Posted on Thursday 10 December 2009 by Ulster Business

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As the local and global economy dusts itself down and starts to look forward to a brighter future, Ulster Business talked to BluePrint Specialist Appointments to hear how it has isolated itself from the worst effects of the recession by implementing a forward-thinking and innovative strategy to enable it to stand out from the crowd.

Differentiating your business in a commoditised market is a secret held close to the hearts of successful businesses the world over. This is no more evident than at BluePrint Specialist Appointments, a Belfast-based specialist recruitment company which prides itself on offering a bespoke service, tailored to the needs of both job seekers and clients. Its secret isn't rocket science but it's one overlooked by many companies in an age when overcomplicated strategies get in the way of the underlying principles of good business. In essence, BluePrint makes sure it knows the sectors it operates in and gets to know the companies and candidates they are working for intimately. This approach has meant it has managed to maintain a successful track record in placing the right people with the right companies even during a period of recession. "We take a different approach" said General Manager Joanne McAuley in an interview with Ulster Business. "You're not just a candidate for a job; we want to see you through your career by taking a consultative approach. We talk to you about your career, your aspirations, where you want to work, your values and what you want to do in the future. For us, it's personal." On the client side, the same thorough analysis applies. "We go and spend time with clients in their environment so when we talk to you about a role we can tell you what the environment is like, who we have met, what the perks and benefits are and what the growth potential of the role is", Joanne said. "If you meet the team you know which candidates are going to fit and that's a key factor in some of our specialist sectors where you find the pre-requisite skills but where a culture can be a much more difficult fit." In terms of BluePrint's knowledge of the industries it specialises in, there's no shortage of experience. The three main areas of focus are IT, engineering and scientific, the latter covering the pharmaceutical, life sciences industries and food and drink sector under quality control and assurance. The company is also involved with the legal, construction and sales & marketing industries but, having identified the former three sectors as areas with significant growth potential, it has narrowed its focus in recent months. In so doing, it can lay claim to having experts with plenty of industry-specific experience within and heading up each of the three areas. Clare Sinanan is the business unit manager for the scientific, engineering and technical sales and marketing divisions, whilst Dene McFarlane is responsible for the IT and legal divisions - each bring their own areas of expertise and have their own industry sector specialist consultants. "In specialist areas, companies like to know they're seeing people who know their business", Joanne said. In addition to the recruitment side of the business, BluePrint, as part of The Grafton Employment Group, also has access to a human resources team, Grafton ESP, to provide outplacement services for companies forced to reduce their workforce. BluePrint also offer career counselling, run workshops and help compile CVs and provide interview technique masterclasses as well as one-to-one support. "It's about making sure people are set out on the right path", Joanne said. "For instance, in the engineering sector we get people in their late 40s who haven't been in the job market for a long time and who don't realise they have these fantastic transferable skills. We advise on their CVs by highlighting their skills and they're amazed at how good they actually are." Another of the reasons Joanne believes BluePrint differentiate themselves from the competition is through its values. This is best highlighted via its Corporate and Social Responsibility, or CSR, programme through which BluePrint employees participate in the Time to Read programme at primary schools as well as mentoring disadvantaged children on the Business in the Community program. Less obvious is the company's drive to get into the classroom at a later stage in an effort to persuade schools and government of the need to have more comprehensive careers advice. "We get graduates coming to us with degrees in unemployable areas", Joanne said. "So for me it's about making sure they get the correct advice and making sure they become employable for us and for the economy. We don't want to have a drain on the economy based on underutilised people or skills with degrees they can't use. For me it's about going back to school to get the correct advice." BluePrint's sectors fit in well with the government's focus on pushing technology subjects via MATRIX, the Northern Ireland Science Industry Panel, InvestNI and the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) review, in which the first recommendation stated business should become more involved in promoting these key subjects. BluePrint recognise that initiatives such as W5 help stimulate children's interest in the STEM subjects at an early age which will provide a foundation when it comes to making later career choices. Dr Peter Donnelly, chief executive of BioBusinessNI, the business association for Life and Health Technologies in Northern Ireland. "The Life and Health Technologies Sector draws on the skills across all the STEM subjects and this has been recognised in the recent STEM review report - Skills excellence in the STEM areas is the single most critical factor in driving growth and the innovation opportunity in the knowledge based economy. - The convergence of STEM skills also enables businesses and researchers to pursue new globally competitive product opportunities that would otherwise not be identified or realised." In the tertiary education sector, the company is also closely involved and runs CV master-classes and interview skills lectures in the University of Ulster and ANIC while also helping facilitate work experience for students before they complete their courses. Aside from the CSR benefits from participating in this, BluePrint is also able to lay the foundations for the future. "These students are going to be our candidates of the future and potentially our clients," said Joanne. Not that BluePrint sits waiting for business to come to it; quite the contrary. Recent months have seen the company work with the Department of Employment and Learning in in Dublin, Manchester and London to attract qualified candidates to come back, or indeed to come for the first time, to Northern Ireland. The latter event, held in the Science Gallery in Trinity was particularly successful in tracking down talented senior candidates. "We invited people in the particular areas we know there are skills shortages and we’re trying to attract those people back to Northern Ireland," Joanne said. With its broad reach through parent company Grafton, BluePrint can also offer up an informed view on the health of each of these sectors and the economy as a whole. Joanne noted a very recent shift in the clients offering permanent posts compared to temporary. "In the current economic climate there has been more of a tendency for companies to hire on a contract basis but that's starting to change as they realise the candidate pool has diminished in certain sectors and they're now opening up permanent positions again." This can also be seen as a sign of confidence in the economy is growing with companies happy to commit to longer-term contracts. This can only be good for the Northern Ireland economy and BluePrint's success over the 13 years of its existence as a separate arm of Grafton mean it could indeed be a blueprint for the 78 Grafton offices in 19 different countries. As it is, the specialist recruiter has the ability to call on a global network unrivalled by other local recruiters and a factor which has proved popular for both clients and candidates. The next year will see BluePrint extending its physical presence to Ireland and further plans to develop beyond the island are on the cards. "We're not just another recruitment agency; we want to be different," said Joanne. "We're setting ourselves out with our strategic partners and will support them in future growth." Strategic partnerships are another part of the BluePrint ethos which is a key part of its development BluePrint work closely with its partners and memberships such as BioBusinessNI, Northern Ireland Food and Drink Association, Northern Ireland Manufacturing and Momentum, the local ICT trade federation. Through these partnerships, its values, its industry-specific knowledge and detailed approach, BluePrint has fared well during tough times and has its sights set on the recovery ahead, a time when global companies can buy into Joanne's belief in our local workforce, one which in itself is different from the competition. "We've a well-educated workforce with a wide range of skills, an excellent education system, loyal reliability and bags of personality. It's an easy sell really."

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