Celebrating 18 years
Harvey Lawrence celebrates 18 years in business this month. As a well-known construction recruitment specialist, Harvey Lawrence sources talent across engineering, management, technical and commercial disciplines in the construction sector. The business has seen many changes in the last 18 years, and it is a consistent approach to quality that has built the successful business we know today. The driving force behind the company, Sarah Harvey, is also celebrating 30 years as a construction recruiter this year. Here, she talks about the business and what makes Harvey Lawrence successful. What motivated you to start your own recruitment business? I had always wanted to have my own business, even within my first two or three years as a recruiter. I remember attending an event with my then Director for the Businesswoman of the Year Awards in Yorkshire in 1992 and he commented “that will be you one day”. Not that I think I have reached those dizzy heights, but it did strike a chord with me and I knew that working for someone else wasn’t my long-term aim. It was my move to Manchester in 1993, to set up the Manchester office for Hays and the key role I played in the development and then management of the Northern region, that really gave me the confidence and skill. Whilst I value what l learned in nearly 12 years with a major player, I ultimately wanted to prove to myself that I could do things my own way and put my own personal stamp on a business. What makes Harvey Lawrence different? I genuinely believe the things that make us different are not all that complicated, in fact they are very simple. We are incredibly knowledgeable and we are upfront and honest. When you break it down to what clients and jobseekers want, it’s about dealing with a recruitment company that can show real market understanding and do the job properly. We know that people have long memories and therefore we consider business ethics to be high on our agenda. This attitude really helps to differentiate us in an industry in which I feel business ethics can be seriously lacking. With the increased demand for staff over the last few years, I think this lack of skill and ethics has been further eroded. There are still good recruiters out there, but I feel that they are in the minority. For the good of the sector it needs to be sorted out. For Harvey Lawrence, however, it is a major differentiator; we are much more than CV pushers. We are well-connected, particularly at senior management level and I know that we are taken seriously by many construction professionals as well as amongst our competitors. We have been around a long time, we have placed many people, including in senior level positions, which we do by doing the job properly and being so much more than post boxes. For us it is about longevity, sustainability and pride. All of these things are priceless. It is what makes you hold your head up high and I have made certain that these ethics are upheld throughout the business without compromise. What are you most proud of? I am proud that I started a business from scratch and that 18 years later it is still here and is in better shape than it has ever been with a rock-solid credit rating and credibility. The brand is respected, it is very stable and successful. I have learned some hard lessons from the last recession which makes me always keep my feet on the ground and importantly learn from mistakes. I probably didn’t realise how hard it would be to guide a business through a recession, through lots of legislative change, always gambling your own money. I think a lot of stress, bus-loads of determination with hopefully a smattering of insight got me through. What is the secret to longevity? It’s about being good at what you do, clearly, but it is much more than that. Adapting to change and embracing new ideas is paramount, especially in the ever-changing recruitment industry. Sadly, this industry is not known for engendering trust so Harvey Lawrence works hard to cast away the negatives associated with the recruitment industry which is why we’ve built so many long- standing relationships. I believe my three decades in the industry and valuable experience gained during this time, means I won't take unnecessary risks. Market conditions are fluid so for me, it is about sustainability, strong compliance and commericals. What do you see as the major changes in the construction sector since setting up Harvey Lawrence? For me, the industry has become much more process and governance-led and has made significant headway in improving its image. The amount of Tier 1 companies has reduced through merger/acquisition and business failure. No longer is the view that “biggest is best”. In fact, the SME market has really been a game changer for the sector as they now provide very real competition to the larger players and I think the view of the SME space has changed in the last 18 years. They are now taken very seriously and quite rightly as they have attracted some excellent talent. They also have the added advantage of being very price competitive. In fact, we frequently see people migrating from the large players to the regionals as they feel that they can take on a bigger role but clearly there are still those that prefer to stay with what they feel is the security of the larger players. For most people who have been in the construction sector long enough, they know that it is very susceptible to market fluctuation. I think regardless of how busy the market is, the dread of a recession is never far from peoples’ minds. We have gone from a nation of school builders to high rise residential builders. Now everyone is asking how long the developer boom will last and what will replace it. There are also those who, some may say wisely, opted to stick with