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Carillion’s collapse and its implications for recruitment

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There was an article by a senior member of one of the leading recruitment trade bodies in a specialist recruitment journal recently on this subject. It includes this comment:  “One of our Commission members… from the Royal Society of Arts, underlined the need to ‘shift away from lifelong learning being a tool to address failure to being a resource that empowers people to respond to a labour market that is changing like never before.’ Spot on!

Yes, it is spot on, but, let’s be honest, when these kind of statements come down from on high do the people who make them really stop and consider what candidates in the construction world will make of them? I can just see the average sparkie or brickie reading this and thinking, “yes, I really need to be empowered to change my lifelong learning.”  They are more likely to respond with the well-known acronym whose first two letters are WT…

Similarly, will all those Quantity Surveyors and Site Engineers read this and think, “oh well, all that training was a waste of time?”  

This article went on…“A priority … is to promote the role that recruitment professionals can play in helping to deliver sector-specific guidance and support …The Carillion collapse is a reminder of how quickly things can change. A future UK jobs market must be one where we have a world-class careers advice network which reflects this ‘brave new world’ of work and which harnesses the expertise and drive of the UK’s £35bn recruitment industry.

While it may seem unfair to selectively pick a few sentences and then use them to criticise the overall tenor of the article, my reason for doing so is to make the point that it’s only too easy for “recruitment professionals” to come out with statements of the obvious, to wit, that people will need to adapt as companies, invariably using more advanced technology, change their recruitment practices.  On a day to day basis, recruiters such as Peace and our competitors in the construction arena have to deal with the here and now – can I get a QS, four joiners, a sparkie and a tiler on Monday?  That’s our daily reality.

Yes, we know the world of work is changing.  However, the very real danger is that for an increasing number of people in construction and property there will be less, or no, work, because “robots” of some variety will be doing what was previously done by many of the people we currently employ for our clients. And we’re not naïve: more robots probably means fewer recruitment firms (though the best will survive). The key to this, and something which the article hints at, is how we manage the transition between our current position and the ‘brave new world’ of work.  I’ve seen other industries (newspapers being an obvious example) where lots of old skills have just fallen by the wayside as technological redundancy kicked in. Whether the impact of technology (for example, brick-laying robots) will have such a swift impact as it did on Fleet Street is open to debate, but it’s not just a question of planning and hoping, as the article does, that changing recruitment practices “may lead to less reliance on previous experience and boost transition opportunities (my underlining).”  It’s about the real world where a brickie – or a QS - can’t stop work to re-train because he or she needs to earn a living.  The fundamental question, and one which the industry bodies need to concentrate on, is how do we get businesses to reinvest in training people, possibly out of the industry, rather than simply profiting by reducing costs via improved technology that will put many out of work?

Chris Peace, MD, Peace Recruitment


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