It's been an action-packed few years for recruitment specialist VANRATH. Covid, war in Europe and an economic crisis aside, the Belfast firm has effectively doubled in size, moved to brand new offices in the city centre and continued to expand its service offerings across different industry sectors.
Barbara McKiernan, Managing Director of VANRATH, who has taken over the day-to-day management of the business from company founder Wayne Sullivan, describes the past few years as memorable. “We moved into new offices in February of 2020, just before Covid struck, and were suddenly catapulted into a new way of operating” she says. “The strength of our senior management team and the collaborative culture amongst our consultants carried us through the challenging market conditions.”
VANRATH is one of the larger operators in the NI recruitment space with a current complement of 45 consultants working across an expanded range of sectors, stretching from its core areas of IT and Accountancy into HR, Engineering, Sales & Marketing and Construction & Supply Chain. At the same time VANRATH have rapidly expanded its Temporary division, largely supplying contract & interim staff across the NI public sector.
“ We’ve been able to improve our employee engagement and build a positive culture across our business.” says Barbara. “ We have significantly invested in our people, added an increased benefits package and comprehensive health & wellbeing programme for all VANRATH employees”
VANRATH have also promoted internally to appoint Richard McFarland as its first Head of Talent. This newly created role ensures that VANRATH does what it advises its clients to do – reward and retain its staff in the face of tough competition!
This newly created role has also allowed VANRATH to establish its own training academy ensuring that the quality service they are known for remains their top priority.
The firm has also stepped up its wide-ranging marketing activities, with regular sponsorship of business events around Northern Ireland, partnerships put in place with academia and professional organisations and a well-known, highly visible, marketing display at George Best Belfast City Airport.
“At the heart of it, we're still a very results-driven business, but have worked hard to remain focussed while engaging with and empowering our employees to create a really rewarding culture within the business.”
Turning to the recruitment marketplace, Barbara McKiernan is upbeat. “There are significant opportunities for experienced hires across Northern Ireland,” she says. “It’s true to say that companies are more carefully considering their hires, but the opportunities are there and so is the movement in the market.”
“The post-Covid change in the way most of us work has definitely impacted on the market” she adds. “Employers are struggling with how they adapt to the hybrid working model – with most opting for two to three days in the office. But what employees are looking for is flexibility. There's also demand from those who want to work remotely on a full-time basis.”
“ One thing has to be accepted- we are not going back to the way we used to work before Covid.”
“Inward investment has yet to return to pre- Covid levels” she observes, but insists that the foundations are still here in Northern Ireland. “We still have a really good talent pool, particularly in IT, and this is a cost effective place to do business.”
Barbara McKiernan has some advice for employers wrestling with the challenges and attracting new staff and retaining existing people.
“It's all about culture,” she says simply. “It's about engaging with, and listening to your people while recognising employee contributions to your business. Effective communication and a strong, clear strategy are also important to the wider picture.
“Salary as a stand-alone isn't enough these days,” she adds. “Employees are looking for flexibility, perks, the right CSR programme and sustainability credentials, amongst many other things. Candidates from Generation Z and X weigh up all these sorts of factors when deciding who to work for.”
She goes on to add a further, and important, piece of advice for those negotiating with employees. “If an employee does get another offer and decides to leave, don't panic and rush into making a counter offer,” she warns. “It will only upset the balance in your workplace and you run the risk of losing the employee in the longer term in any case.”
Staff shortages are much talked about these days, and there are shortages of candidates in certain areas, Barbara confirms. “Although much focus is on the real shortage of Software Developers, and there has been for a long time,” she says. “There is also a lack of Accountants, for example, as well as experienced HR professionals.”
“But shortages in certain areas have always been a fact of life in this marketplace. We're still very positive about finding the right people for our clients and the best next career move for our candidates.”