More reality needed over recruitment expectations

James Lennon, Lucy Black and Tom Barratt

PEACE Recruitment founder and managing director Chris Peace says there is currently a “disconnect” between what some construction firms expect and the reality when it comes to filling vacancies. 

Peace specialises in construction, property and engineering recruitment. With skills shortages becoming an ever-increasing problem, Chris said finding suitable candidates is becoming more challenging.

As a result, he is advising clients to be more pragmatic in their expectations and consider giving opportunities to people with less experience.

“Everyone wants the same thing and there’s only so many times I’m going to send my senior consultants and managers into the same hay bale looking for a needle that you know doesn’t exist,” Chris told Project Scotland. “And if you do find that needle, you know that you can sell that needle to five places and get them five offers probably. They’ll probably also get a counter offer from their existing employer.”

Chris added that he often uses football analogies, comparing the recruitment process as sometimes being akin to a lower league club expecting to sign Leo Messi or Cristiano Ronaldo.

“We’re urging our clients to think outside the box, consider the expectations of who they can actually get and consider bringing in less experienced individuals and training them up and being rewarded for that longer-term,” he added.

“We’re taking our own medicine because the recruitment industry is the exact same. Because I can’t get people with five or six years’ experience who are going to bill me £200,000 annually, I’m bringing in and training my own up, so I’m asking our clients to consider the same thing. Or at least to consider thinking outside the box and being open-minded about the level or person they hire.”

Chris said the labour shortage currently being experienced in construction is mirrored by the recruitment industry. Peace has recently taken on three junior members of staff with no prior experience in the sector.

James Lennon, who was working in a family property and construction development business, has joined as a resourcer to work in Peace’s commercial management team. Tom Barratt, who was in car sales, has joined the property and surveying team. And Lucy Black, who worked for a bank, has been recruited to the white-collar contract division to work on technical and professional roles. 

Chris believes there are advantages to being able to mould your own employees, including the fact they don’t arrive with any “bad habits” picked up elsewhere. He went on to say that the recruitment industry is changing. He wants his consultants to have a “thirst for knowledge” and delve deep to help place candidates in jobs that are right for them or will start them on a pathway to eventually land the role of their dreams.

“Everything we’re trying to strive for as a business is about being informed: better informed about the project, better informed about the companies and what projects they’re getting involved in, and better informed about why candidates really want to move jobs and where they really want to be,” Chris added.

With Brexit on the horizon and fears of the potential economic impact, Chris is warning companies to avoid a repeat of what happened during the 2008 recession when many firms dramatically scaled back on staffing levels and let go many of their least experienced personnel.

If firms are “battening down the hatches” in anticipation of economic slowdown, he says they should “think carefully” about who to lose.

Chris described a scenario whereby a client might want a candidate with a certain level of experience but due to the economic climate that existed a decade ago, such individuals are thin on the ground.

“It would not be uncommon to see a CV of someone who was less experienced ten years ago and maybe they had to pick up work in the post office or pulling pints in a bar because they lost their job during the financial crisis,” Chris said. 

A further issue is that many construction workers have, through necessity, had no choice other than to frequently move jobs over the past ten years, leaving them with an unfair reputation for being a “jumper”. 

“They’re not a jumper,” Chris added. “You can understand that if the person was at the tail end of their career. But that person was actually trying to get experience during a recession and had to do that.”

Chris believes some companies will use Brexit as an “excuse” for poor performance, but points to the fact that many firms are thriving.

“You’ve got to pick your winners. For me, certain sectors are doing very well. Universities are doing very well, private rental is doing very well, hotels are doing very well, and housing. That’s four sectors. 

“If you imagine the Grand National, that’s your four horses that you want to back. If you backed those horses two years ago, you’ll be doing just fine.”