INVESTING in skills for young people will be a key plank of the UK’s economic recovery – that’s according to a Liverpool-born executive of one of the country largest companies.
Ann Pickering is HR director for mobile phone giant Telefonica O2 UK.
She and her staff of 120 oversee the recruitment, training and development of 11,500 O2 staff across the UK.
This figure includes almost 1,700 employees at the company’s call centre at Preston Brook near Runcorn as well as staff at O2 retail outlets across the Liverpool city region.
Ms Pickering said around 25% of the company’s employees were under 25 and insisted that was a plus for O2.
“If you look at the world right now it has become very digital focused and young people are what I would call ‘digital native’,” she added.
“They can pick up a gadget and make it work straight away and that is a great skill to have when they are dealing with customers in the stores.
“We make sure our people have the skills, will and opportunity to drive our business forward.”
Ms Pickering said O2 was investing in apprenticeships, taking on interns and was bringing in around 40 young people aged between 13 and 25 into Preston Brook to “give them an idea of the world of work” as part of the firm’s Think Big programme.
“I am conscious that we have more than 1m unemployed young people in this country and we are at risk of having a lost generation.
“Here at O2 our staff retention rates are pretty good and we want to hang on to the best young people.
“I think investing in young people is good for the country and we are trying to do our bit here.”
Ms Pickering, a Chartered Fellow of the Institute of Personnel Development, attended a convent school in Liverpool before gaining an English degree at the University of London.
She then started her career with Marks and Spencer, joining the retailer’s graduate programme where she specialised in HR.
Subsequently, she has held a variety of HR roles in different lines of business including at a US investment company, and an international business technology services group operating in the UK, Europe, India and USA. She joined O2 in March 2004.
She now lives in Yorkshire with her husband and their two sons but still has family in Liverpool and frequently visits the city to see them and uses venues in Merseyside for HR conferences whenever possible.
Ms Pickering says her working day can be very varied and can involve getting out and about.
“I will spend time with other colleagues on the board as well as looking at resource planning with our chief executive,” she said.
“And when I can I like to get around other sites. As well as Preston Brook, O2 has centres in Leeds and Glasgow.”
Ms Pickering is one of two women on O2’s UK board and she says she doesn’t agree with recent suggestions that there should be legally-enforceable boardroom gender quotas.
However, she added: “If I deal with headhunters I do expect to see shortlists with a gender balance.
“We deal a lot with the public and I want people here who understand our customers and a lot of those customers are female.”