New Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) chief executive Kevin Green could not have picked a more tumultuous time to join the recruitment industry trade body. With the UK on the brink of recession, demand for staff at a five-year low and European legislation boosting the rights of agency workers looming, he has his work cut out.
But Green is used to a challenge. He spent nearly five years at Royal Mail – principally as HR director – during one of the most turbulent times in its history. He admitted that last year’s high profile row with the trade unions over pay and working practices had hastened his departure.
“I had a great career at Royal Mail and saw huge amounts of change,” he said. “Last year we had the industrial relations situation which was pretty adversarial, and in the middle of that I recognised that someone else was going to have to take things forward.”
Green insisted he was not a “union-basher” and felt it was time for a fresh challenge. He was sounded out about several top HR director jobs, (including one with a certain troubled bank) before arriving at the REC. Having tackled one big industrial relations headache, he was reluctant to take on another difficult HR job.
“The thing that interested me about the REC is that it is a large organisation, one of the largest UK trade associations, has more than 8,000 corporate members and 6,000 individual members,” he said. “But I don’t believe it punches its weight in representing the recruitment industry to the government and the EU.”
Green’s ambitions for the REC are more evolutionary than revolutionary grow corporate and individual membership, professionalise the industry, boost its profile in the media and among the powers-that-be, and work more closely with employers.
Rocky road ahead
But with the background of a weakening jobs market with firms cutting jobs and hiring less, and the implications of European employment legislation on agency workers, the recruitment industry is in for a rocky ride.
Green acknowledged that as soon as individuals believe their jobs are at risk they tighten their belts and don’t splash out on holidays or new cars, meaning businesses don’t get the expenditure. “Businesses then start to shed jobs and people then get even more fearful about their jobs, and you are into a vicious cycle,” he said.
“Agencies will be under pressure because there will be less demand and they will have to work harder to get the business. There may be pressure on margins and price with agencies being squeezed on how much they charge.”
With economic strains mounting, Green encouraged HR professionals to work in tandem with their recruitment intermediaries.
“People view recruitment consultants as a necessary evil, but the more HR builds a relationship with its recruitment partners and gets them to understand their business, the more consultants will be able to consistently deliver the goods,” he said. “But if you treat them like a commodity and keep chopping and changing, you will get a different kind of relationship.”
But what remains uncertain is how employers and agencies deal with the Agency Workers’ Directive – which from 2010 will give temps and contract workers equal treatment on pay and holidays to permanent employees after 12 weeks in a job. Green said he was annoyed the REC was left out of the loop when the CBI and TUC struck a deal with the government.
“We should have been in the room talking on behalf of the recruitment industry,” he said. “Secondly, I don’t believe that is the right way for business to be done because I don’t believe the CBI can talk on behalf of every business in the UK.”
Making his mark
Green insisted the REC’s working relationship with the CBI was “sound” and both organisations felt the deal brokered with the government was the least worst option. “We were looking at six months as a minimum [qualification], but it ended up as 12 weeks. While we don’t particularly like it, it’s important to recognise that 50% of temporary assignments won’t be covered [because most temp jobs last less than 12 weeks],” he said.
Eventually Green sees himself returning to the HR profession – “in a non-unionised sector” – but wants to make his mark first. “People often stumble into this industry the more the REC can demonstrate its work in improving standards then people will start to see recruitment as a career of choice,” he said.
Kevin Green’s CV
June 2008 – to present
Chief executive, REC
2006 – 2008
HR director, Royal Mail Letters
2004 – 2006
HR director operations, Royal Mail Letters
2003 – 2004
Chief learning officer, Royal Mail Group
1989 – 2003
Senior roles, HR consultancy Qtab
1985 – 1989
Economic development manager, Wandsworth Council