Previous Article Next Article S & N R’s Kim Parish has won a seat on the company’s board and israpidly becoming a national voice for people development issues. By LucieCarringtonKim Parish, HR director for Scottish and Newcastle Retail has just joinedthat rare breed of personnel professionals who have made it to the board. Butshe’s even rarer than most, for Parish forged a successful career in training,in and outside S&NR, before becoming a personnel supremo.”It’s a travesty that there aren’t more training people reaching thetop HR jobs, because it’s through delivery of training and development that wecan make the biggest commercial impact on a business,” Parish says.”And the best training people have a business edge to them.”In her current job, Parish is responsible for personnel strategy across the2,300 pubs, bars, restaurants and hotels that make up the retail division ofScottish and Newcastle, with its 45,000 employees.Her promotion to the board is partly the result of a massive upheaval in thebusiness. At the beginning of the year, S&NR announced that it would sell off 642of its smaller local pubs. The sale went through in June and has left S&NRoperating at the top end of the market with an average turnover of £12,000 aweek for each unit, up from £8,000 a week.People are important”By putting a dedicated HR professional on the board, we were sayingthat people are important,” Parish says.Her primary task now will be to help consolidate the restructured business.As far as training goes, she knows that the firm is in a fairly strongposition. “For the past eight or nine years, we have had in the business somevery clear planks and philosophies that have not changed. They have been therefor so long that people don’t question them any more,” Parish says. These philosophies include commitments to career-led training anddevelopment from within, to competencies and to internal training anddevelopment solutions. Controlling costs When the reorganisation was completed at the end of February, seniormanagers decided that the units about to be sold would not be able to embark onany new NVQs or modern apprenticeships. Like any firm about to sell off abusiness, it wanted to concentrate on controlling costs. But there was a backlash from unit managers who insisted training shouldcontinue. It was important to them and how they viewed their jobs as unitmanagers. “As a result, we saw an increase in training activity,” Parishsays. “It’s taken a while, but this showed that within the business, thereis a commitment to training from grass roots.” The disposal should make it easier to maintain this culture because S&NRis now a smaller, more focused business. But it’s not there yet, Parish points out, and like its competitors in thebar trade, it has the problem of combining brand-needs with the centralstrategy. S&NR’s approach to the problem is a mixture of structural and tactical.On a structural level, HR professionals, including training experts, have botha professional specialism and a brand or business role. They report directlyinto their business with a dotted line to Parish and her head office team. “That helps us to be sure that both the divisional and business levelinterests are being met,” she says. Tactically, some training is devised and delivered centrally and some isdelivered locally. But there is a strong emphasis on giving centralisedtraining a strong local branding. Parish cites a fairly recent revamp of bar staff training as an example ofthis. Business managers decided they wanted the training to be customised totheir brands, but Parish disagreed. She and her training colleagues got round the problem by having fourversions of the same programme that individual businesses could own. “Itwas a simple solution to what could have become a nightmare,” Parish says.Unusual career path Parish’s profile, both internally and externally, has almost inevitablycontributed to her rise to board-level director. Internally, she has made some fairly unusual career decisions – for example,moving from management development to business development, and then, a fewyears later, combining the training portfolio with compensation and benefits –usually regarded as “nerds’ corner” in personnel. Outside S&NR, Parish has taken on some fairly big roles in trainingorganisations such as City and Guilds, where she is a national councillor, andthe Hospitality Training Foundation, where she sits on a couple of committees. More recently, she has become the only HR professional to be involvedformally in the national Learning and Skills Council as a member of its youngpeople’s committee. “I believe, and S&NR believes, that as a large company in thissector we should take a broader role. It’s a fragmented sector and we haveresponsibility for improving its image,” Parish says. “We also know from experience that we have the ability to influencepolicy at a most senior level in government if we are prepared to stay informedand get involved.” It’s pretty good for Parish’s own personal development. “It’sstimulating and interesting and you can develop networks and learn about otherways of doing things,” she says. The importance of being in the policy loop is obvious when it comes toapplying NVQs and Modern Apprenticeships to the business. S&NR was one ofthe first firms in the sector to pilot NVQs and MAs, but Parish is concernednow that they are not what the business needs. The MA framework is still firstclass and can continue to deliver somestunning successes, Parish says. But, like other employers, she is worriedabout the impact of recent changes, including the introduction of technicalcertificates and key skills. She believes it is an attempt to impose aninappropriate academic model on workplace training. Getting concerns heard Rather than just bleating on about it, Parish is using her connections withCity & Guilds and the HTF to get S&NR’s concerns heard and keep her earto the ground. She smells success in the air. “There are some indications that theGovernment’s approach is changing and there is a recognition that you can’tdeliver vocational qualifications against an academic framework,” shesays. She is less optimistic about the future of NVQs at S&NR. The businesshas been offering them to staff since 1992/93 and up until the late 1990sParish says they were a good way of showing the wider world that it was abusiness where people could gain accredited training and a career. It was also a way of getting managers to monitor and record training anddevelopment activity to a given standard. “We got a lot of benefits from NVQs in terms of a commitment totraining,” Parish says. But things are changing, and S&NR is in the process of rethinking itsNVQ strategy. “Part of our rationale is that we can deliver somethingbetter internally that is not based on NVQs,” Parish says. Various changes in the business are driving her thinking. To start with,there is fallout from the National Minimum Wage. When it was introduced in 1999, it included an accreditation rate of £3.20an hour for employees who were given the opportunity to acquire NVQs and otherrecognised qualifications. “We believed in the accreditation rate as a way of drivingqualifications in our sector,” Parish says. But their competitors disagreed and offered the full minimum wage. Theaccreditation rate became devalued and instead of being seen as part of acareer path, became regarded as a way for firms to avoid paying the minimumrate. The knock-on effect was that the take-up of NVQs dropped as staff optedfor higher pay instead of training. NVQs were further diluted with the acquisition of the Greenalls estate in1999. Greenalls had not had a very good experience with NVQs, says Parish. Lower profile In addition, Parish feels that the profile of NVQs has dropped. TheGovernment does not seem really committed to them. “I don’t get anysignals that they are at the top of the agenda. I rarely hear people talk nowabout the contribution NVQs make to the economy,” she says. But the real clincher is the drive to push customer service standards everupwards. “In our sector and business, customers are increasingly demandingbetter service and becoming much more articulate about requesting it,”Parish says. “Local community pubs have a loyal customer base, but tradingin the high street is much more fickle.” NVQs don’t provide for this. Parish says, “They deliver competencies ina narrow framework, but that is not what we need in terms of improved customerservice, which is much more about behaviour.” One solution is to divide the workforce into two groups – those who justwant a job and those who want a career. In the meantime, Parish has had some tentative discussions with City &Guilds and the HTF about how to make NVQs more appropriate. S&NR is a long way off ditching NVQs and if it ever happens it will be aboard-level decision. “We are still halfway through the decision-making process,” Parishsays, but she admits to thinking that maybe NVQs have had their time. Career to dateApril 2001 Joined the S&NR board1998 HR director1994 Management development and training director1992 Business development director1991 Joined S&NR as management development directorEarly career with New Zealand employment department, Sutcliffe Cateringand the Hospitality Training Foundation Measures of successOn 1 Sep 2001 in Personnel Today Comments are closed. Related posts:No related photos.