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.
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, busloads 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 commercials. 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.
Bridging The Gender Gap - International Women's Day
International Women’s Day (IWD) is celebrated annually on March 8th and although it may feel like a new celebration it actually began in 1911. The day is one of celebration and recognition of women’s achievements around the globe and strives for continued gender equality, with this year’s message being #BalanceforBetter. Across the construction industry there are only around 14% of workers who are female and the higher you climb, the smaller the number gets with just 4% accounting for senior positions in the industry. Harvey Lawrence, industry-leading construction recruitment brand, is well-aware of the employer appetite to recruit female construction talent. Yet sadly, the number of women we place is less than 10%. If we look purely at managerial roles, that figure worryingly decreases to less than 4%. The industry so badly needs to recruit more females in order to move more towards gender parity and a more diverse workforce. We took some time to talk to a recent female candidate of ours that we placed in a managerial role to get her thoughts on women in construction. Nicola Atkins, Bid Manager of Wates Construction North West, has a varied and successful career spanning 23 years in the construction industry. Nicola entered as a construction graduate and progressed through site engineering to senior level design and bid roles. Today on International Women’s Day we look at her advice for women considering a career in construction and consider what more can be done to retain the industry’s female talent. Q: What advice would you give to women entering the construction industry? A: “Be confident, be visible and let your voice be heard. You need to focus on yourself and be better than you thought you could be. Never stop seeking knowledge and surround yourself with successful people. Be prepared to grow and develop”. Q: What things should women consider before they enter the industry? A: “Appreciate that the industry is nomadic and that there are many exciting challenges and changes and that no two days are the same. There are many varied and wide-ranging roles that may not present themselves immediately, so you need to learn to be adaptable and be prepared to switch roles in order to get a rounded experience. Be prepared to be strong in meetings and the conversations you hold. Keep in contact with your female friends as much possible so that you can achieve balance outside of work. This is important when working in what is still a male – predominated sector”. Q: What do you think can be done to help more women enter the construction industry? A: “The industry has made great progress but more still needs to done. More progress could be done at “grass roots” level but there has been a lot of effort put in at secondary and higher education level. At primary school level the industry needs to show young girls that construction is an exciting and rewarding industry to work in”. Q: How do you think the industry could change to retain more women? A: “More can be done through offering more flexibility particularly with advancing technology and continued understanding to allow flexibility around family, home and careers. The industry needs to listen more to the needs of women so that they can keep female talent”. Q: Are there any particular attributes that women need in order to succeed in the construction sector? A: “You need a good sense of humour and be prepared to be assertive. You also need to be able to effectively communicate as well as respond firmly when necessary. Whether you are working on bids or live sites, you are continually required to be a problem-solver and remain positive. If you really want to progress, you need to be able to lead”. Q: In your experience, do you think that women are recognised as equal within the industry? A: “Yes, I absolutely do! In my 23 years in the industry I have had to be a chameleon and adapt. I work in a business where there are women in site roles, in quantity surveying roles and also in the office across a range of disciplines, which is great. We have proven ourselves as intellectually equal and the industry is excited by women taking key roles. The industry has harnessed the concept of the female gender being able to make a key contribution and recognises that females can play to the strengths of the business. Women can be highly marketable as their approach to tasks and confrontations is different to a man’s. Women are good at conflict resolution and really good at taking a collaborative approach”. Q: What can be done to stop women leaving the industry?" A: “Employers need to listen more to the reasons given by women for wanting to leave. They need to understand more and allow more flexibility. To keep the female asset, they need to allow them to try on “different hats” in terms of flexibility within job roles. The industry is exciting and has many varied areas of interest to explore. There is choice and choice is massively powerful to retaining women within the sector.” IWD 2019 is, deservedly, an important day and the drive for continued gender equality is crucial in order to maintain momentum towards a more balanced workforce. Given the current skills shortage in construction, it’s important to recognise that women can, and do, make a highly valuable contribution to our industry. More women in the industry will bring an added dimension and play a key role in growing and diversifying talent pools across the industry – something Harvey Lawrence is committed to promoting wherever possible. To continue this conversation and share your thoughts, join us on our social channels: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and LinkedIn or contact us to speak confidentially about your next career move.
