Paul Thompson catches up with James Hughes, (MD) at Sphere Solutions as they cross the 50 employee mark and continue their journey.
HOW IT ALL BEGAN
It was back in March 2005 that a chance meeting with a construction manager tasked with rebuilding the Cardiff shopping centre – “We knew we’d struck gold”, said James.
Whilst we were confident in our own ability to deliver a solid perm recruitment solution, we also recognised that to facilitate growing a compliant, ethical and proactive recruitment business we’d need expert help and guidance along the way.
The first year was a blur, but fortunately, we shared our vision of the future with a small number of like-minded recruiters and entered strategic business partnerships like those started with Paul at Voyager. From there, we’ve built relationships and grown a solid recruitment team who’ve shared in our success along the way. It’s genuinely created a family feel, something that’s sadly quite rare in recruitment today.
Looking back, it’s well worth remembering those moments. Back then, recruitment was a simple beast, but as the team grew so did the red tape, legislation and headaches.
LEGISLATION, GDPR, ‘CUTTING THE RED TAPE’ AND MORE
Few markets are as fast-paced as construction recruitment, and the recruitment sector has been hit hard by red tape. IR35, EAA, GDPR, CIS are but a few of the changes we had to manage over the last 15 years, and it’s a credit to our software partners and staff that we’ve been able to stay on top of things.
Only by automating the admin and mundane tasks have we been able to retain a focus on recruiting, which is ultimately what we get paid for. When you’re putting a labourer to work for a few hours the margins are wafer thin, and so, we need to be able to operate at both the low margin end of the market as well as director and c-level perm assignments. Today, we’re truly a multifaceted operation, and that’s been one of our key strengths.
By automating what can be automated and adding the personal touch to everything else we’ve been able to sustain solid, stable and organic growth, and there is no reason to think that won’t continue.
When it comes to the red tape, the only one I look forward to cutting is when opening a new office, as we did in Swansea and also Southampton recently.
JAMES ON THE FUTURE OF RECRUITMENT AMID BREXIT
Not everyone has a deep understanding on Brexit and it’s still the uncertainty that’s causing the damage, but as time goes on people are just getting on with things.
I think our attitude is much like our customers, we need to focus on what we can do, not dwell on what might happen.
We work hard to make more phone calls, send more communications and nurture networking opportunities in order to continue what we do best – putting people to work.
Few today enter into a career in recruitment on the basis that it’s easy, or that you’ll make lots of money, but the ‘feel good’ factor is high amongst our team when we get it right.
Nothing puts a smile on your face more than placing ex-service personnel or helping the homeless back to work, which is a scheme we’re enhancing further over the coming year.
The business model at Sphere Solutions supports the entire community and when done well, there is no better advert.
JAMES ON ETHICS AND MORALS
“Ethics and morals are rarely written on a recruiter’s CV”, James joked, but at Sphere new staff need to fit into our way of working. We employ competitive and capable recruiters, but our business is built on reputation and so doing the right thing is very important to us.
Our growth and success can be attributed to how we treat people. If you treat a permanent site manager well, he knows you’ll be doing that with the temps you supply also, and maybe that labourer will be tomorrow’s site manager?
“Today’s candidate is tomorrow’s client, and I believe in Karma” he smiled.
Recruitment never was a complicated business, but there are lots of opportunities to get it wrong and do it badly. At Sphere, we’ve identified what a good recruitment practice looks like and our CRM and 3rd party business partners all work at reinforcing that process.
It’s worth remembering, that unlike most businesses, we don’t sell a physical product. We sell a relationship and a promise. By doing it well time and time again, you have a chance to build a successful brand and set of beliefs, which thankfully, is what we’ve managed to achieve.
It’s staggering to think that we fill over 4,000 positions annually, with 900+ of these being placed in and around the Cardiff area alone. Where appropriate we’ve also employed them on a PAYE basis, which we believe is the right thing to do.
JAMES ON MARGINS, BAD DEBT AND RECRUITMENT IN CONSTRUCTION
The demise of Carillion rightly made the news and the ripple of bad debt is still filtering down the food chain. Undoubtedly the recruiters will be amongst those hit hardest but bad debt has always been a challenging issue in our sector. The only problem with bad debt is not protecting or preparing yourself against it.
With the right partners, we’ve ensured our processes give us the most protection possible.
That said, just as I’m not expecting margins to increase next year, nor am I expecting the issue of bad debt to disappear.
Remaining sharp and lean is just as important for a business of our size as it is the one-man band recruiter.
JAMES LOOKING BACK ON ALL THINGS TECHIE
Get a leased line – that’s my advice to anyone that can afford it.
Recruitment is an increasingly mobile business and recruiters are tech-hungry for a good reason. We’ve integrated our systems to ensure staff can work with the minimal of fuss and effort, but instrumental to our growth and the service levels we offer is the ability to work on the go with a stable recruiting platform.
“Data is our asset – and the fresher the better” added James.
We plan to further enhance our solution over the coming years to include a plethora of onboarding tools, all with a view to making it easier for our customers to access our services.
If you’re working with the right software partners you’ll be kept abreast of the pending changes but also be in a position to compete. Whether you’re a two-user start-up or a multi-faceted, multi-sited service business like us, you’ll need to be able to compete and technology plays a bigger part now than ever before.
Adding complementary tools to our recruiting platform that facilitates better customer engagement is a big part of our strategy moving forward.
If you don’t recognise that recruitment is changing fast already you’re likely to be left behind.
JAMES ON THE FUTURE – “IT’S ALL ABOUT THE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE”
At Sphere, we have a solid bedrock of skills and infrastructure that places us in a great position to grow geographically, in turnover, profit and by headcount – but only if we focus on our core ethics and beliefs.
With the support of our relationships and partners, we’ve grown from virtually nothing to a recruitment operation that’s expected to surpass a record £45M turnover.
We were smiling about the future when we first met Paul 15+ years ago, and fortunately, we’ve still got plenty to smile about today.