public sector work as a safer option. There has definitely been a change of work streams and procurement routes, bringing with them their own challenges. What I do remember very well... a few years ago people asked what they would do after the school building had finished as they had not developed their private sector contacts in time and the same question could be asked now of those that are so heavily reliant on the private sector. There has also been a clear move of permanent staff taking to the freelance option for a whole host of reasons. This route has become more widely accepted by construction companies to attract the services of construction professionals and it is definitely the route in the trades and labour market due to its cost effectiveness. Even against the background of legislative change, I think the current market uncertainty means we will see more of this but there will need to be closer examination of how services are supplied in certain circumstances. I also think that some of the characteristics of the UK construction workforce have changed. Long gone is the general acceptance of “have suitcase, will travel” if the money is right. I think people will take less money to be near home and this attitude has strengthened over the years. In the geographical areas where we are strongest, the North West and the Midlands, people who live in Liverpool don’t tend to want to travel to Manchester and vice versa. Similarly, in the Midlands people based in Stoke-on-Trent, don’t tend to want to travel to Birmingham. Twenty years ago, it was generally accepted that you travelled in excess of an hour each way to work. Nowadays, we see people making decisions on which job to take based on its location. If they can get the train or the tram, they are often prepared to take less money for less travel. What changes have you seen in recruitment and what are your thoughts? Since the inception of Harvey Lawrence, the changes have been enormous. The way in which recruitment is done – the gradual drive towards automation and technological advance and changes in procurement of recruitment services in terms of the likes of applicant tracking systems, recruitment portals, PSLs and Master Vendors combined with the growth in social media and email marketing. All these represent change to how traditional recruitment was done. I fully recognise the importance and power of technology, particularly the value that can be created through quality content and thoughtful engagement strategies. However, I think that this is an area that is overcrowded and current content is very “same as”. I don’t think this does anything to find quality people, in fact it potentially deters quality people coming forward. I am concerned that there is a danger of deskilling and devaluing the recruitment process and the recruitment industry which would be a shame for recruiters who still want to go out and engage with clients and candidates, build relationships and find the best candidates. I think technology should be used intelligently but currently I think it is churning out uninspiring, personality-less content that will do little to bring the best people to the fore. ------ In summary, it is clear that the recruitment industry is ever evolving and keeping up is essential in such a competitive industry. The number of competitors is significantly more than when Harvey Lawrence first opened its doors, so keeping abreast of the latest developments in the industry keeps specialist recruiters at the top. The skill and knowledge of a good, well-connected recruiter with market credibility is still the key factor to delivering results in what is now a very compliance-led industry. The leadership, tenacity and adaptability that Harvey Lawrence’s founder and director Sarah has shown over almost two decades, go a long way to explain why the business is celebrating 18 strong years this month. Here’s to many more. Join in the conversation with Harvey Lawrence over on our social channels! Connect with us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn or contact us now to discuss your next career move.
Sarah Harvey talks about Harvey Lawrence and her thoughts on the Recruitment Industry
Sarah Harvey marked her 28th year in construction recruitment this year. In this interview, Sarah tells us about her personal experiences and discusses the changes and challenges in the recruitment industry and how these have affected Harvey Lawrence over the last decade and a half. Tell us about how your career in construction recruitment started and how Harvey Lawrence began. I entered the construction recruitment industry 28 years ago, straight after graduating from university. I spent many years with a global player, heading up several offices in the Northern Region. I spearheaded the opening up of the Manchester office for this major brand and developed it through to a Northern network across a team of 65. At this stage, I decided it was time for me to move on and do things my own way. I always wanted my own business and as I had the knowledge and experience, I thought the time was right to build a brand that did things in accordance with my own standards. Harvey Lawrence was founded in Manchester and we expanded into the Midlands in 2009. This meant personally I had come full circle, having grown up in the Midlands and where I started my career. Today Harvey Lawrence consists of a team of experienced recruiters who are passionate about doing the job correctly. We pride ourselves in being a value-based business and even in the tough times that we endured, we still did things correctly and refused to cut corners. We provide quality due-diligence and apply ethical standards, rather than just spraying CVs. What was it like to recruit when you first began your career in construction