Divided we fall?

Jan 28 2002 by Brian Amble Print This Article

Unrepresentative, expensive, toothless and hysterical. These are accusations that have been slung at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), both publicly and privately, by recruiters.

It is an unfortunate fact for the REC that these criticisms have been levelled largely by the industry's big players, many of whom have complained of a perceived lack of service and support from the industry body.

Kelly Services' general manager Paul Hampton voiced public concerns over where the REC is heading in Inside Recruitment's last issue. He said: "We are challenging the REC to offer a better service for the larger companies. I'm sure the REC is representing the interests of the local independents but I'm not sure whether they are doing the same for the large clients because I think we have visions and strategies that differ from the local independents.

"There is room for all of us but we are different entities. It's like Tesco and the local corner shop going in with the same bargaining position, it's just not correct. I'd like the larger players lobbying as a group, hopefully through the REC but if they are not in a position to do that then so be it."

You don't have to be Stephen Hawkins to get the message - either the REC improves or Kelly Services will not be renewing its membership. If this happens, the REC's credibility will once again be seriously corroded and only three major corporate agencies, Manpower, Blue Arrow and Brook Street, will be left as members.

Group chief executive editor of Corporate Services Group Peter Owen, which incorporates the Blue Arrow brand, said: "The REC continues to find itself in an incredibly difficult position as both its large and small members regularly criticise it for failing to adequately represent their interests. No matter what they achieve it never seems enough to satisfy the insatiable demands of members."

The damage of a large high profile player leaving is severe. It was rumoured that Adecco's departure last year led to 200 other members not renewing their memberships. The damage was relatively short-lived however with the REC returning membership to its pre-Adecco departure figure by the end of the summer.

Nevertheless, it remains clear that the industry body is having difficulties representing the interests of the larger players in the recruitment. To its credit, the REC is not shirking the issue. Chief executive Tim Nicholson has admitted that "a successful formula has not yet been found" as it attempts to meet the needs of the big boys. But it does beg the obvious question - why?

It was Adecco that stated the obvious last year when it cited a duplication of services as being instrumental in its own departure from the REC. Large recruitment corporations have their own legal departments, training facilities and market research. Why do they want to pay for the privilege of using the REC's resources?

What these companies appear to want from an industry body is representation and here lies the nub of the problem. Some of the REC's larger members do not feel they were well represented during the lobbying of the Employment Agencies Act regulation proposals and lost confidence in the industry body over this period.

Although the widespread industry view is that the REC did an excellent job of lobbying the Government - a view endorsed by Inside Recruitment incidentally - the large players are dissatisfied.

Not only did Adecco accuse the REC of lobbying on behalf of its smaller members only, it also accused the body of being too confrontational with the Government and described its comments over temp-to-perm as being "unhelpful". One UK chief executive of a large global recruiter who asked not to be named also described the REC as acting "hysterically" over the regulations.

Other large agencies, such as TMP and Michael Page, have also stayed out. It could be that they simply believe that it hasn't got enough strength and influence at the negotiating table. Of course gaining this gravitas takes time and the REC is only two years old. It is gaining in strength and it is certainly held in high regard by the Department of Trade and Industry (DTI).

The body, however, finds itself in a classic catch 22 situation. It needs the leading players to increase its stature, but they will not join until it reaches a certain level.

The REC does appear to be learning from its mistakes. Careful considered comment and reasoning has replaced the broken record soundbite that used to be wheeled out over temp-to-perm. Tim Nicholson correctly argued that the legislation was never going to go away and the REC did the best that it could. Could it have done better? Maybe. But then it might also have done a lot worse.

Although many recruiters believe that the industry should still be fighting to get the 'quarantine' period removed, it does appear that the REC achieved the best out of a bad situation. Communication has increased tenfold and credit must also go to external relations director Marcia Roberts for that.

It has also tried to create a separate forum for its smaller members through its Small Business Forum, which has been relatively successful. So why hasn't it founded such a forum for its larger members?

Rumours have been circulating through the industry for some time that the leading players were going to form their own representative body. Apparently a Select Appointments'-led initiative, it is believed that only a clash of diaries has led to the leading figures of these companies from meeting to thrash out details. Whether it happens is of course a moot point. The rumours have bounced around for a good 12 months now but a meeting has not yet happened. And so the door remains open for the REC.

Of course, any chance for the leading players to get their heads together, discuss issues and form a common front can only be good for the industry. Working together creates strength, while bickering and infighting weakens the industry's position.

Certainly, there are many within the industry who believe that any body formed from the conglomeration of recruitment's larger companies should work within, or at least closely with, the REC. Although Inside Recruitment has been, and will remain to be, the industry body's fiercest critic when we believe it has performed badly, in terms of representation, recruitment needs one strong unified voice. It has been proved in the past that having more than one body creates confusion, weakness and a lack of clarity and this is exactly why the IEC and FRES merged to form the REC.

Tim Nicholson recently met with the chiefs of recruitment's larger players in a bid to build bridges. A blueprint he will produce outlining how the REC can work with them, will be critical. And an industry body that claims to be truly representative, must have the support of its major players. It will be a hard road. But will it be successful?

This article first appeared in Inside Recruitment: www.insiderecruitment.co.uk