Synopsis of the address of Colman Collins MD Collins McNicholas at 20th Anniversary Events in 2010

Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen and thank you for attending this lunch to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Collins McNicholas.

Given the high rate of business failures in general and especially over the past few years it is only right to celebrate 20 years in business especially in such a volatile business as the recruitment industry which has traditionally been known for a high rate of business failures.

In my talk today I will compare and contrast the recruitment industry in 1990 with the Recruitment industry in 2010 but before I do that there are a few people I want to thank who have been instrumental in the company reaching this important milestone.

Firstly I must thank all of our clients both those of you who are here today and those who couldn’t make it here today because of alternative arrangements. I would also like to acknowledge the many clients who gave us business in the early years who are no longer in business in 2010 – many of these companies helped us to get off the ground and to get established and their contribution was very important to us in the start-up phase of the company.

I would also to say a big ‘Thank You’ to the excellent team that we have working in Collins McNicholas. Many of our team have been with us from the start and I believe the long term relationships we have had with our clients are based on the fact that most of our staff have been with the company for many years. I would also like to thank former employees of the company many of whom subsequently became clients and many of whom still maintain contact with the company.

I would also like to thank my wife Marie for her support over the past 20 years – it is not easy being married to someone who decides to start their own business as it usually means the person working long hours, being away from home a lot and often being preoccupied with the business 24/7.

I would ask you to cast your mind back to the year 1990. In that year Ireland was still in the grip of recession after a decade of high unemployment, high emigration and high inflation. The Celtic Tiger had not yet been conceived by 1990. The medical devices industry had not yet been established in Ireland. In 1990 the manufacturing sector was still quite strong as Ireland was still competitive internationally and the IDA was still able to attract a significant amount of foreign direct investment into Ireland. The electronics and IT industries were at their peak.

One of the disturbing things that struck me when I started to prepare these few words was the number of former customers of Collins McNicholas in the early 1990s which were no longer in business in 2010. This was particularly noticeable in the electronics sector and the IT sector where a significant number of our customers closed their doors in the past 10 years as Ireland began to lose its competitiveness.

In September 1990 unemployment stood at 13.2% similar to the figure of 13.7% in September 2010 but the makeup of the figure is very different nowadays. In 1990 the figure comprised mainly male blue-collar workers whereas this time it is made up of male and female workers and comprises a large cadre of white-collar workers who would never have experienced unemployment before.

Ireland was in serious debt in 1990 as it is now but there was little personal debt then whereas now there are large numbers of people with significant personal debt and many more who have fallen into a negative equity situation which is likely to be very prolonged in duration.

In 1990 the institutions of the state were still held in relatively high regard and two which often interfaced with employers and with the recruitment industry were politicians and the clergy. Back then it was not unusual for an employer to receive representations from a politician on behalf of a constituent or from a priest on behalf of a member of his congregation. In light of the sharp decline in the standing of politicians and the clergy in Irish society in the past 20 years, such representations have all but disappeared.

  1. Changes in the Recruitment Process since 1990

Changes in Technology

The area of greatest changes has been in the area of technology. In 1990 the only technical means of communication between a recruitment agency and an employer would have been via post, telephone, fax or telex. There was no email and internet then and there were no mobile phones.

If an employer wished to attract applicants for a vacant position they would be limited to placing an advertisement in a local or in a national newspaper. There were no job boards, no websites and no social media.

The technological changes since then have resulted in major changes in the English language with new vocabulary being needed to describe the new means of communication. This new vocabulary would have been unimaginable a short 20 tears ago. For example, can you imagine me as a proprietor of a recruitment agency in 1990 suggesting to an employer that I might send an email, a text, a tweet, or that I might Skype them or hook up with them on LinkedIn or Facebook? Had I done us they would probably have considered me quite mad and contacted the men with the white coats to take me away!!

As well as new words arising from the new technology we have also experienced the phenomenon of well-known words acquiring new meanings. For example in 1990 if we heard someone talking about apples, blackberries and cookies we would readily understand that they were talking about food – however, no such assumptions can be made in 2010!!

Equally so in 1990, there would have been widespread alarm if there were rumours of bugs in an office or worse still if there was talk of a virus being present in the office. In such circumstances the oppressed HR Manager would probably have sent the entire staff to se the Company Doctor or to the Health and Safety Officer – that is if the company employed such personnel in 1990!!.

Changes in Legislation

This was the next area of significant change in the past 20 years and it has had major implications for HR and for the recruitment industry in all stages of the sourcing and selection process. This can be seen in the type of Job Titles that are acceptable nowadays, the standards of Job Descriptions and Person Specifications which are based on competencies required of applicants, the drafting of job advertisements, the CV shortlisting process, the drafting of interview questions, the documentation of interviews, the retention of interview records, and the reasons given to a candidate who has been not been shortlisted or who has not been offered a job they have applied for. All of these stages in the recruitment process have undergone significant changes in the past 20 years.

