When the recession hit the construction sector and cut-backs became commonplace, investment fell to an all-time low and many struggled to stay afloat in a state of stagnant growth.
It will come as no surprise, therefore, that investing in talent fell to the bottom of the ‘to do’ list. Pockets of recruitment could be spotted here and there, but it was largely a case of while no one was buying, no one was hiring.
Now that construction has been hand picked as a government strategy for continuing economic growth and recovery, the merchant sector is picking up pace and expanding. The issue is, as organisations step out of fire-fighting mode and look to the coming months, there is a grapple for new middle-level managers to step up to the challenge of manning rapidly opening branches, or to take up the reins as their predecessors move further up the ladder.
Without fresh blood coming in at the bottom end, there’s a shortage across the board. Staff turnover levels are on the rise as a result, and the practice of headhunting and poaching has become a familiar trend in this ever-more competitive environment.
What’s more, the type of candidate needed to drive business growth is changing. Where once technical product knowledge was the tool of choice to bring in the orders, the key decision-making has shifted to those holding the budget reins.
Working in the graduate recruitment industry, I’ve seen a dramatic increase in the numbers of merchant-sector organisations investing in entry-level recruitment programmes, looking to build a talent pipeline through management schemes or similar. Those candidates represent a malleable clean slate: the raw sales potential to drive business growth, which can be captured at grass-roots level and tailored to the unique culture, market and brand of the organisation that nurtures them. Over the past year we’ve delivered these fresh-faced candidates to the likes of Tobermore, Howarth Timber, City Plumbing (of Travis Perkins) and many more.
The challenge is the shortage of candidates. Unemployment is down and roles are on the up – and where does the merchant industry stand against the “sexier” graduate sectors such as media, marketing, finance or IT? Despite the opportunities offered, the stigma of the industry prevails.
This is where we’ve seen the value of a graduate programme, rather than simply sticking up a ‘position offered’ advert and crossing our fingers in hope. Today’s graduates are looking at the long-term – including the chance for progression, additional benefits such as training, qualifications, the chance to better themselves at a professional level and get ahead of the game.
We all need to step up our game and level the playing field by putting in place structured graduate programmes that offer just a little more. The results speak for themselves. Differentiating the offering delivers greater attraction and retention rates, home-grown talent to progress up the ladder, and the kind of tailored company knowledge that only comes from starting on the bottom rung and growing with a business. It is no longer the duty of the big brands to shape the future leaders of the industry; increasingly, we’re seeing more and more SMEs jumping on the bandwagon.
As an outsourced provider for the full graduate programme process – from candidate attraction and assessment through to training and evaluation – we’re ready to rise to the challenge. The question is: Is the merchant industry prepared to change the recruitment game for 2015?
Jonathan Fitchew is the chief executive officer of Pareto Law, specialist in graduate sales recruitment and sales training.