Recruitment has been the number one challenge for many businesses across the UK in 2022. Real Business sat down with Mike Harper from Smart1 Recruitment to discuss how he and his wife are working to make a difference in the world of recruitment by going the extra mile for both their candidates and their clients.
Let’s talk about the birth of Smart1 Recruitment and how you started your business.
I had been involved in recruitment for over ten years, in two major high-street agencies, and my wife, Cathy, had been running her own business for twenty years. We wanted to start a new business together and believed we could bring a fresh approach to the recruitment industry by prioritising quality over quantity and promoting ethical candidate care. We wanted to be the best local provider, acting as partners to our clients and job advisors to our candidates, focusing on good service rather than high sales. Combining our skills in Recruitment, Human Resources, and Business Management to start Smart1 Recruitment made a lot of sense for us at the time and we wanted to bring some new practises to the industry.
How has forgoing a large-scale sales strategy helped your business and how do you think this method has set your business apart?
In our very early days, it was crucial to our business development that we did conduct those initial sales calls, reached out to our contacts, and got in touch with potential clients with whom we wanted to work, and expanded our network. You can’t run a business without relying on sales strategy, especially when you are still new and trying to get your name out there. However, as soon as we had the customer base and repertoire behind us, solidifying our reputation, we moved away from the sales calls and focused on growing organically through word-of-mouth recommendations, which is the greatest way of getting repeat business and shows that we are providing a high-quality service.
What do you look for when matching candidates to your client’s roles?
Believe it or not, many people will apply for a vacancy, but they live miles away from the location. If they have a very good skill set, we will consider them but with the price of petrol, we must discourage some candidates because it probably wouldn’t balance out well for them. So, we look at their location, skillset, work history, and personality: we want to place people in an environment that will suit them, and we want to know they’ll build good working relationships within the companies that work with us.
Recruitment continues to be a big issue for a lot of industries. Do you think that the skills gap and the staff shortages across the UK are beginning to stabilise or have new challenges begun with the uptake of flexible and hybrid working?
The adoption of flexible and hybrid working structures has absolutely catapulted over the last two and half years, so that’s been a challenge. Most of the clients with whom we work need our recruits to be in the office to be able to manage them. We work with a lot of temporary staff, so they need that hands-on support. I think it brings additional levels of work when screening candidates for certain positions and flexible or hybrid working doesn’t apply to the ‘blue collar’ trade and industrial work for which we recruit. The skillset shortage is massive, so we are facing the issue of having fewer people overall, who need more training to fit into the roles for which we are scouting.
What does the market look like from the jobseeker’s perspective, as much of the conversation seems to focus on the high amount of competition for coveted roles or whether companies will support remote working post-pandemic?
I think the last two and a half years have shown people how many hours they were working. Furlough and stay-at-home schemes have encouraged people to cut down on the number of cars they had, they saved on public transports costs, they saved time from commuting, and had more hours to spend with family. There has definitely been a shift in the attitudes toward work, but some industries aren’t going to be able to meet those changes because of their nature, like construction, for example. However, I’ve never seen so many adverts for jobs. There are countless opportunities for workers available at the moment, so even if there is significant competition, there will be another role open to you. If you aren’t happy in a job or if they are moving back to in-office full time and that no longer works for you personally, you can find something new very quickly right now.
What have been your most memorable achievements or your proudest moments since starting Smart1 Recruitment?
Our team work exceptionally hard to go above and beyond for people. We’ve given people cars that they needed to get to jobs, we’ve combed through CVs for people struggling with reading and writing, and we’ve connected people to housing contacts to move them into appropriate accommodation. We have had fantastic financial success, but what matters the most is seeing how far we have gone to help someone who just needed someone to back them up. We reward our regular monthly temps with financial bonuses to recognise their hard work and to motivate them. That additional income can and does make a big difference. Supporting our candidates is the best part of what we do.
What are you most looking forward to across the next six months?
We have a brilliant team behind us, so Cathy and I are at the stage where we can take a step back and have some much-needed time off. I don’t think we have had a proper holiday, where we haven’t still been involved with work somehow, in eight years. We’ve worked hard to create a business that we are confident can be self-sufficient while we spend some time relaxing.
What advice would you give to new or young entrepreneurs that are starting their business journey?
Cathy was the driving force behind Smart1. I was admittedly nervous to start our own business because there were so many unknowns, but it has been the best thing we’ve ever done. It has changed our lives. However, make sure you do your research. You need to have a solid plan and a variety of different skills to launch a successful business. Luckily, Cathy and I have complemented each other very well, having very different skill sets, and together have been able to cover a lot of bases. Be confident. It takes a lot of commitment and sacrifice but if you are ready to give it your all, anything can happen. I really take my hat off to anyone who is giving it a go.