Last month Collins McNicholas celebrated 25 years in business. The occasion was marked in style with events in Cork, Galway, Athlone and Sligo. After the celebrations had died down, Colman Collins, Co-founder of Collins McNicholas offered to give us his insights on how the recruitment industry has changed over the last 25 years, what the future holds for recruitment in Ireland, and how Collins McNicholas got started. Here are the highlights from our conversation:
- What was the Recruitment & HR landscape like in 1990?
The country was in a protracted recession in 1990 which didn’t begin to lift until 1993/1994. The amount of recruitment that was taking place was low and the amount of it that was being handled by recruitment agencies was lower still. There was more happening on the HR front and because Val and I both came from a HR background we were well positioned to deliver these HR services. In particular we got some good traction on the training front and delivered a broad ranging soft skills courses such as supervisory development, time management and presentation skills.
- Why did you set up Collins McNicholas?
I set it up for two reasons. Firstly, because there was no Galway based recruitment agency catering for the professional and executive end of the market and some market research I had done a few years earlier had suggested that a professional Galway based recruitment company would be given a chance to prove itself. The second reason was a personal one, i.e. I wanted to stay in Galway and I felt my chances of doing that were greater if I had control of my own destiny than if I stayed in Nortel, which favoured people changing positions every three or four years, and where there was an expectation that people would make themselves available for overseas assignments, something that did not suit me at that time for personal reasons.
- What were the challenges in the early years?
As with all new businesses sales tend to take longer to happen than expected. Cash flow was also a challenge as we didn’t fully appreciate the difference between being profitable and having a positive cash flow. It also took a while to break down the bias that some employers had to look east towards Dublin for recruitment assistance. I don’t think we would have overcome that tendency if Val and I had both had not built up a strong network in Galway and in the west of Ireland.
- How has technology impacted on Collins McNicholas and the recruitment industry
Where do I start? Back then one faxed in CVs as there was no internet. One advertised most vacancies as there were no job boards and we had to build up a database. Technology has benefited the company greatly and we have never viewed it as a threat. There will always be a personal dimension to recruitment and a place for values and ethics, so if one stays current with the technology there is nothing to fear from it as it will never replace the importance of the personal dimension.
- What are your predictions for Collins McNicholas in the next 5 years?
My predictions for Collins McNicholas is that it will continue to grow as we have successfully transitioned the operational side of the business to Niall Murray who was appointed General Manager in 2010, who in turn has appointed his own team of direct reports. I think one of the things the company has done well has been our succession planning. Some founders stay too long in control of their businesses. This is a mistake as it inevitably leads to staff turnover. Knowing when to relinquish some control and ensuring a smooth transition to one’s direct reports is a challenge that has to be faced by any business, even though it is hard to let go. I think my HR background has helped me to see the need for succession planning and has helped to implement it effectively. Niall has a better appreciation of emerging technologies than I have and has kept the company current in this critical area. He also had the vision to grow the contracts side of the business and reduce our dependency on permanent placements. He has also seen the importance of HR services in differentiating us from our competitors and in particular he has used psychometric testing as a way into a lot of companies that had been closed to us.
- What trends do you see emerging in the recruitment industry?
Here are six trends that I believe are emerging or will emerge in the next ten years:
- Discerning employers will form tighter partnership relationships with a small number of recruitment agencies. The message that ‘less is more’ will get more traction especially for executive and key professional appointments.
- Recruitment agencies will have to provide more than just a recruitment service and those that can successfully transition into being HR partners rather than just being recruitment partners.
- Psychometric testing will grow in importance as the understanding of the importance of successful recruitment and the cost of unsuccessful recruitment become increasingly obvious.
- The concept of global recruitment partners will not get real traction because the biggest recruitment companies worldwide cannot be equally effective across all geographies.
- Outplacement providers will have to partner with effective recruitment companies to provide a total solution to their clients.
- Recruitment companies will have to either have offices overseas or have successful partnership relationships with compatible overseas recruitment partners.