Steve Ingham: The Challenge of Recruitment

Published:  16 June, 2017

Speaking at the BMF Conference 2017, Steve Ingham, chief executive officer of recruitment firm PageGroup, discusses the difficulties around recruiting the right people, and why businesses must adapt in order to make themselves more attractive to the next generation.

The challenge of recruiting – and keeping – the right people is a familiar complaint among both builders’ merchants and suppliers. Businesses often complain that they struggle to recruit people with the right experience, or the right attitude, and that it is becoming harder than ever to find those people who can take your business to the next level.

For Steve Ingham, who has spent 30 years working at specialist recruitment consultancy PageGroup, this is one of the most critical challenges that a business must get right in order to succeed in a changing world.

“You don’t build a business, you build people, and then people build the business,” he said.

For business leaders looking to recruit and keep the right people, authenticity is the most important quality that they must display of themselves and their business.

“You must operate a ‘what you see is what you get policy’ right across the business,” Steve stressed, explaining that potential employees must be able to see that what they’re being told about the business and its values are genuine, and that they’re implemented right across the company from top to bottom.

This leads on to the second quality that a business needs to have in order to attract the right people: vision.

“Your business’ vision must be communicated through to the people who work at every level of the business, as well as to the people who want to work for you,” Steve said. “You need people to buy in to the vision of your company and what you’re trying to achieve – this is absolutely key and it’s just not focused on enough.”

Steve said that if a company hires someone because they can do a job, then they’ll get an employee who will work for money. But, if a company effectively communicates their vision and ethics, and can hire someone who believes in that vision and is fully committed to it, then they’ll work for you with blood, sweat and tears.

Tackling the stereotypes

One of the biggest challenges facing the construction and builders’ merchant industry in particular is its reputation among prospective employees coming from outside the sector. To those looking in from the outside, the industry can seem very male-oriented, not well-known, and is one that is often discussed as not being very stable, which may make people wary of making that leap to a construction industry company.

Put simply, it’s not considered a ‘sexy’ industry, in comparison to some others such as IT or the media.

While Steve acknowledged that these can be valid excuses as to why companies may find it difficult to hire in good quality candidates, there are still many things that a business can do to make itself more attractive to potential employees, such as offering flexible hours to make it easier for people to work around their families, for example. This was a change that PageGroup itself implemented a number of years ago, and one that has helped its staff retention rates grow significantly.

Previously, working hours at PageGroup were 8am till 8pm, to enable recruiters to contact potential candidates outside of their office hours. Employees regularly worked weekends, and it enabled the business to say to clients that their staff worked harder than any of its competitors.

However, the company adapted to industry changes and instead signed up to flexible working hours, and no longer has set office hours. “We empower our teams to work in a way that suits their lives,” Steve explained. “Some need to drop their kids off at school in the morning, while others need to be there to pick them up at 4pm. Some are simply more effective first thing in the morning, or choose a later start time and then work into the evenings. Flexible working allows them to do that, and our teams are still totally committed to their jobs.”

Offering these types of flexible benefits is something that PageGroup has taken one step further, and Steve suggested that the audience look at the benefits offered in their own businesses. He said that while many companies offer benefits such as healthcare, childcare or additional holiday days, he questioned whether their staff are fully aware of them, and are they taken full advantage of?

Instead of giving all employees exactly the same set of benefits, PageGroup now allows them to ‘trade’ what is available, so they can choose the ones that best work for their own circumstances. Twenty percent of PageGroup employees trade for extra holiday dates so that they can spend time with their children during holidays, while others sell their holiday days back for other benefits that would be more beneficial.

“It’s about empowering your teams to make their own decisions,” he said. “You have to change and adapt to suit the challenges that people have in their lives today, and you need to have the courage to make those changes.”

Recruiting the next generation

Steve believes that people are critical to the future growth of any business or industry, and that in order to find the right people, you must first learn who they are and what they’re passionate about.

This, he said, is even more important when it comes to recruiting young people into a business, particularly the Millennial generation (those born in or after the early 1980s). This demographic is becoming an increasingly large percentage of the UK workforce and thinks very differently from previous generations, he explained, emphasising that companies will have to change in order to attract them.

“Millennials want to find a job somewhere they can add value and demonstrate their credibility and creativity,” Steve said. He also warned that millennials are incredibly connected now because of the internet, and as much as you are researching them as potential candidates, they are also researching what your staff think of your business, and of you as a leader, through websites such as, where current and ex-staff can rate and review companies.

He warned that millennials in particular have been brought up to be very socially aware, and to value corporate social responsibility and their own health, and businesses need to understand that in order to help improve their own staff retention rates as the number of working age Millennials grows.

This is why he encourages businesses to make sure they nurture and motivate their staff, offering support when needed as well as mentoring and training to enable them to grow their skills. Not only will these additional skillsets help to grow the business’ bottom line, it will also help ensure that staff remain at the company, if they feel it has an open and supportive culture.

Otherwise, he warned, businesses can easily find themselves losing people with 10 or 15 years’ experience at the company, taking their experience, contacts and industry knowledge with them, something that he warned would have an immediate and detrimental impact on that company’s bottom line.

Steve quoted American chief executive Jack Welch, who famously said: “Before you’re a leader, success is all about growing yourself. When you become a leader, success is all about growing others.”

He concluded his presentation by reiterating the five most important things that he believes strong businesses and business leaders must have in order to be successful:

  • Authenticity
  • Vision
  • The courage to change
  • Teamwork
  • Develop yourself and others.

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