Most engineers jump at the chance to work in the automotive industry. It is an opportunity to push their skills to the limit, as today’s top-of-the-range cars use leading edge technology. This is particularly true in motor sports, where cars are required to perform at the highest level under extreme conditions.
Many of the best engineers end up in ‘Motorsport Valley’, a swathe of several hundred companies stretching from the south coast of England to East Anglia via the Silverstone Grand Prix circuit in Northamptonshire. About 40,000 people work in the valley, contributing £5bn a year to the UK economy, according to the Motorsport Industry Association.
One leading company in this sector is Prodrive, a motorsports management and automotive engineering firm, whose status is demonstrated by the huge surplus of applications it receives for each vacancy. But, despite this healthy response, its HR people need to be as fast and thorough as its pit crews to recruit the best people. Many jobs on offer are highly specialised and, in some areas, Prodrive must compete fiercely with other firms to secure people with the right skills and experience.
The company, founded in 1984, “lurched from one crisis to another” during its first 10 years, according to founder David Richards, a former world rally champion. But in 1994 it was named UK Motorsport Business of the Year by Andersen Consulting and received £20,000 worth of consultancy time as a prize. This led to the creation of a proper business plan and an HR manager was appointed the following year.
Sue Scarf previously worked in retail, running a change management programme for Texas Homecare. She arrived at Prodrive relishing the challenge offered by a company which, at the time, had 90 staff but no HR function, no IT department and no formal procedures for maintaining health and safety compliance.
“It was a blank sheet of paper,” Richards says. “Its core business was very good, but from an HR point of view it was not advanced at all.”
Scarf, now HR director at Prodrive, quickly established basic HR policies and introduced a training framework. Then, as the company began to grow rapidly, so did the importance of formalising recruitment procedures.
Recruitment within the tight-knit motorsport community was often on the basis of “knowing someone who knows someone”, Scarf says. “But today we have skills shortages in certain areas,” she adds.