Graduate recruitment: Personnel Today interviews Carl Gilleard, chief executive, AGR – No substitute for youth

Dancing next to Roger Daltrey, Keith Moon and Pete Townsend after a rowdy appearance of legendary rock band The Who in Leicester back in the 1960s, is as fresh today in the mind of baby boomer Carl Gilleard as it was in his youthful Mod days.

As he notches up 10 years at the helm of the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR), Gilleard – who recently received a Lifetime Achievement Award for his role in transforming the image of graduate recruitment in the UK, continues to thrive on being around the young.

Whether it is coaching his village football squad or talking about careers opportunities to sceptical sixth formers at the local boys grammar school, Yorkshire-born Gilleard – who wouldn’t confirm his age apart from saying he’s “over 60” – both likes and is frustrated by 20-somethings in equal measure.


“It’s all about ‘me, me, me’ and they clearly do want everything ‘now, now, now’,” he explained. “But having said that, I find young people very refreshing and the people who work with them in recruitment terms a highly positive and professional bunch,” he said. “There’s always a tendency to scapegoat the young – I remember that from my days as a Mod. But it’s very important to remember that young people are what they are because of the world they live in.”

Gilleard has overseen considerable growth in membership at the AGR since he took over as chief executive in 1998, and has raised its profile both in the UK and internationally. He entered the world of graduate recruitment in 1989 as director of the Metropolitan Authorities Recruitment Agency and for two years was the regional director of the West Midlands Employers Organisation.

A self-confessed ‘helicopter parent’ (a parent who hovers over their child’s every move), Gilleard’s empathy with the young stems partly from his 30 years working in education as a careers adviser, careers service manager and senior education officer, but also from his experience with his two children.

While he left school at 16 and didn’t discover the benefits of higher education until the 1970s, Gilleard’s understanding of what motivates today’s graduate has so far proved visionary. He now spends most of his days talking to employers about how best to recruit, train, motivate and retain the country’s next generation of high fliers.

“I constantly tell recruiters they have to acknowledge this is the perpetually connected generation and should take steps to ensure that, far from banning social networking sites or SMS, text and blog technology from the workplace, they have to find ways to embrace it and incorporate it into the working day,” he said.

“It doesn’t make it any easier for those of us over 30 to keep up with them, of course – for instance, the pace at which my teenage son uses his computer keyboard to interrogate the internet makes me dizzy – but it does give employers a valuable insight into how they think and run their lives.”


While much of Gilleard’s work at AGR – celebrating its 40th anniversary this year – involves lecturing on employability skills to students, parents, teachers and careers advisers, his key message now is reminding employers that bright graduates are no longer prepared to wait while firms make up their minds about them.

“This is a generation that wants to be at the very centre of things they are highly self-centred if you like. Any employer who takes more than two months to conduct and complete an online recruitment process – and for some, it can still take more than four months – will find the very candidates they want to attract have got bored and moved on.”

Raised in a Huddersfield council house, Gilleard’s formative years in local government have helped keep his feet on the ground.

“While, thankfully, none of my children have first-hand experience of being in the NEET group (not in education, employment or training), I certainly don’t believe that three years at university is for everybody,” he said.

“Many of our most prestigious members need apprentices, just as much as they do graduates, and if my 17-year-old decides not to go to university next year, I’ll say good luck to him. Just as long as he continues to learn.”

Gilleard is currently gearing up for next month’s annual AGR conference – where hundreds of employers, hoping to connect with some of the brightest minds in the country, will debate the theme of ‘Delivering World Class Skills’.

Ahead of the flagship event, Gilleard had only this to say to recruiters: “Meet Generation Y on their terms, but engage them on yours. Your message, their delivery.”

Carl Gilleard’s CV

  • June 1998 to present: Chief executive, AGR
  • 1989-1998: National director, METRA (Metropolitan Authorities Recruitment Agency)
  • 1987-1989: Senior education officer, Solihull council
  • 1980-1987: Principal careers officer, Calderdale and Kirklees councils
  • 1968-1980: Various careers service and personnel roles

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