Experience in the City

The business

The Blomfield Group provides recruitment services to many of the large financial institutions based in the City of London. It has four divisions: Origin HR Consulting, Firth Ross Martin, Joslin Rowe Temps and Joslin Rowe Associates.

Formed in 1988, it now has a turnover of 45m a year. Blomfield has 180 staff and has an HR team of three.

The challenge

The Corporation of London provides local government services in the Square Mile. In 1995, it set up the Corporation Business Traineeship (CBT) programme as part of its attempt to tackle the issue of unemployment in neighbouring boroughs.

While the City might be home to some of the wealthiest financial institutions in the world, the fringes of the area have some of the highest levels of unemployment in the UK, with more than 50,000 people claiming jobseeker’s allowance in the seven boroughs surrounding it.

Joanne Crawley, partnerships officer at the corporation, explains how the CBT works. “School or college leavers of A-level standard from boroughs neighbouring the City are given placements of up to 13 weeks at leading City firms, such as UBS Investment Bank, HBOS Treasury Services, Allen & Overy and Aspen Re. Last year, more than 400 people applied for 62 places,” she says.

Many of Blomfield’s clients operate diversity policies to ensure their workforces reflect their customers in terms of gender, ethnicity, and so on. According to Debbie Gabbard, associate director of HR, Blomfield saw this as an area in which it could add value to its client relationships.

“We realised that by mirroring what our clients are doing, we could offer them a more diverse range of candidates,” she says. This encouraged Gabbard to get involved with the CBT programme.

The solution

Having met the corporation and agreed how a pilot scheme would work, Gabbard worked hard to gain buy-in from the rest of the organisation.

“It wasn’t overly difficult,” she recalls. “We have a strong emphasis on teamwork and so are always supportive of each other’s ideas. We were also in the process of attaining Investors in People accreditation, so the timing was right. Also, everyone recognised what a useful marketing tool it could be.”

Although she was only able to offer one place in the first year of the scheme, Gabbard agreed to interview 10 candidates to give more people interview experience.

Gabbard selected Darcy Leigh, a 20-year old from Finsbury Park. “Darcy was really confident, which I felt would be necessary to get the most out of a placement in somewhere as fast-moving and tough as a financial recruitment company,” she says.

The corporation is keen that the CBT should be about more than just work experience. It asks companies to provide extended paid placements for ambitious and academically-able young people with excellent A-levels.

Crawley reports that in 2004 almost 15% of the placements were converted immediately to permanent positions. With this in mind, Gabbard ensured that Leigh spent time in each of the company’s departments, had specific goals at each one, and had regular review meetings.

The outcome

Gabbard was amazed by the contribution Leigh made during her 10 weeks with the company. “Not only was Darcy reliable, but she came up with some really good solutions to problems,” she says.

“We were paying her but it wasn’t a great amount and this was pretty much the only cost involved. No-one who worked with her found her to be a drain on their time – she more than earned her keep.”

Gabbard claims that clients were impressed by the scheme, and she also points out that the company has received some positive media coverage.

She also believes that it helped increase employee morale. “So many people told me they couldn’t remember the last time they spoke to a young person, and it made us all feel as though we’re more than just another business,” she says.

Gabbard states unequivocally that she would be happy to give Leigh a job, should she want one in the future. The scheme was such a success that, in 2005, Blomfield will be providing two places.

Learning points for HR

Gabbard offers this advice to anyone considering setting up a similar scheme:  “Make sure it’s properly structured. It would have been really easy for me to have had Darcy stuffing envelopes for 10 weeks, but the extra effort involved in planning it and giving her some real work to do was definitely worthwhile.

“I think it was also a good idea that she wrote reports at the end of each stage. I was lucky that she did this anyway, but I would make sure it’s an integral part of all future placements. “

Employee perspective

Darcy Leigh is in the middle of a degree in political science at the University of London’s Royal Holloway College. Although she is considering a law conversion and doubts that she would follow a career in financial recruitment, she is extremely positive about the time she spent at Blomfield.

“It was great the way I got experience of all the departments. I really grew to understand the company and the market, and learned so much,” she says.

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