recruitment? How does this compare to when you began Harvey Lawrence? The pressure for producing results and reaching month-on-month KPIs was high and there was not much room for leniency. Either you cut the mustard or you didn’t. Consultants were expected to undertake every facet of the job and you had to rely heavily on phone work and face-to-face communication – social media and email strategies hadn’t taken hold. There were no job boards or tools such as LinkedIn and most of the work that came through was a result of building strong relationships. The industry at that time required recruiters who could offer a complete 360 service, not only generating candidates but also winning new business and closing deals consistently. By comparison, when I started Harvey Lawrence I was already 12 years into my career so I could network with people who I had previously worked with. I met people face-to-face and was very driven in this particular market. As a result the business has some very strong long-term relationships at senior management level and this has been massively influential in building our brand. Over the years, the recruitment sector has grown and become more competitive, as well as fast-paced. Some recruitment agencies cut corners to deliver CVs quickly but we have fought really hard to avoid this in order to create long-term trust and confidence in what we do. I feel that some of the basics of good value judgment, based on solid selection processes, have been lost. This is something I’m passionate about and as a result I manage my own business with the standards I was taught. What has changed over the years since you started Harvey Lawrence? There has certainly been a cultural shift in the recruitment industry in terms of the way recruiters interact with both candidates and clients. Technology, particularly through the use of social media, didn’t exist to any extent 16 years ago but now it seems to be one of the main tools used by recruiters. Harvey Lawrence has embraced technology and appreciates it is here to stay but we look to employ this in a creative way rather than bombarding people. For us, we don’t look for it to replace meeting people on a face-to-face basis as we think this is the best way to establish what their requirements are. I firmly believe this is why we’ve been running at 93% interview to offer ratio this year. Also our business profile has changed in that we started life as a permanent recruitment agency in the North West but today Harvey Lawrence is equally balanced across temporary and permanent recruitment throughout the North West and Midlands. One thing I can tell you that hasn’t changed is the way we do business: we have kept to our commitment of due diligence, even given the speed of the market. Have you noticed a gap in the market for clients? What are recruitment agencies not doing? There’s a gap in the market for recruitment agencies that demonstrate the right behaviours and evoke trust between the customers (whether that be client or candidate) and the agency. There is a deeply negative view about recruitment agencies as some use a scattergun approach to CVs and sometimes don’t demonstrate the correct business behaviours. I understand why this view is still prominent and I want to focus on ensuring that we avoid such behaviour. Ethical recruitment in itself is a gap in the market, allowing some credible recruitment businesses to gain a competitive advantage. In addition to this, I also believe that working with senior managers on a strategic basis, in terms of resource planning and brainstorming ideas, helps clients drive their recruitment brand, adding value to their own candidate attraction strategies. What has contributed to the success of Harvey Lawrence? Our success comes from our years of experience and track record serving the construction industry. We have survived a very difficult recession and had to adapt quickly to respond to a tough market. However, we maintained excellent relationships with clients and didn’t abandon them when they weren’t able to offer us business. Most importantly, we kept these relationships alive and healthy during these hard times. Our close client bonds have been invaluable to our continued success. The secrets to our success are: working hard; remaining focused at all times; staying true to our values no matter what and always looking forward and viewing the business pipeline. We celebrate what we do well and look to continually improve. Overall, it’s about being committed, thorough, tough, and passionate about what your business stands for. The lows have included having to realign and restructure the business during the recession and having the resolve to keep going and see success through to the other side. Fortunately this has paid off because we have emerged as a stronger and healthier business that remains committed. The main high of Harvey Lawrence has been building a brand to be incredibly proud of. We have built strong, long-lasting relationships with our clients and they consider us a trusted business partner as opposed to a sales organization to be wary of. Where will Harvey Lawrence like to be in 5 years? We will continue to provide excellent service to construction companies in North West and Midlands for permanent and temporary recruitment. We are also looking to extend our reach to London following key relationships we have with clients who work in this area. Whilst we’re incredibly strong in recruiting for building contractors and we know this market inside out, we also have worked with civil engineering and housing clients and we’re looking to build on this further. I am very keen to grow the business but not to lose the essence of what we are about which is a quality brand that is committed to delivering a skilled recruitment service.