a direct correlation between an employee base that’s happy and a satisfied customer. As a business, we run regular staff and client surveys and the data received through these is incredibly valuable. We are able to recognise trends with high staff engagement and the positive client feedback that runs alongside this. Our aim is to try and identify new areas of engagement to ensure that our HR strategy reflects this when we come to rolling out further elements of this in 2018.
On a totally separate note, we run quite a big apprenticeship programme, and we’ve got an exciting year ahead involving that. We’re looking to engage our apprentices, our graduates and our senior employees who have been with the business for a substantial length of time, with the aim of running a project together. We hope to build or install something for a charity. The project will last a week or so and will not only give back to the community we live and work in, but for our apprentices’ and graduates it’s a fantastic opportunity to learn and have a sense of achievement when they look back at their time with EMCOR UK.
What are your proudest career moments to date?
I’d say it’s becoming the HR Director for EMCOR UK. I’ve had quite a good career trajectory within EMCOR UK – they have really looked after me. I’d set my heart on being an HR Director some years ago as I’m very career ambitious, so reaching the top of my profession was a huge moment for me. I remember the moment I was informed that I’d been successful. I’d met with my CEO for a coffee and he’d given me the good news. When I rung my wife to tell her she cried! It was a really, really great moment.
It has been a big change stepping out from a “Head of” role to a Director and Board Member, and leaving some of the day to day activities behind to be replaced with new responsibilities. We’ve faced some interesting challenges since I’ve taken over, like the high levels of TUPE transfers that I mentioned before, but we’ve got a lot over the line and celebrated many a success that I’m proud of.
What advice would you give your 20 year old self?
Firstly, slow down. Don’t assume that you need to be the biggest and the best in everything that you do. Focus on particular areas to specialise in. I’ve started to specialise in certain areas through default, by falling into the role, but once I’d decided that I wanted to work within a people based role, I should have looked at specialising within this and that would have helped me considerably. It’s been a hard graft getting to where I am, and my learning has mostly been done “on the job”!
Is there anything you’re passionate about championing in the HR profession?
One aspect that is being forced upon most organisations at the moment is their gender pay gap activities, and it has led to a lot of activity around our focus on diversity and inclusion. Our industry sector is quite male dominated because of the type of skill sets that we have – we have a great deal of trade based roles which typically tends to attract a higher number of men than women. But we have the opportunity as an organisation, to change that. We’re looking at going into schools and colleges and presenting to them what a career in Facilities Management could look like. Our aim is to widen their perspective of our industry so that it’s not just about a male plumber, or a male electrician – there are plenty of opportunities for females too. On top of this, the diversity agenda spans a much wider area. As a business we focus on ethnic minorities that might not be being given the same opportunities – there are people out there with great skills that we could really showcase. It doesn’t matter to us if they’re male or female, or what their ethnicity is.
I’m very passionate about inclusion, diversity and welfare and it’s a huge driver for what I’d like to champion within HR. My team is heavily focused on it. We’ve just changed our chosen charity to Mind which fits in with our Wellbeing initiative. We’re making a concerted effort to monitor what this looks like within our business – how many people we may be losing to stress or stress related illness, identifying where this stress is originating (at home or in the workplace), and what we can do to support that individual. As a business we have the ability to make a difference.
Somebody once said to me that HR is no longer the blocker in business. HR is here to be the facilitator, to drive some of the key things that happen. That has stuck with me and as an HR Director, you need to make HR feel like it’s one of the most important parts of a business and take it to a level where it’s seen as having a place at the top table. If somebody aspires to get into HR, somebody self-driven and motivated with aspirations to move up their career ladder, it’s a great job to have.
If you’d like to be involved in ‘The Big Interview’ series, please reach out to us – we’d love to hear from you!
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Jennifer Gaster, Director