March 1, 2022
The exams we deliver at Pearson VUE have a direct and positive impact on communities around the globe, driving progress and helping our clients deliver on the promise of their industries. In this series, we’re taking a deeper look at the ways we make that happen, by speaking to people from around our business who are making a lasting impact in a particular area of assessments.
This time we’re speaking to Gene Carlson, Global Vice President, Human Resources. Based in the US, Gene has been integral to developing and supporting our business response to the pandemic, ensuring we align our talent development and employee retention initiatives with our company’s high-growth strategic objectives.
Gene, can you briefly describe your role within Pearson VUE?
I lead the global Pearson VUE HR team, which is made up of individuals across the US, the UK and India. My role is two-fold; to lead those HR teams and our HR strategies, while also being a member of the VUE leadership team. So, I am involved in both HR-focused activities as well as our core business-focused activities.
From a talent development perspective, what are your key areas of focus?
Remote or hybrid working. What does that look like moving forward? How does that evolve in 2022 and beyond? Will people want to go back to the office? When will they be able to safely and what does that look like? All of that is a huge focus area currently and going forward.
The second area is employee engagement, or more specifically, employee retention. That’s been a focus since the beginning of time from an HR perspective, but it now looks and feels dramatically different. Professionals have many more options when they’re working remote. They no longer have to find a job in their local geography. As HR leaders we need to be more on top of our game in terms of being more intentional about engaging employees, retaining employees, and finding out what’s really important to them. Historically we’ve done a good job of that at VUE, but we now need to act differently. For example, exit interviews have always been a big thing in HR, but I’ve never been a huge fan. I prefer the term "stay interviews," which someone else cleverly coined. This is where you talk to employees in their current roles – whether that’s through a focus group, roundtable or skip-level (a skip-level interview is a one-on-one interview between an employee and their next-level manager). You want to ensure people are getting the right kind of opportunities for learning and career growth and are feeling fulfilled in their careers. You get ahead of the exit interview and hopefully the employee is appropriately engaged, and the exit interview never happens.
Talking to internal stakeholders regularly – even through a casual or informal meeting – can provide much deeper insight than a more formal exit interview. But it’s about how you then apply that insight and respond to people’s needs accordingly.
As HR leaders we need to be more on top of our game in terms of being more intentional about engaging employees, retaining employees, and finding out what’s really important to them.
—Gene Carlson, Global Vice President, Human Resources
Briefly describe a typical day.
I’d say this is split in three ways.
One is various activities with my HR team, speaking with my direct reports. We’re working on a range of initiatives at any given time (talent acquisition, development, retention, DE&I, etc.).
Two is on the business side, with the SET (senior executive team). A couple of examples are the processes that our leadership team follows for making investments and for pursuing new business opportunities. From an HR-specific standpoint, we are there to provide HR expertise as well as overall business insight, like any other member of the leadership team.
Three, the broader HR/Pearson priorities – those projects are not solely focused on VUE but rather the broader Pearson environment, so working with our centers of excellence: Talent Acquisition, L&D (learning & development), DE&I (diversity, equity and inclusion), Reward (salary & benefits), HR Operations.
The role of HR changed dramatically in 2020 and continues to evolve.
Looking ahead to this year, what are the most urgent priorities for HR leaders?
Continuing to support the best possible version of the remote working environment – so constantly thinking about initiatives around team building, collaboration, development and retention. All of those things look very different when the majority of people are used to being in an office and walking down the hall and talking to someone.
Then of course there’s the nuts and bolts of COVID management – there’s so much work behind the scenes that continues to happen, particularly with our test centers and the unique challenges that they face every day. There are a lot of nuances around what that looks like. In our test centers it’s been a complex process and when you stop and think about how often the laws have changed (particularly in the US) it’s incredible. For nearly two years now, we’ve had a number of different meetings every week with a cross-functional group from around the business working through the complexities with all of this, just to stay on top of it on behalf of our employees, clients and test-takers. Our test center employees and test center leadership have done a tremendous job of staying focused and managing through these unprecedented and challenging times.
I think that’s what defines our people – we are customer-centric, always problem-solving for our clients and striving to do better for them every day.
—Gene Carlson, Global Vice President, Human Resources
The last couple of years have seen a real shift in working practices with companies promoting better work/life balance. What do you think will be the long-lasting impact of the global pandemic on our business?
It has really opened people’s eyes to not having to have employees physically in the office. The mentality for some people pre-COVID may have been that you can’t work collaboratively, you can’t problem-solve, you can’t strategize without seeing each other in person. But the last two years has proven this is just not the case. From a recruiting perspective, we’ve been able to update the job requirements and ways of working for many of the highly skilled technologists we’re hoping to recruit, to be remote. That revised approach opens up our talent pool beyond technology roles to the world – we can attract professionals in slightly different sectors and from different geographies as well as people from more diverse backgrounds, which is fantastic.
How are we growing our future talent pipeline in response to changing customer needs?
Our customers now have different expectations and a different set of options, because of the pandemic. How we hire someone to work in a test center might be different from how we hire someone to work as a proctor or greeter remotely (for online proctoring) – not a completely different skillset, as you still need strong customer service skills but still, it’s different in some ways. Since the customer expects something different, our business has to respond differently. Our clients’ expectations are changing as it’s now a more competitive market than ever before.
What qualities do our people have that make them stand out in the global assessments industry?
Our culture has always been focused on the customer coming first. Many companies say that in their mission statement but don’t necessarily execute it. The question of "Why am I here?" A lot of our employees would respond with "The customer always comes first" and I think that’s what defines our people – we are customer-centric, always problem-solving for our clients and striving to do better for them every day.
The certifications we deliver for our clients make a real and lasting impact, whether that’s helping a professional to advance in their career, keeping communities healthy and safe, or driving progress for future generations. I think that inspires our people to contribute day in, day out.