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Where has all the talent gone?

The term Brain Drain was originally coined to describe the emigration of scientists from Europe to North America after the second-world war. Then it referred to a voluntary exodus, with skilled people lured away by enhanced wages, improved conditions, superior career prospects and an attractive lifestyle. As the gaming industry emerges from the enforced, frustrating and oh so painful stop/start hibernation of the last 15 months or so, it's now poised to experience its own form of brain drain, albeit one that wasn't chosen by the professionals who are no longer in post.

There can be no doubt that the arrival of the pandemic on British shores and the first lockdown announced by a normally laissez-faire Boris Johnson in March 2020 sent shock waves through businesses large and small. No one knew how long all of this was going to last and as a result of the uncertainty accountants and HR professionals (a bit like scientists) were elevated to seemingly rock-star status. And boy did they hit some bum notes!

Instead of instilling a 'post-it-note' culture reminding colleagues to turn off the lights, the strategy should have been replaced by a cool, calm leadership approach which recognised the importance of retaining the key people needed to get the business moving again.

In my Rank days I became a Fellow of the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development which means that I can be rude about people in Personnel - sorry HR. I've worked with some extremely impressive HR professionals but I wouldn't want or trust them to get my business back on track after a long period shuttered.

This was a prime example of Group Think with many businesses stampeding to reduce head count with little thought about what the future might look like. The result has been the removal of talent throughout businesses and a consequent knowledge deficit. Some of the industry talent has moved elsewhere and some has opted for a change of pace and direction.

In my new Spray Lakes venture I've interviewed a significant number of 50-years+ experienced industry personnel who find themselves without a job having been made redundant. These are skilled, intelligent, motivated individuals with exactly the nous and insight that's needed to make businesses tick. Having tasted the lifestyle benefits of no longer being full-time salaried staff they are keen to have the flexibility of a consultancy style connection with work, committing maybe one week in four.

When the smoking ban was introduced in July 2007 the industry faced a similar crisis. As revenues fell off a cliff, business owners sought to compensate by slashing budgets across the board, including headcount. The result was that standards dropped off an adjacent cliff and when customers did start returning, they were underwhelmed by what they found and experienced. As a consequence, the bounce back from the smoking ban which should have taken six or nine months ended up taking 18 - a classic example of being penny wise and pound stupid.

Courtesy of Spray Lakes I've got a good grasp on exactly how much executive talent is no longer engaged by the industry which is much poorer as a result.

The road map of recovery might begin on May 17 but the journey will be much longer and more tortuous without the right people navigating.

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