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Jamie Lawrence


Insights Director

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What Talent Pipelines can learn from Oil Pipelines


Oil pipelines have integrity and efficiency built into their construction. They’re built for one purpose: safely, successfully and economically transporting crude oil thousands of miles. Talent is a commodity organisations need to transport from one point (schools, universities, rival organisations, the ranks of the unemployed, other countries) to a second point (their organisation). Oil pipelines are a great model for delivering a strong and stable talent pipeline.

Monitoring from above nips problems in the bud

The United Kingdom Oil Pipeline (UKOP) is patrolled by helicopter every two weeks to spot potential issues and ensure they’re solved before they affect the pipeline’s integrity. Senior managers and executives must ensure oversight of the talent pipeline to nip potential problems in the bud, such as unethical practices by recruitment agencies or competitors stepping in and taking talent with higher offers. At the same time, they can ensure what line managers are doing ‘on the ground’ with recruitment reflects the company’s overall strategies and values and that the ROI is always there.

Transparent processes are easier to work with

It’s a lot harder to fix a pipeline that’s buried beneath the ground. Talent pipelines that are run transparently can be updated depending on external factors. As apprenticeships become more popular, businesses running transparent talent pipelines can easily create a new funnel from education providers and schools, while those that recruit via word-of-mouth/contacts only may find it harder to develop the appropriate relationships. Transparent talent pipelines are aspirational. School leavers, for example, can see the progression potential and may be more engaged and willing to work hard because there’s an end goal to work towards.

Strategic points demand the most attention

Most oil pipelines have workers situated at important points – not only are these the most likely areas of sabotage but also the most costly should they fail. Talent pipelines also have strategic points – recruitment companies, for example, are one of the most common routes into top talent at other organisations but it’s important businesses know exactly what techniques these recruitment firms are using and whether they reflect the values and needs of the organisation. If they are recruiting based on different values and criteria, the pipeline is failing and the organisation will get the wrong type of person delivered. Another key strategic point is links with education providers. If your person liaising with universities rubs people up the wrong way, the entry point to the talent pipeline – a fundamental part of your pipeline – is broken.

Unaffected by external events but open to change

Pipelines are insulated from external events like adverse weather – they are specifically designed to operate efficiently even when the external environment is hostile. Talent pipelines should also be built to these standards. For example, during financial downturns there’s often talk of companies struggling to find skilled employees because their recruitment practices are fine for boom years but fail during more trying times. Building direct links to education providers and top-performing recruitment firms can help companies access top talent when other businesses are struggling. Proactive relationships are key; it’s no good contacting recruitment companies just when you need them.

Door-to-door provides the greatest efficiency and control

Talent pipelines should take the input (the best talent) and deliver it to the output (the organisation). The organisation should build its pipeline with this door-to-door efficiency in mind. Examples of inefficiency in this regard include recruiting for apprentices on social media to the exclusion of direct links to education providers. Companies should build relationships with key stakeholders such as schools, the best recruiters, specialist agencies and ensure that the process is smooth and efficient all the way. With door-to-door pipelines, organisations have the control necessary to personally ramp up activity in specific areas where necessary e.g. at universities when a new tranche of students are about to graduate.

There’s always another end goal

When oil reaches the end of the pipeline, it needs to go somewhere else – often by road in tankers. Once the talent has been delivered to the organisation, companies must remember a new pipeline needs to be created – this time a vertical one that leads to more responsibility and seniority in the company. Of course, this is a general rule – not all employees want more responsibility – so the pipeline needs to be flexible to accommodate varying goals. But as long as there’s clear progression then it will work. This is key: organisations must always provide an end goal to make sure employees remain engaged (“You work hard and we’ll give you a promotion” – the pipeline has a clear A and B).

Greatest flow is achieved when the pipeline is full

Oil requires oil to make it move. Talent moves in much the same way. Up-and-coming talent needs to see role models in front and potential successors behind. This keeps them on their toes and ambitious. Everyone keeps everyone else moving along – everyone has a stake in pipeline success. They can see where they’ve come from and where they need to go. Organisations that don’t provide a clear future journey for key talent will experience high attrition rates. Top performers want to know where their hard work is going to take them.

Author Profile Picture
Jamie Lawrence

Insights Director

Read more from Jamie Lawrence

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