Talent Pools

What is a talent pool?



The Cambridge Dictionary defines a talent pool as:

‘Suitable, skilled people who are available to be chosen to do a particular type of job’



Benefits of talent pools

Talent pools are beneficial because they:

  • Identify talent at an early stage
  • Develop individuals to meet future succession requirements
  • Improve employee engagement and retention
  • Improve internal mobility
  • Provide career progression
  • Reduce external hiring costs


What do you already have?

Each fire and rescue service is likely to have some form of talent pool already in place, although it could have a different name, such as ‘people in development’ or ‘promotions process’. In essence, anything that prepares people to take the next step in their career journey could be seen as a talent pool.


Also, a talent pool does not need to be a highly formal process or system. For example, developing people by enabling them access to vocational qualifications and apprenticeships that are connected to their next logical career step is a form of talent pool. The creation of a talent pool does not automatically lead to a promotion or new job.


Planning your pool

When developing a talent pool, one impactful approach is to look at your service’s structure and identify where a talent pool would add value. For one-off jobs, succession planning may be a more robust alternative to a talent pool, but for a range of jobs with a similar set of core knowledge, skills and behaviours, you may wish to create a talent pool. Likewise, for multiple jobs within your service’s structure, a pool may well add significant value and improve organisational resilience too.


Look again at your service’s structure and consider where internal candidates routinely come from: is it the rank below or somewhere else?


Next, consider the knowledge, skills and behaviours you would need anyone stepping into a role to have immediately, which might be essential criteria within the person specification. Once the essential criteria for the role are identified, split them into three main headings:


Knowledge This will include the necessary qualifications, certification and other minimum requirements.
Skills Detail the practical things someone new in the role would need to demonstrate beforehand, for example, commanding a multi-pump incident or dealing with employee relations cases. They should be outlined in the development/job pack.
Behaviours Many organisations have a core set of behaviours and values, which are usually based on the Core Code of Ethics for Fire and Rescue Services. Consider how these values and behaviours can be identified and what evidence could be used to measure them.


Next, consider which approach to take. Many organisations use a ‘recruit-develop’ model, where an individual is offered a post at the next level on development pay, while completing a portfolio or list of courses or activities, for example. However, with talent pools it is much more effective to develop people, then recruit them. This approach effectively creates a talent pool for specific levels and roles within your service.



There are two main challenges with a talent pool: filling your talent pool and keeping your talent pool from going stagnant.


Filling your talent pool


Once you have identified the essential ‘day one’ knowledge, skills and behaviours that you need to have available, you need to find your potential talent. Your search may take a number of forms, as outlined below.


Positive action/targeting underrepresented groups

There is a lack of diversity within the fire and rescue service, particularly in senior positions. Using talent pools is one proactive way of helping people from underrepresented groups to be ‘day one’ ready for their next rank or role.


Many people from underrepresented groups talk of ‘imposter syndrome’ or feeling like they might not fit in. One important way to offset those feelings is to develop and deliver positive action workshops, one of which should focus on acknowledging and understanding the feelings of ‘imposter syndrome’. Follow that session up by providing people with the support to work through such feelings, set them aside and increase their confidence, to help them take the next steps in their career.


It is also key to enable people to tune into their strengths and feel confident about them. Likewise, tackling a general lack of confidence and providing support to improve application writing, assessments and interview skills are also incredibly important steps. Fundamentally, addressing specific feelings of self-doubt or concerns about belonging will be key to targeting underrepresented groups


Another important activity in the development of a talent pool is to identify steps in the recruitment process that are more challenging for people from underrepresented groups and offer people the chance to practise them. Offering practice sessions or assessments will also help the organisation to identify any elements that may include unconscious bias and enable them to take on board feedback from the participants.


Appraisal data

Personal development schemes, appraisals and reviews hold data that help to identify people’s existing level of performance and delivery, in terms of skills, behaviours and attitude. As a minimum, the people joining a talent pool should be competent, and they should have an attitude and set of personal values that are aligned to those of your service.



For each role, there will be a minimum qualification/standard requirement. However, consider expanding access to learning and apprenticeships, to enable people to not only do the essential qualifications for their current role, but to prepare to take the next step in their logical career journey.


Future job requirements 

Review your workforce plan to ensure that your service maintains operational resilience at all times. A good workforce plan will have detailed numbers of operational roles at each rank or level in the service, which helps establish the requirements for the talent pool and provides clarity for the likely timescales from entry to development and deployment.

Keeping your talent pool from going stagnant


Developing people initially is important. However, it is equally important to make sure there’s somewhere for people in the pool to go. Do not underestimate the need to ‘keep people warm’.


Assuming your service is actively supporting people to develop future job role skills, the next step is to consider how to keep people within the talent pool ‘warm’.


It is important to use your talent pool for other initiatives if you don’t have a next-level job opportunity for individuals. Members of the talent pool could participate in project work, additional learning, temporary assignments, secondments and wider community engagement or internal opportunities.


Where you have a steady stream of retirements and leavers, your talent pool should not go stagnant because members will always have opportunities to aim for, apply for and be selected for posts.


Consider having a set entry point and time limit, after which people who have not been attained a promotion or new role, leave the pool. This approach can be problematic, as a lack of opportunity does not necessarily mean you have a lack of talent. Where you set a natural ‘end’ date for your talent pool member, consider making it a review, rather than a finite date. Such flexibility provides an opportunity to respond to further opportunities that may present themselves.



Recruiting from your talent pool

Consider carefully how best to move people from the pool to a post. A formal selection process should still be in place, with people in your talent pool being supported to meet the minimum criteria for selection. They should also be judged on their performance within the process; think psychometrics, assessments, reports, presentations and, of course, interviews.


When people in your talent pool have not demonstrated the required standards at an assessment, it is valuable to invest some time with them to explore where they went ‘wrong’ during the recruitment process and develop a short support plan to enable them to overcome any shortcomings. For example, if your unsuccessful candidate did not perform well at interview, help them to gain interview experience and perhaps consider organising shadowing or other opportunities to raise their skills and confidence.