Posted on Saturday 9 April 2011 by Ulster Business

Cathy McCorry, Managing Director at the Grafton Employment Group Ireland

Cathy McCorry, Managing Director at the Grafton Employment Group Ireland

Ulster Business talks to Grafton Employment Group's Managing Director Cathy McCorry about the company's move to a centralised Belfast hub, the investments it is making for the future and the outlook for the local jobs market

Cathy McCorry is getting used to being known as the Captain of the ship. Since recruitment specialists Grafton Employment Group centralised their various Belfast offices into The Boat, the shiny new glass office building that looks out over the Lagan Bridge, the nautical puns have come thick and fast. But after negotiating the choppy waters that characterised the jobs market during the early part of the recession, the good ship Grafton is now sailing smoothly, with a strategy that is expected to deliver growth and increased market share. McCorry says the move to The Boat was more than just an opportunity to upgrade to more modern office premises, it was symbolic of the group's decision to more clearly position its various brands under the Grafton Employment Group umbrella. "The move here was part of our five-year strategy and we always had in mind to have a 'house of jobs' or 'jobs mall' idea, where all of our services would be under one roof and accessible by all candidates," says the Grafton Managing Director. "It was about providing clients with a broad range of service offerings that are tailored to their individual needs and that they can get from one partner which has specialists in each area. That has proven very successful in the growth of our business over the last year." In fact, for the 2010-11 year to the end of March, the firm's Northern Ireland operation has seen a 22% jump in sales, which is forecast to lead to a 20% overall rise in pre-tax profits. After seeing some improved job flow in certain sectors of the market, both for temporary and permanent staff, Grafton is budgeting for a 16% uplift in sales next year, though with a more modest increase in profits due to substantial investments it has made, such as an upgrade to its IT infrastructure and an increase in staff development and training. It is also making a concerted push to drive its private sector business to strike a more even balance with its traditionally extensive public sector work. "We've focused on protecting what we did well and really homing in on where we weren't getting it quite right. It has been hugely important for us to educate our customers about what our capabilities are," adds McCorry.
"If you look at our business today compared to three or four years ago it is significantly different. That has been purely driven by where the market’s going, what are the client needs and matching that to the reality of the economy."
ADDED VALUE Founded in 1982, Grafton Employment Group is one of Ireland's largest recruitment companies, with 70 offices in 16 countries. It provides recruitment outsourcing, human resources and management consultancy services as well as providing permanent, contract and temporary staff. Its brands include Grafton Recruitment, Spengler Fox, Grafton Technologies, Blueprint Appointments, Grafton ESP and Grafton Healthcare, which between them cover the professional and financial services sector, the public sector, the technical and engineering sectors, manufacturing, fast moving consumer goods, IT, energy, automotive, scientific and healthcare sectors. With increasing competition in a fragmented market, Grafton has chosen to counter the challenge of margin erosion by concentrating on opportunities within added value services that generate better revenue for the organisation and allow it to use its expertise to differentiate itself. That includes managed services such as site selection, recruitment process outsourcing, vendor management and HR consulting. These outsourced services are of particular interest given the imminent arrival of European Union legislation that will require agency workers to be given the same employment rights as permanent staff after 12 weeks. "Outsourcing and managed solutions are becoming more important to clients," says McCorry. "The big issue for us is how we can make the AWD legislation work for the employer to help create jobs growth and retain and develop talent. The legislation being imposed by Europe is very challenging." CHALLENGES McCorry says she is 'cautiously optimistic' for the Northern Ireland jobs market next year, particularly in sectors such as accountancy and finance, IT, pharmaceuticals, engineering, and food & drink, where there has been a noticeable growth in demand for candidates. However, at the same time the Grafton MD is concerned that there are already gaps in the talent pool for some of these types of high-value jobs that may make Northern Ireland less competitive when it comes to attracting investment from international employers. "It's a real challenge for Northern Ireland and for our political leaders," she says. "There are some organisations doing some great work but it is not totally cohesive. Employers want to do something about it but we've failed to harness that in the right way." To address this Grafton is engaging with school careers teachers to help educate them about the job needs that will emerge in the future. While government is currently focused on using corporation tax to attract investment and jobs from international companies, McCorry says this should not detract from the need to maintain a strong talent base. "Our business exists not just on jobs, but on finding people to fill those jobs," she explains. "It is not about the corporation tax yet, it is about the talent, and there will be fierce competition between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland to attract those companies in. If we are not regarded as a centre of excellence, if they can't get those skills, then they will leave." THE FUTURE Grafton is set to roll out the 'house of jobs' model it has created in The Boat in other locations across the island of Ireland and internationally. While Grafton grew up as a business by having an office in every local town in Northern Ireland, McCorry said this is no longer important to clients, who are looking for the range and depth of service, rather than having someone on their local high street. "Next on the cards, Grafton will be developing centres of recruitment expertise, or 'hubs', to which smaller satellite offices will report in to, and then taking the same approach to the Republic of Ireland. "We will have mini-versions of here, where we offer an end to end solution, dedicated expertise, and professional consultants, and then satellites in smaller regional towns. Customers are looking for a one-stop shop and value for money. It doesn't matter where you are on the high street anymore," she says. "Of course it is fine balance to make sure we are still welcoming and accessible to all our candidates of all disciplines, but equally that we're providing a facility that's professional in its look and feel and gives us the scope to provide the full service offering to our clients." While Cathy McCorry is not complacent about Grafton's future success, she notes the company is the market leader in terms of market share, and expects this to remain the case as clients and prospective clients get a clearer idea of the capabilities that exist within the brands that make up the group. "If you look at our business today compared to three or four years ago it is significantly different. That has been purely driven by where the market's going, what the client needs are and matching that to the reality of the economy," she adds. "We've made the right decisions at the right time."

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