Blue Monday Motivation
Blue Monday, the third Monday in January, is infamous for being the most depressing day of the year. But just because this day has been dubbed the most miserable, should we dwell on what is depressing us en masse… or rather, do something positive to kick those negative associations far over the horizon? Why so blue? The thinking behind Blue Monday is logical when you look at the facts, few people can honestly say they love Mondays, January is a long month, typically wintery and grey, with a longer than usual wait for pay day, the bright an twinkly hullabaloo of Christmas seems like a distant memory yet we’re all still paying off the credit cards bills as a result, and we’re all expected to just slot back into the usual work regime as normal, getting up in the dark and arriving home in the dark – meaning many people fall into a downward spiral by sheer dint of the fact that a perfect storm for feeling blue has well and truly landed! To top it off this year, we are all a bit overwhelmed with the many issues surrounding Brexit and are probably fed up of hearing about it all if we’re honest, and that’s before we have even considered where we are with our list of New Year’s Resolutions… feeling blue yet? If you are, don’t panic, you’re clearly not alone! It is true, January can be a challenging month as we get back into the day-to-day ‘swing’ and plan for the seemingly long year ahead. For the construction industry, many projects have reached completion and there is often the interim period of waiting for new projects to begin. If you’re feeling the lull this Blue Monday, we’ve got a few things up our sleeve to lift you up… A fresh start Assess your career – our day job is what consumes most hours in our day so it’s vital that you’re in your happy place when you go there. Pick up the phone or message us on social and book yourself in for a free career consultation with Harvey Lawrence, our skilled team of construction recruitment specialists are on-hand to ensure you never feel blue on a Monday ever again! If you’re feeling the pinch after Christmas, maybe you could be earning more, ask us how your salary benchmarks against others in your profession. Fancy a fresh challenge, seizing a new opportunity? If you’ve been in your current role for a little while and don’t feel like you’re making headway, get in touch. If you’ve spoken to us in the past and now have a few more years under your belt, we could have just the role for you… Brighten someone’s day Give Blue Monday a poke in the eye by doing something lovely for a colleague, friend, stranger (think Random Acts of Kindness). You’ll be surprised how even something as simple as grabbing an extra coffee from the machine for your work mate and seeing the smile on their face can cheer you up too. It’s all about the goals Set yourself some personal goals (goals are more serious and focussed than resolutions). Whether it’s getting back to the gym, improving your distances, or better utilising your time – make it specific and write it down, today! Four times a week in the gym, a half marathon in under 2 hours, 4 hours a week working for a local charity – make it count and make a commitment to something other than work. If you are an employer – don’t let your teams succumb to Blue Monday misery, instead schedule personal reviews to set objectives, personal targets and aspirations for the year ahead. Lift staff out of any malaise by helping them to visualise their goals and rewards. Revisit promotion goals and remind your team you’re right there to help them achieve. Plan some you-time We guarantee that this Blue Monday buster will have you feeling brighter in an instant! Schedule your annual holidays; choose a new destination you haven’t been to previously, and space them out so you have things to look forward to throughout the year. This way, the year will be punctuated with good things to look forward to and the time in between will seem to go faster. If you are an employer, encourage staff to plan their holidays for the year so that they don’t get overworked, jaded and demoralised. This also serves to assist with planning staff resources and will result in better individual output. Win-win! Be more social, really When was the last time you did something as a family or as a work group? Ensure you don’t feel isolated by bringing lots of people together for a group event or a get-together. Real life social events have the power to uplift mood rather than spending lots of time on social media which has been proven to cause the opposite. At work, if you’re the boss, organise group away-days which is a great opportunity to review business strategy or maybe organise a group teambuilding day. Build in half business and half fun to the agenda (and pick an inspiring venue or location too). CSR (corporate social responsibility) Most organisations are involved in some form of charitable activity. If your workplace isn’t, talk to your employer about getting something set up whereby you can be allowed a set amount of time off per month to do something good for a good cause. In the construction industry, this may be helping a local school learn the benefits of a career in the industry, donating surplus building supplies or time to fix run down areas etc. Flexible working In 2017, Construction News reported that over a period of 5 years in the construction industry, more than 1,400 people had taken their own lives, more than in any other profession. Unnerving statistics and something that both colleagues and employers are encouraged to look out for in the workplace (learn more at MHFA England). Blue Monday may seem like a trivial phenomenon when faced with stats like this, but it should serve as a reminder that we can all feel demoralised and downtrodden by the ‘treadmill’ of work. If flexible working is an option, then this is something to be considered in order to ease the pressure, increase motivation and add some variety to our work life balance. Keeping an open door and an open mind to people who may be suffering is the first step to getting people back on track. Join in the conversation with Harvey Lawrence over on our social channels, on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn or contact us to speak confidentially about your next career move.