Staying power: 30 years in construction recruitment
Sarah Harvey, Director of Harvey Lawrence, has just celebrated her 30th anniversary in construction recruitment. Here she reflects on her time in the industry! When I took my first construction recruitment job in 1989, I would never have imagined I would still be in the industry 30 years later. Thriving for three decades in this role is rare, as it’s such a tough, competitive environment to work in. My time in construction recruitment has given me a unique insight on the industry as a whole, and I wanted to discuss the evolution I’ve seen and the changes I still want to see. As we approach the end of an uncertain year, we’re hoping 2020 will be reinvigorated through political clarity. For construction talent, be it permanent or temporary staff, if you do a good job and add value, you win through. Construction An Improved Landscape The industry has undergone a major image transformation over the last 30 years and has emerged as more professional and respectable. The industry we know today is process-led, policy-driven and digitalised. The culture of the late 1980s has been largely overhauled, and as a result, we all work in a more positive sector. Whilst policy is a must in order to mitigate risk, there is a feeling that policy can be more of a tick-box exercise with the clear exception of health and safety. We have seen a complete behavioural overhaul of health and safety, and rightly so. The standards have skyrocketed, meaning workers are happier, more productive and significantly safer in their roles. Equally, 30 years ago, there was no such thing as having records and plans stored digitally. Advancements in technology have enabled plans to be viewed in 3D, making it more efficient to plan and develop construction projects. The concept of construction management software has also revolutionised the industry. It allows different parties to collaborate on projects with more ease, which means they can make necessary changes much faster. We also talk about equality, diversity and inclusion, and wanting to attract more women into construction. Fortunately, how the industry treats its stakeholders is worlds apart from where we were in the late 80s. Industry leaders who are stuck in their old ways still exist, but thankfully, they are now few and far between. They need to be as they actively deter females from the industry and cause good staff members to look for better prospects elsewhere. Where We Need to Build a Better Industry Culturally, the industry has improved, but there are issues that still need to be resolved. I think the way parties interact with each other has remained largely unchanged with confrontation still rife. Because of this, the industry loses talent that doesn’t cope well in harsh cultures. Being overly tough just isn’t the right approach for today’s talent. The industry has been very slow to adjust here, despite claiming otherwise. Staff retention hasn’t improved massively over the years, but if we adapted the same zero tolerance approach to poor management as we do to health and safety, workers will be more inclined to stay in their roles. People often tell us they feel like they’re in a straight-jacket, unable to offer ideas or honest feedback for fear of it putting a black mark against their name. Similarly, there are widespread comments that people feel like their appraisals are rushed and merely part of box-ticking process. Whilst policy is key to compliance and risk mitigation, there needs to be a greater level of sincerity around policies. We have to take them more seriously instead of using them to simply satisfy legislative criteria. I can still remember how fondly professionals spoke about their careers in the late 80s and 90s. Despite how far the construction industry has advanced, it doesn’t feel like workers these days have the same sense of team spirit and respect for each other. There seems to be a worrying sense of disillusionment with how they’re treated, with company politics and what many consider to be overkill on process. Talented professionals feel stifled and that their roles are now less skilled with the growth of automation processes. I knew many site engineers, site managers, quantity surveyors and the like who are now senior industry leaders. It seems the generation of yesteryear had a real appetite to progress, but these workers are now within a few years of retirement. As a general observation, I think those who have come through the industry in the last ten to fifteen years don’t have the same desires. This is concerning as it poses a potential problem for sourcing future leaders and begs the question as to why people don’t want these roles. It’s highly unlikely they don’t want an increase in salary, bonuses and kudos. It’s more than likely they don’t want to deal with the complicated processes, backstage politics and blame culture that many perceive comes with career progression. Towards the end of the 80s, late payment was rife. We still hear about poor payment issues today, which is leading to the same business failures we saw three decades ago. Payment has improved on the whole, but I feel it may have regressed in 2019. We talk about fair treatment and timely payment, but there are still behaviours that fly in the face of these principles. Recruitment: The Success and Failures of the Industry The recruitment industry has also evolved a great deal during my three decades in the business. When I first started out, recruitment was completely paper-based, and sales offices were smoke-filled dens of relentless, high-pressure sales activity. The role was purely phone–based and job boards were unheard of. The way in which jobseekers look for new roles now has certainly changed. Over the last few years, I have witnessed the rise of job boards, applicant tracking systems, portals and social media — LinkedIn in particular. Previously, advertising was mostly confined to industry magazines, and anyone looking for a different job would need to look at adverts while on their tea-break. In this digital age, I feel as though the sector has lost its perspective of what it means to be good at recruitment. I was taught recruitment from first principles, which means building up a profile of a person’s experience and aspirations through detailed face-to-face discussions. We built trust with clients this way, as they knew we were doing our due diligence rather than just lifting profiles from social media or job boards. Today, this latter approach has sadly become all too common, and I feel it has created an inherent distrust of clients towards agencies. There is no denying that technology is very much part of modern recruitment. I talk to many clients who are frustrated that they haven’t filled their roles when all they’ve done is placed an advert online. You don’t achieve the right results working like that, which is why we need more credible, connected recruiters who understand the industry and the people they are looking to find roles for. Relationships are still key; they always have been and always will be. However, the skill of being able to make good judgement decisions based on knowledge and due diligence has been hugely diminished. Technology should improve efficiency and enhance recruitment outcomes, but I think, unlike in construction, it has had an adverse effect, leading to a poorer service in general. 30 Years On — Achievements and Lessons I’m proud to have survived 30 years in construction recruitment, and that I have stuck it out through three recessions. I’m also proud to have led two start-up recruitment businesses, one for a major player and one being my own, which has been a success for the last 18 years and counting. I have retained many of my clients throughout my working life, and Harvey Lawrence’s repeat business levels with clients is currently running at 83%. You can only achieve results like that through hard work and adapting to an evolving industry. Honesty has set my business apart, which goes a long way in explaining how we have formed so many lasting relationships with clients. In 18 years, we have only had one legal dispute, and we believe that our transparency is the reason why our clients put their trust in us. Experience has taught me to keep my feet on the ground as I have seen first-hand how quickly things can change. This is partly why we are totally self-funded with a strong credit rating. My industry longevity has taught me to be prudent and cautious. I underestimated how difficult managing a business could be at times. I didn’t factor in economic or legislative changes well enough, but I managed to get my head around the learning curve, which has led to my company thriving. Both the construction and recruitment industries have seen positive changes over the 30 years, and I’m sure it will continue to improve. It will be interesting to see how culture and collaboration between parties will make strides towards ending conflict in the workplace. It seems that the industry still has some work to do in creating a more conciliatory culture, one which is motivational for staff and the supply chain. However, the future looks bright, and as long as the industry is willing to adapt, we should achieve better results for all stakeholders involved. 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 recruitment needs.
