Talent Leaders – Breda O’Toole

June 12, 2023

Breda O’Toole – Head of Talent Transformation & Innovation, IDA Ireland

A native of Connemara, Breda joined IDA Ireland 20 years ago after spending much of her career in the UK.  Initially, Breda was IDA’s Global Head of HR&OD, moved into Regional Business Development and Client Operations.  Breda is currently heading up a department for IDA developing Ireland’s proposition on talent and innovation and supporting company transformation.  Previously, Breda worked as Head of HR and Policy at Bolton Metropolitan Borough Council, UK and achieved a master’s degree in Strategic Human Resource Management with Manchester Metropolitan University.  Breda was educated in Kylemore Abbey, Co. Galway and Shannon College of Hotel Management. Breda is a strong believer in company transformation, lifelong learning, and leadership development.

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What do you think is the key to being successful as a Talent leader in the current business environment?

Knowing about the business and being clear about the challenges and emerging trends for the sector you are in is important to help to understand the talent requirements necessary for the business. This means that talent leaders have to stay close to the leadership team, where decisions are being made and importantly, be part of the development of the business strategy. Upskilling your existing talent pool to be ready for the future needs of the business, particularly in sustainability, innovation and digitalisation is key as is creating a workplace environment where people can access the flexibility, they now desire. I think sticking with current practice is just not going to work post Covid.

As a Talent leader, what is your key advice for managing your teams and people?

Engagement with people and teams that enables ownership and demonstrates respect for people is essential. When people understand what they are trying to achieve and the link between what they are doing and the goals of the organisation, then that clarifies a lot for them. Then for me, it’s about making sure people are resourced to do their job and are constantly developing themselves and challenged to take on new things. I think that’s motivational for people because they will feel valued when their manager focuses on them and their career development. Keeping jobs interesting and fulfilling hasn’t changed really over the years – I believe people still want to feel they are making a difference and adding value by what they do – certainly that has been my experience.

How has the role of a recruiter changed and what new skills do you think they need to possess and develop?

I think the first important thing is the brand an organisation is trying to portray – what is it saying to the potential candidate – increasingly we see people interested in flexibility, career pathways, and the overall values of the organisation such as the organisation’s perspective and approach to sustainability and community engagement.

The second is to build a talent pipeline by being engaged with Ireland’s infrastructure that supports talent, like our universities and overall education system. We need to think more about reaching out to underrepresented groups through avenues like our Local Enterprise offices or Skillnet, Solas, Generation Ireland and so on.

The third element is the type of reach to attract talent, using appropriate social media platforms for example. Even these three things mean we need to develop our digital skills, develop our knowledge of what’s available in Ireland to build our pipeline and marketing skills to be able to position our recruitment ads in the most appropriate channels.

What do you think is the biggest challenge and biggest opportunity facing Talent and Recruitment?

Organisations I work with say it is retaining people and recruiting enough of the talent they need. Both are a challenge and opportunity because it is not unique to Ireland. Being an open economy helps to attract inward talent and we also have an excellent upskilling and re-skilling support system. But as we all know, talent development takes time, and we are not the only country with infrastructural issues!

Going back to my earlier point, brand is key as well as how we organise work and talent. We probably can’t continue to apply the same approach to talent and recruitment as we have always done because recruiting talent now is an international practice with people working remotely or in different countries. To enable us to attract from a wider talent pool and a more diverse talent pool, we must start getting creative with our own practices. This will mean changing our recruitment policies and practices to enable us to broaden our reach, provide for the way people want to work and bring in new skills that will add value to the business longer term.

What is the next stage of transformation for Talent functions?

Like any business function, I think there are probably several key questions that Talent functions need to consider as part of a continuous transformation agenda

  1. How can we use digitalisation more creatively to recruit and develop our people in real-time and to respond flexibly to changing business needs?
  2. How can we contribute to the growth or /further develop the level of life-long learning among ourselves (role model good practice) and employees to enable us to flexibly adapt to changing business needs and circumstances?
  3. How can we help the business to develop an innovative culture that drives an enhanced customer experience to differentiate the business from its competitors?
  4. How can the talent function lead the way on a sustainability agenda in the way it delivers its services?
  5. How can the talent function generate an employee brand that showcases the value of working with their organisation as opposed to the competitors?
  6. In what ways can we develop our leadership and management capability that helps them grow a developmental mindset where, as much importance is placed on the development of transversal skills as technical capability.

Would you like to share any other opinions or thoughts about Talent acquisition and recruitment or the wider business world?

There is much talk about the level of job losses that can occur as a result of digitalisation, but I think we see several jobs emerging as a result in areas like quality assurance, data analytics, corporate governance, risk management and cyber security. So, I believe a greater emphasis needs to be placed on thinking strategically about the way in which we manage our talent like asking ourselves – why would someone want to work for you? In a Future Forum Pulse 2022, 81% of respondents want flexibility in where they work and 93% want flexibility in when they work. So, an organisation’s sweet spot for recruiting and retaining talent could well lie within the flexibility of their policies and practices.’s Talent Leader Series seeks to share the view of leaders in the Talent space.

By sharing the thoughts and insights of these leaders will hopefully help the Talent industry as a whole as it explores new opportunities and faces new challenges.

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