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Talking about all things recruitment and retention at the AHUA 2023 Conference

Taking place twice a year, the Association of Heads of University Administration (AHUA) conference is a two-day event featuring informative workshops, sessions about key topics, and more. Penna Enterprise’s Senior Consultant, Claire MacLeod recently had the privilege of leading a workshop and shares her learnings and experience below.

This April, the AHUA held their first in-person and long-awaited conference since lockdown, and I was thrilled to be invited to deliver a workshop presented to AHUA’s Southern Region branch last year, entitled ‘Recruitment and Retention – Across the Whole Institution’. It was a great opportunity to observe some of the diverse range of presentations on offer at the event that was covered by a range of notable plenaries, including a very thought-provoking presentation from Vivienne Sterne MBE, Chief Executive of Universities UK). However, I think my favourite, for entertainment value, had to be ‘This House Believes that Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast’.

Hosted by the University of Winchester, at the impressive, state-of-the-art West Downs Centre, the conference was very well attended, as was (I’m pleased to say) my workshop. To start with, I took my audience on a whistle-stop tour of some of the challenges they and other employers are facing, (for example, the 1.1 million job vacancies across the UK sector, according to ONS in February), and some of the potential solutions they can provide to challenge the status quo and respond to a candidates’ market. These included:

  • Recognising that pay is only one of many factors that candidates consider important, as the popularity of culture and benefits starts to rise
  • Implementing a speedy recruitment process with timely communication in order to attract in-demand candidates

However, hearing about some of the delegates’ challenges and experiences at their own institutions, and helping to resolve their issues proved to be just as fascinating. One remarked that they had tried to initiate an employee referral programme as an alternative way to introduce potential new employees, but that it had not been a success. I recommended that the ‘finder’s fee’ needs to be attractive enough to incentivise participation. Another shared about the contentious issue of the pensions offered by the Higher Education (HE) sector, explaining that whilst they are less competitive than they have been, they are still seen as a strong selling point and an attractive benefit. A third delegate reflected on how flexible pension options are popular, particularly to younger professionals and academics who find themselves wrestling with the ongoing rising cost of living and mortgage and rental rates.

It is always a treat to network with leaders of the UK HE sector and to hear the latest about their trials and tribulations, so I am immensely grateful to the AHUA for the invitation to get involved. As for the location, as a first-timer to Winchester, it impressed me hugely with its fascinating history, fantastic array of eateries and a fabulous cathedral. I’ll be back!

- Claire MacLeod, Senior Consultant, Penna Enterprise

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