Manchester – an exciting place to be…
It is very plain to see that Manchester is alive with tower cranes,many of which you will see are on city centre high-rise PRS and student accommodation sites. Perhaps people are looking at how long this “bubble” may continue and when we will return to the almost overnight slowdown in this sector that we saw in Manchester in 2008. Many will have an awareness of this but it seems that there is real visibility in this market for the medium term as Manchester continues to attract significant investment. It would seem that this surge in “accommodation” building has a few more years left yet and, the great city that Manchester is, will continue to be that vibrant and exciting place to be! Picture source: constructionnews.co.uk PRS There has been a whopping 400% increase in the construction of residential units in Manchester in the last 2 years with PRS (Private Rental Sector) accommodation dominating the way. Paul Beardmore Chief Executive of Manchester Place (Manchester City Council investment agency) says: “The work we have done on population growth in the city shows that the demand is absolutely there. All of our agents are giving us the same message: they can’t get their hands on new apartments quickly enough.” Investors from the Far East are “still very active in the city centre market”, he added. It is predicted that there will be a 220% increase in city centre completions by the end of March 2018. High-profile schemes include East Consortiums 756 unit development at Angel Meadow including a 41 storey skyscraper and Oxygen Tower with 357 units (Property Alliance Group) to name a few. Image by Falconer Chester Hall from Place North West Student Accommodation Student accommodation has changed drastically from the “cheap” and “grotty” looking accommodation into more luxury and high-spec flats and this continues to grow. Student accommodation, particularly PBSA (Purpose-Built Student Accommodation) is currently worth £46bn in the UK and will be worth £47bn by the end of this year. Investment in PBSA has doubled in the last 2 years and will only continue to grow. This is the largest emerging sector within property investment. High-profile student accommodation includes a 30 storey SimpsonHaugh-designed student accommodation tower at New Wakefield Street by Unite, a 37 storey Hodder-designed student accommodation tower – Liberty Heights – at 1 Great Marlborough Street, which was developed by Student Castle during the last recession. And last but not least, Vita 716 ultra-modern flats, part of the £750m Circle Square development. Picture source:constructionnews.co.uk Other projects in Manchester: £153m Angel Gardens 466 apartment private and rented scheme £200m Angel Meadow project with 750 apartments with retail and leisure space The NOMA/Angel Meadows project comprising of skyscraper apartments, offices and public space. This will include a 36-storey, 458 apartment development and a 13 storey block of offices Ancoats, in New Islington includes a 31 storey sky-scraper which will feature 345 new flats, 12 townhouses and its own allotments The Plaza which is a 10 storey development with 201 new apartments Deansgate/Spinningfields development including skyscrapers, offices, hotels, arts venues and green space £1.3bn vertical village towers £34m refurbishment of Hanover Building and Federation House Picture source: rightmove.co.uk Harvey Lawrence – Opportunities in Manchester The last two years has seen us leading recruitment drives for some of the key brands in these sectors. We were also leading recruitment in Manchester in the previous accommodation boom of 2005 – 2008. It is a market we understand and have a long-standing knowledge of. Our roots are in Manchester, it is where our business began and where we have always had a huge focus and contact base. We are proud to have recently recruited for senior roles such as: Project Directors for high-rise residential schemes in excess of £100m, Commercial Managers managing portfolios in excess of £150m and various quantity surveying, site and design management roles. Sarah Harvey, owner of Harvey Lawrence commented: “Having lived in Manchester for 20 years and having spent my entire construction recruitment career focusing on Manchester, it is an area that has always been at the top of our agenda and part of our overall business strategy. I am very proud that we have succeeded in maintaining some very strong relationships with key players in the region. Clients come to us as they have the confidence in our presence and in the way we do business. As a Director told me the other day, we listen to the brief and deliver. For me, if you are looking for a job or staff, this is what good recruitment is all about and it will continue to be at the heart of what we do.” There are some very significant and even iconic schemes that are happening in Manchester with even more in the pipeline. For those that want to advance their careers and be part of challenging schemes, there is definite opportunity and career advancement to be made. Working on projects in busy sectors with well – respected brands clearly is great for the development of a good CV and sustained and long-term advancement and earning potential. Like anything, being in the right place at the right time has a part to play and Manchester is definitely the place to be. Feature image sourced at rightmove.co.uk