I’ve been thinking about the recruitment business and, to be honest, I think it is a very imperfect model.  My thought process has been driven by a real concern about the ability of small businesses to access real talent.

Small businesses are the lifeblood of our economy.  87% of the businesses in the UK employ less than 10 people.  Only 4 organisations in every 1,000 employ more than 250 people.

All enterprises need talent.  In order to start, grow and thrive, small companies need marketing experts, sales people, accountants and (dare I say it) lawyers.  Large businesses can afford to employ these people full time and pay huge fees to recruitment consultants.  Small businesses can rarely afford the fees and often end up with generalists covering all the bases.

Imagine if we bought cars the same way we employed people:

  • There would be no Autotrader or other classified advertising system.  No way of browsing the market to get an idea of what is new or available.
  • All cars would be sold through dealers who kept all their stock hidden from sight.
  • You’d walk in and tell the dealer that you wanted, say, a blue family saloon, and the dealer would give you a shortlist of five blue family saloons that he particularly liked.

Buying a house is another great example:

  • Imagine if there were no property supplements and no details displayed in estate agents’ windows.
  • Imagine if the list you got to see was chosen by the agent from a secret cabinet and you had no access to the countless other properties in the files.

Both of those examples would result in a frustrating and time consuming process that would make it very difficult to buy what you wanted – and that is how recruitment works.  The other thing about both of these examples is that the final buying decision is often one of The Heart not The Head.  An experienced car dealer or agent may well be able to guide you towards a short list that ticks the unemotional boxes but you have to see the wow-factor for yourself.

The same goes for people.  It is easy enough to find people with the right qualifications etc., but finding one with the right attitude and the right cultural fit can be a challenge.  It isn’t a case of there not being the tools for the job.  Myers-Briggs, DISC, EQi and TKI can do a fantastic job of objectively measuring and communicating the ‘soft skills’.  However, no recruitment intermediary has ever suggested to me that they would like to create a psychological profile to enable cross-comparison.  Also, when I was last in the market to recruit an employee, I did ask for such profiles and the recruiter was quite taken aback.

So why is the recruitment business so far behind the times and so outdated?  I suspect that it is because society still holds a centuries-old and very outdated feudal view of the employer-employee contract.  A contract that still is based on devotion and servitude, that cannot comprehend the revolutionary idea that you could work for ‘Big plc’ four days a week and ‘Small Ltd’ one day a week.

Both of my examples are very much self service models – a bit like a supermarket.  Recruitment, because it is so imperfect, is very labour & time intensive which leads to very high fee levels.  This, in turn, promotes inertia, market stagnation and prevents SMEs from getting proper access to the pool of talent.  The reality is that the recruitment business really only properly serves around 10% of the companies in the UK.

Imagine an open market of people, freely accessible, with the ability to make proper comparisons.  If people could freely advertise their talents and abilities then, maybe, they could apply their passion across a number of businesses.  Webrecruit have moved in the right direction with their low-fee online model but they have still failed to notice and address the fundamental flaw in the process – they still keep their talent pool hidden and perpetuate the servitude model to the same narrow band of employers.

So, come on.  Let’s see a real open recruitment based on low fees, open access and break the old-fashioned model.  Let’s see an efficent model that resembles Tesco rather than the current version which is like the ‘Four Candles’ sketch by The Two Ronnies.

In the meantime, can somebody develop the property equivalent of MBTI  and DISC so that I can find an INTP beach house with High Dominance?

Finally, here is that Two Ronnies sketch – Enjoy!