Recruitment remains top of challenges for region’s firms

Whether it’s the pandemic, Brexit, supply chain challenges or the war on talent, businesses have evolved in response to a constantly changing landscape.

Our latest roundtable event in partnership with law firm Freeths brought together businesses from across the North West to identify what’s shaping the future of the region.

In attendance were Dez Derry, CEO, Blume, Paula Jupp, Senior Sales Manager, CO-OP Live, Robert Parry, Managing Director, Quantuma, Tristan Duncan, Partner at Freeths, Laura Tracey, Partner at Freeths, Simon Benson, Director of Immersive Technology at IN4.0 Group, Steven Tallant, CEO of Videosign, Becky Black, Director of Business Development at AON and Tai Wang, co-founder of Aries.

Kicking off the discussion was Robert Parry, Managing Director at Quantuma, who noted that there was a split between companies that are reacting to the ongoing economic and political changes and those who have been proactive to the changes.

He said: “When we’re talking to businesses who are doing well, they’re the ones who have been proactive. They’re telling us that when they saw Brexit coming, they stocked up which meant during Covid they were able to continue trading because they were thinking long-term and were therefore able to manage supply chain disruption better than competitors who did not plan.

“Similarly, they’ve hedged their finance costs and they’ve gotten longer term contracts in place. The issue for those businesses would be that those contracts have a finite life, and they need to be thinking about them again.”

Tristan Duncan

Tristan Duncan, Director, and Dispute Resolution specialist at Freeths, agreed.

“Get those contracts out and have a look at them,” he urged.

“In law there’s a principle called ‘freedom of contract’, and if its B2B you can effectively include anything as long as it’s not illegal.

“As a result, you’d be surprised that you might have entered a contract that only has a one-way termination clause which means you can’t get out of it easily. You might find someone’s limited their liability, so if a supplier is about to let you down, you might think they can still pay, but the reality is that they have limited their liability.

“So, like Rob pointed out, it’s important to get those contracts out, have a look at them, check the dates, check for the limitation of liability clause, the termination clause, and speak to someone if you’re not sure because you’d be surprised what you can negotiate with suppliers. The reality is people still want to do business, so there’s always room for negotiation.”

Dez Derry, founder and CEO of Blume, the legal customer acquisition specialist, said there was still room in the current climate to be optimistic and look for new opportunities.

Blume has recently been acquired by private equity firm, Sun European Partners, which will give the firm greater scale and reach, and help accelerate its growth in the legal services market. The deal also provided an exit for PE firm Rockpool Investments.

Dez said: “We’ve been through huge growth in recent years. So last year we turned over £10m, we are

Dez Derry

now aiming for £20m in revenues.

“We were backed by private equity in February and that allowed us to go from 30 staff to 110. We’ve just made an acquisition, so we are growing, we feel confident and we’re optimistic about future opportunities.

“We’re seeing PE houses looking at the North West, we’re also seeing US investors looking to the UK, so there’s a lot going on in the region to be excited about despite the current outlook.”

Dez said his biggest challenge was recruitment.

“Thankfully, we’re not worried about getting heating in the office. For us it’s about getting enough people into the office and recruiting the right people with the capability and talent to help build the infrastructure we need.”

This was also echoed by Steven Tallant, CEO of Videosign, a Liverpool tech firm which allows businesses to seal online contracts through video and virtual meeting rooms.

The company recently expanded into the US, a market which has huge potential for growth.

“We closed our office during Covid, so we are now fully remote. This was welcomed by the team, but they are now saying that they miss the office and miss being around colleagues,” he commented.

“From a morale perspective, we’re doing more events for our staff, we’re spending money on days out, and this has been great, but the way forward is hybrid working to give everyone the flexibility to work how they want.

“But we do see recruitment issues. The salaries have gone through the roof, there are more vacancies than there are people with skills to fill those gaps.

“This has led us to even look overseas. That’s not necessarily cheaper, but we need to find people. However, we would sooner find people in the North West, but that’s not always easy.”

Paula Jupp, Senior Sales Manager at CO-OP Live, the new 23,000 capacity arena being built in North East Manchester, said there was an uptick in businesses investing in hospitality suites and partnerships at the venue.

“We’re due to complete in December 2023 but we’ve been working with people for more than a year who want to invest in their hospitality offering.

“Covid and lockdown has made many businesses realise they may need to do something else because their staff are working from home, and this is a great incentive for staff as well as a nice way to entertain clients.

“And because of the values that are aligned with the building – we’re opening as a carbon neutral venue from day one, the acts in there will be world class acts because it’s the first purpose built music arena, so it’s going to be something we’ve never had in Manchester before, and that makes this so exciting.

“The economic impact into Manchester is £1.5bn over the next 15 years, and for us it’s important to keep all that local, that means using local contractors and manufacturers where we can, and that massively aligns to the Co-op values of investing in the local communities.”

On the challenges around recruitment, Becky Black, Director of Business Development at AON said there was a real drive by the company to train their own through various programmes including apprenticeships.

“We want fresh blood, we want new ideas, new people through our apprenticeship programme and we’ve got a real drive to focus on people that may not be in education or in full time jobs that want a new challenge and want to grow with a company where there’s potential to move around, gain new skills and hopefully stay with us long-term.

“Recruiting new people also means looking at the way we work. So, we’re moving to new offices as we’re downsizing. People don’t want to work in the office full-time, which means we have designated days for the office. It helps to break up the week, people get that interaction with their colleagues, and they can also work from home when they need to. Flexibility is important for our current staff but also for bringing new people in to the business.”

Laura Tracey

Commenting on the skills challenge, Laura Tracey, Employment Partner at Freeths, noted that firms were also looking closely at their diversity and inclusion policies to recruit from a wider talent pool.

She said: “On the recruitment side, employers are thinking about how they can use their budget to reach a much bigger talent pool so they’re looking at how they can stand out from the crowd and how they can reach people from different areas, so diversity and appealing to a broader section of society is at the forefront.

“Also, there’s a lot of thinking around where they advertise, the language they use, and how they are presented.

“D&I is no longer something that was nice to do a few years ago, employers take it seriously because not only does it help with recruitment, but it also helps with retention because people feel valued, there’s good progression for them, and they want to stay with an inclusive employer.”

Simon Benson, Director of Immersive Technology at IN4.0 Group, is helping to build new opportunities at Media City in the field of Immersive, video games and interactive media.

Working with local businesses, his team is helping to amplify digital skills in the area to create new, inclusive opportunities for a wide range of people.

He said: “The attitude from employers about wanting a young person with a degree is changing.

“We have a big diversity and inclusion programme with a minimum of 50% of engineering applicant from females, we have a huge BAME drive, and we are also targeting local Salford people who may have dropped out of education who are then sat alongside people with degrees who are all collaborating and working together.

“The format is working well and we’re getting good traction.

“But the landscape for employers has changed. There’s lots of remote recruitment happening, employers are recruiting people from areas they would not have considered before lockdown, people are being hired from European shores and then there’s lots of short term, sub-contracting as opposed to employment as well. There’s been a real shift in the last few years which we will see more of as attitudes to how people work change.”

Tai Wang, co-founder at property firm Aries Group, which converts unused building into healthcare facilities, said his current plans for the business was to scale as soon as possible by pushing through with innovation.

“We’ve always liked to push through innovation, and I believe in leap frogging in technology and seeing how that can help us and our customers.

“I think information sharing will become a trend in the future, if you can provide value to your community, or industry, people will come to you.”

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