Building Talent Outside the Box in 6 Simple Steps

As talent shortages continue to impact UK businesses, building from within to gain the skills organisations need may mean thinking outside the box – starting with a whole new box – or even going with no box at all.

Despite a sluggish start to the year, new labour market data reveals an uptick in the number of organisations seeking to expand their workforce, with hiring intentions rising 2% from Q1 to Q2 2023. Organisations that were already struggling to secure and retain the talent they need will find the situation even tougher as we head into the summer. The technology, communications, logistics, automotive, financial, and consumer goods and services sectors appear particularly vulnerable, as they report high hiring intentions but anticipate strong competition for skilled workers.

Unfortunately, there is no silver bullet to this dilemma. No easy path. Businesses must get creative if they wish to attract and retain the talent that will support them now and in the future. A mix of direct recruitment, graduate and apprentice programmes, or hiring freelance contractors, may help some businesses to reach this goal. However, for others, it may not be enough to achieve their long-term workforce strategy. In which case, building from within – focusing on professionals who are truly motivated to learn, typically those in their early to mid-careers with an average of two to five years’ experience, may be the answer.

What does this mean in practice? It means re-thinking your Build, Buy, Borrow, and Bridge approach to talent recruitment and development – using Build not just as a plug to fill the gaps in your organisation’s talent field, or to keep top workers happy in their roles, but as a way to create a specialist workforce who are trained to drive specific areas of your business long into the future – a strategy with the potential for a double win: Your organisation secures a deep pool of experienced and specialised talent. Your workers achieve skills and satisfaction that keeps them in their job and less prone to seeking greener pastures.

Which is all well and good, but how can an organisation achieve this enticing win/win result?

Let’s look at an example of a business that got there by going outside the box.

Train to Fit – shaping a workforce for the future

Babcock International are a global organisation with a diverse portfolio of operations. They provide engineering support to military platforms such as ships, submarines, land and aviation defence, as well as owning, maintaining, and developing critical infrastructure, including civil nuclear projects. With work locations scattered across the UK, many of them outside of the major cities, they were struggling to recruit and retain skilled workers, even as they were aware of a ‘ticking talent time bomb’, where their future talent needs would become very difficult to meet.

Working with ManpowerGroup Talent Solutions, Babcock began a new Build programme that went beyond the parameters of their existing talent-building activities. They called it Train to Fit, and it cast a wider net for potential project managers – talent that may not have the exact skills the roles required, or could tick all the job description boxes, but who had the raw talent that could be shaped to perform with excellence within Babcock’s future workforce strategy.

Let’s allow Jimmy Williams, Group Project Capability Manager at Babcock to explain:

“We’re so exact in our requirements that a lot of people with incredible qualities get discounted, simply because their CV may not have something so precise that we sift them out. Well, that person, with the right training, could be far greater than the person you would originally push straight into a role simply because they tick a number of boxes. The talent shortage gave us an opportunity to think okay, if we can’t get precisely what we need, what are the characteristics that we’d like to see in the people we want? if we’re going to sift, perhaps there are some diamonds in the rough. So, that’s what we did, we widened the field, and suddenly, we were seeing a completely new group of people who had the profile to drive the roles we wanted.”

Babcock’s Train to Fit programme concentrated on soft skills and characteristics more than hard skills and specific industry experience. Selected candidates were chosen for their potential for a role, instead of their specific skill sets. Growth mindset, a capability to deliver and a readiness to take on Babcock’s principles were as important as hard skills learned elsewhere. Candidates came from within Babcock as well other industries, and after being trained to fit roles within the organisation, many have gone on to achieve results as good as, and often better than, workers with years of experience in those same roles.

Since the initial programme, Babcock are now scaling Train to Fit into other areas of the organisation and for completely different roles. More noticeably, Train to Fit has been nominated for a training industry award based on the success of the programme.

Finding and polishing those diamonds in the rough

Clearly, Babcock’s Train to Fit programme is not a one-size fits all solution, however, it is a strong example of a solution that could be applied as part of a multi-disciplined recruitment approach.

In an age when most CVs are initially scanned and sifted by algorithms instead of trained HR professionals, many businesses may be missing out on candidates with great potential but who fail to make the cut simply because they do not have a certain credential or certificate. Finding those diamonds in the rough requires more than just a new way of working, it also means businesses must be prepared to put the work in the ensure the best candidates are not lost in the sifting process. Or, to quote Jimmy Williams again:

“It would be remiss of us to discount candidates simply because we don’t want to put in a little bit of work upfront to ensure that we enable these people to succeed.”

How to build talent outside the box in 6 simple steps

Whether you wish to follow the Babcock approach, or to try something similar but shaped to your own unique requirements, keeping an open mind to the sifting and retraining process is essential. Building outside the box means following these simple steps:

  1. Determine the parameters of the role(s) you need to fill or create. If there is no immediate path to securing this talent, what are the characteristics and soft skills needed to meet the role? What is the profile?
  2. Where do you look to find these candidates? Inside the organisation, or externally? Worker records and stored CVs will help, but you may have greater success working with an HR and recruitment partner in this process, as they can better determine the candidates most suited to the job and have a deep talent pool to dip into.
  3. Hire for soft skills, train for hard skills. During the sifting process, score candidates on their suitability for a role, not their experience in a similar role. (Your recruitment partner can help with this action).
  4. After selection, ensure candidates receive encouragement and nurture to succeed. Many will be stepping into a role outside their initial comfort zone. Organisation support, as well as a clear programme goal and a progressive career path for candidates are important. (See the Talent Solutions Re-skilling Guide for more on this process).
  5. After training, provide ongoing support to help candidates grow into their roles. This is less about monitoring and more about encouragement. Be prepared to provide top-up training where required.
  6. Repeat and scale as your future workforce strategy requires. Be prepared to adjust and amend based on learned experience. Every training programme can always get better.

Find out more – listen to the podcast

Programmes such as Train to Fit are not an alternative way to secure talent, they are complimentary actions, and ideally, they should work alongside a full suite of talent recruitment and development schemes.

To learn more about Train to Fit and other talent programmes like it, contact Talent Solutions – or listen to the Transform Talent Podcast’s ‘Builders of Talent’ episode to discover more about finding those diamonds in the rough.


  1. Determine the profile of the candidates who may be able to fill the role(s).
  2. Work with a HR and recruitment partner to locate potential candidates – look within your organisation and externally.
  3. Hire for soft skills, train for hard skills. Select candidates based on potential not precise experience. You are looking for those diamonds in the rough.
  4. Encourage and nurture candidates during the training phase.
  5. Provide ongoing support once the candidates begin their role. Provide top-up training as required.
  6. Scale and adjust as needed to develop the programme for other roles within your organisation.