How exactly does an organisation that’s more than 1,100 years old prove itself as an innovative, modern employer fit for the 21st century? That’s the challenge that befell Sarah Bradley, HR director of the Royal Mint, when she joined the organisation back in 2009, around the same time as some big changes were happening. The same year, the Mint, previously a government agency, became its own limited company wholly owned by the Treasury, and also began to diversify its business interests.
As the supplier of coins to the UK and more than 30 other countries, the organisation was very much focused on this product, explains Bradley. “It used to be all about circulating coins,” she says. “But around six years ago, we knew the decline in the use of coins was on its way, so we set about reinventing the business.”
And what followed was the creation of several other divisions as part of a sustainability strategy to preserve the Mint’s British craftsmanship and sustain the business for the future, including a commemorative coins business; a precious metals business; a DigiGold business for customers to invest in and trade gold, silver and platinum online; a Collector Services division that sources historic coins for collectors; and not forgetting the £9m visitor centre that opened in 2016 on its site in Llantrisant, south Wales, where the Mint has been located since it left London in the 1960s.
But with this diversification of its business interests came extra people challenges for Bradley and her team. Previously largely made up of engineers and production staff minting around three billion coins every year, the 900-strong workforce now comprises a far wider range of roles including digital designers, marketing and business development experts, and chemists, as well as technology and supply chain teams – which Bradley rightly points out is now a “real cross-section of skills”.
And with the diversification of the workforce’s skillset has needed to come a step change in how it recruits. As well as making an effort to forge links with local universities (two students are already firmed up to come on board as cyber engineers straight from finishing their courses), the Mint also has a successful graduate programme, and was one of the first organisations in Wales to implement placements as part of the government’s Kickstart scheme, of which it now has 30 – two of whom are now permanent.
It’s shaking off the organisation’s image as a “sleepy giant” and blending its culture of “heritage, history and craftsmanship” with one of innovation and forward thinking that has led to an improvement in its employer brand and its ability to successfully recruit directly under its own name, explains Bradley. “I think people used to say ‘the Royal Mint? Why would I want to go and work for a declining organisation?’ whereas now we’re much more an organisation that people would consider joining because we have more than 1,000 years of history, but at the same time we’re innovative and have a clear strategy.”
And despite the devastation caused by Covid, the pandemic has helped the organisation “supercharge” its reinvention, including its recruitment, says Bradley. With quite a “traditional” technology team prior to the crisis and not even a whisper of remote working to be heard, once lockdown was firmly on the horizon the organisation moved to home working – for those whose jobs are conducive to it – “literally overnight”. The firm is now happy to be using a hybrid model going forward for those that don’t want to go in five days per week, (but “we’re still a face-to-face business and we like the interaction,” adds Bradley), with between 200 and 300 people still on site at any one time to ensure manufacturing and dispatching can continue.
The organisation also chose not use the job retention scheme during the pandemic, instead taking those staff who would have been furloughed and setting up a visor manufacturing cell in its visitor centre, eventually making more than two million for the NHS while it was operational. “That really got people engaged and feeling proud to work here,” says Bradley.
One advantage of the new hybrid working model is that the organisation can now cast its recruitment net much wider than south Wales, which Bradley hopes will help fill the large number of vacancies it has, created by the organisation’s continued growth. “That’s helped with diversity too, because we’ve been able to open up a lot more in terms of our talent pool,” she explains.
But with hundreds of other companies also able to do the same, the Mint is also now competing with other firms up and down the UK, and that means working even harder to attract staff, as well as hold on to the ones it already has, in the coming months and years. “My HR team is looking really closely at our retention and L&D strategies for the next three years, because I want to make sure people are really able to grow with the business and aren’t just standing still,” says Bradley. “The war for talent is really starting to hot up again.”