Walker Sime is recruiting. A lot. But when you’ve built your business on a certain type of person, you can’t simply recruit anyone. Here, Caroline Bacon, Director of People & Culture and Clare Gilmour, Talent Acquisition Manager talk about the new contracts driving our recruitment, and what it takes to find the next generation of people people.
In January 2021, at the height of lockdown two, Walker Sime’s recruitment ambitions were naturally a touch cautious. By the end of the year, we conservatively calculated, we would need eight new people. Things have changed a little since then. To date in 2021, we’ve brought 34 new people into the business. At the time of writing, we potentially have a further 41 vacancies open. And we’re planning for more.
So what’s changed? And how is Walker Sime ensuring its response is, well, typically Walker Sime?
Big projects = big recruitment need
Caroline: We’ve won some really big contracts that mean we need to expand our team. A few years ago you wouldn’t find a huge amount of public sector work in our portfolio. Now we’re working with Bolton, Wirral, Preston, Trafford, Manchester, Liverpool, Oldham and Rochdale councils. We have a redevelopment project in the aerospace sector that is worth tens of millions of pounds and major contracts in the nuclear sector too. All of that is driving the recruitment of new quantity surveyors (QS) and project managers (PM). Included within the numbers, we’re recruiting 15 people into our quantity surveying infrastructure (QSI) division too.
We’re taking a brave move to recruit ahead of the curve because we have a plan to take us to 2024. We know where we’re heading and we need to put the right people in place now to help take us there.
That recruitment need has a knock-on effect, of course. So in our Central Services Support team we’ve brought in Clare to focus on finding the right people to bring into the business. And, because every new starter needs induction, IT, equipment and so on, we’ve brought in additional help to handle that side of things.
The Walker Sime ‘juice’
Clare: Every business talks about the importance of its culture but I think lots of people in organisations large and small would struggle to say they honestly see it and feel it day to day. In the short time I’ve been here, you really feel it. You really feel valued. You know you’ll be listened to. It’s everything I was promised on the tin.
Caroline: It’s about not recruiting to fill posts. It’s putting the effort in to find the right fit. One of our internal mantras is always to ask ‘are these OKOPs (our kind of people)?’.
We sometimes call it the Walker Sime ‘juice’. We haven’t written it down. We haven’t defined it, but there’s a ‘know it when you see it’ quality that goes beyond the CV to look at how someone will fit in terms of personality and attitude.
That’s not us saying that you have to conform to a certain type – we love quirkiness and variety – but there’s a point where you may have to stand in front of a client and represent us, and we want people who can do that in a way that embodies who we are as a business. That’s the Walker Sime juice.
The ransom note
Clare: To help us source the type of candidates we often need for our more complex or niche projects, we partner with a small number of specialist, well-connected recruitment consultants. However, we’re also keen to build our own talent pool too, so we’re not as reliant on external support. And then there’s the fees, of course.
Our great people tend to know other great people who, with a bit of gentle encouragement, they’re more than happy to refer. After all, they know exactly the kind of people we’re looking for.
One really successful example of attracting new talent into our business has been our recent referral incentive schemes.
Last month we launched a campaign to our whole team which saw a bundle of oversized £50 notes, in a brown envelope, drop through their home letterboxes. An accompanying ransom-style note playfully encouraged them to ‘name names, fast!’ In return, we’d make it worth their while. And we were talking ‘big money!’
The pack raised eyebrows, got tongues wagging and, most importantly, generated several referrals and interviews. We’re now planning to make several offers and appoint even more of Walker Sime’s kind of people.
Best induction ever
Caroline: We’ve been doing a lot of inductions recently so a few weeks ago we held a forum with our new starters to see what they thought. I think I was expecting some constructive criticism and some good ideas, because I know we have more to do to get our induction process exactly where it needs to be.
In the end, though, we got lots of great ideas and no criticism at all. In fact we had several comments saying it was one of the best inductions they’d had. The face-to-face contact, the fact the equipment was there when they arrived, Clare’s regular contact before they started – all of that was really appreciated. They also loved the fact that some of the directors rang the new starters to welcome them.
Clare: It was great to hear so much positivity. It was clear that the Walker Sime culture is coming through right from the outset, which is encouraging. We were already working on ideas to make induction even better and we’ve incorporated the comments we received into our plans to reinforce those improvements.
From trainee QS to director
Caroline: 14 years ago Nick Wdowczyk joined Walker Sime as a Trainee QS. He’s just being promoted to a Director, which I think speaks volumes about the way we treat our people and the opportunities that are open to them.
We’ve recently taken on two new apprentices: Leighton started in April as an apprentice QS. Our youngest member of the team is Sam – he joined straight from his A levels as an apprentice PM in June.
Looking ahead we’d like to have at least three new apprentices every year, one for each technical function of the business (PM, QS and QSI). That’s important to us because when you work with apprentices you embed your values and train them to your standards.
Completing our tag team
Caroline: Earlier this year we rebranded Walker Sime. We wanted to show ourselves as we really are. It’s had a transformational effect on the business and it’s clear that more people (potential new recruits and clients) are coming to us simply because we’re better at talking about the good things we do. That has meant we’ve expanded our in-house marketing capability too, to spread the word that we’re a people people business.
We have one final piece of the jigsaw to fill in that respect. We’re looking for an HR officer who can help us embed everything we’re about as a business. They’ll form a ‘tag team’ with Clare and myself to ensure we build our culture in the right way and embed it in our onboarding experience, so from initial chat to onboarding, everyone understands what we’re about and can hit the ground running.