The bottom line now is that recruiters and HR professionals in 2010 must not only be fair but must be seen to be fair.

Other Changes

In 1990 there were few preferred supplier relationships (PSLs) and employers handed out vacancies to a wide range of recruitment agencies on an indiscriminate basis without taking any steps to ascertain the professionalism of such agencies. This would be unusual nowadays when recruitment companies are vetted much more closely before being put on a PSL.

In 1990 there was very little use off psychometric testing and where it was used it was often used badly to unilaterally rule out large numbers of applicants or sometimes the tests that were being used were not appropriate to what it was they were endeavouring to measure. Nowadays psychometric tests and personality profiles are more widely used and tend to be used more as an aid in the recruitment process and are usually suitable for what they are purporting to measure.

Competency-based interviewing or behavioural interviews were not widely used in 1990 whereas they have become the norm since then as they give the interviewers a much greater insight into the probable suitability of each interviewee.

Documentation of interviews was done on a limited basis in 1990 but it has become more widespread in recent years particularly in the public service.

  1. The Recruitment Industry in 1990

There are only 24 recruitment agencies in business now which held an employment agency licence in 1990 and this constitutes a particularly low long term survival rate.

In 1990 nearly all of the recruitment agencies were based in Dublin. This meant it was a significant challenge for Collins McNicholas in starting its first office in Galway to break the tendency of employers than to look to Dublin for recruitment assistance. This became a greater challenge when we decided to extend our service nationwide including opening a branch office in Dublin. Dublin agencies struggled with the idea of a company providing a national service from a Galway based HQ.

In 1990 it was very easy to establish a recruitment agency. All one had to do was to ensure your premises were safe, that that you had a couple of upstanding referees, that you paid a registration fee to the relevant minister and that you did not possess a criminal record!! There were no requirements to have formal qualifications or a track record of relevant work experience.

There were no mechanisms in place in 1990 to monitor the operations of recruitment agencies and there were no effective complaints procedures in place to follow up on grievances brought forward by job seekers and by companies.

The Employment Agencies Act 1971 which sought to regulate the operations of employment agencies was both irrelevant and grossly inadequate.

The upshot of all this was that the industry had a bad name in 1990 and this got worse in the 1990s as the sector expanded quickly with several ‘cowboy operators’ setting up with the explicit aim of making some fast money in the Celtic Tiger period.

  1. Emerging Trends in the Recruitment Process and in the Recruitment Industry.

There has been a reduction in the effectiveness of generalist and specialist job boards as these only provide access to candidates who are active in the jobs market.

Lately, there has been an increase in the effectiveness of social networking sites such as Linked in and Facebook by employers and by recruitment companies as these media provide access to passive candidates who are not actively looking for a job and this trend is likely to continue.

There has also been an increase in the headhunting capability of better recruitment companies in accessing these passive candidates.

Unfortunately, an increased need has emerged in recent years for checking of the accuracy of the information on CV’s as more job seekers have resorted to providing false information on CV’s and some have even exaggerated this deception by providing elaborate forgeries of formal qualifications.

Job seekers in 2010 tend to be better interviewees than in the past and often do outstanding interviewees based on acquiring mock interview experience. This trend is likely to continue as job seekers try to improve their interviewing performance at a time where employment is scarce and the competition for most positions is quite intense.

This makes the reference checking process particularly important to establish that a job seeker is as good as his CV and his interview might suggest, has the qualifications he is claiming to have and is not withholding any relevant information that a prospective employer would wish to be aware of.

As pointed out earlier PSL’s are becoming more selective with better recruiters aspiring for and often achieving the status of Recruitment Partner as employers realise that sometimes “Less is More” i.e. that it’s better to have a close relationship with a small number of professional recruiters than a casual relationship with many recruiters. In that situation, the Recruitment Partner often becomes an extension of the HR dept and possesses a detailed knowledge of the company, its products, its processes, its culture and its values.

To attain this preferred status or to get and retain partner status recruitment companies must “Add Real Value” in the recruitment process. An example of this might be a recruitment agency “going the extra mile” to source scarce resources by expanding overseas or by forming effective relationships with some recruitment agencies overseas.

All of this means that recruitment agencies have had to, and will have to, become more professional. They will be given a push along this road when the much-maligned Employment Agency Act 1971 will be replaced by the Employment Agency Regulation Bill which will make it harder for employment agencies to set up and it will also set operating standards that agencies will have to comply with if they are to retain their employment agency licence.

Collins McNicholas eagerly awaits this legislation as we have lobbied extensively for legislation for more than10 years. We hope that this legislation will encourage recruitment agencies to formulate a vision to build on this and to aspire for professional status in much the same way as the HR profession recently achieved with the Institute of Personnel and Development.

I hope that this brief summary will provide you with some insight into the main changes in recruitment in the past 20 years and also given some indication of the type of changes that are emerging towards the latter end of 2010.

Thank you for your attention and for your support over the past 20 years.

Colman Collins

Founder & Management Consultant

Collins McNicholas Recruitment & HR Services