Winning formula: how F1’s Marussia sources hard-to-find skills

In the glamorous, fast-paced world of Formula 1, it is hard to imagine any of the teams finding it hard to source skilled candidates. With many people dreaming of working in the high-pressured environment of the “grid”, it is hardly an industry with an image problem.

But, as a relatively new Formula 1 team, Marussia has faced recruitment challenges. The team entered Formula 1 in 2009, thanks to the Resource Restriction Agreement, which enabled teams to enter the competition based on the quality of their engineering rather than how much financial investment they could make. Prior to this, Marussia was a Formula 3 team with just 80 staff.

Katie Allen, Marussia’s HR director, began her search for talent as a one-woman operation, and even now she runs an HR team of just three. Most of the established Formula 1 teams tend to employ between 300 and 500 people; Marussia has recently increased headcount at its Banbury headquarters to around 200.

Widening the reach

Make-up of a Formula 1 team

  • drivers: 2;
  • leadership team: 6;
  • operational staff: 59;
  • designers, technology specialists, research and development, engineers: around 120;
  • marketing, PR and partner services: around 20;
  • support staff (IT, finance etc): around 12;
  • TOTAL: c.220.

NB. Not all roles are filled at present.

But finding the specialist skills required to compete on the same level as the more established teams has not been easy. Until last year, Marussia had relied on traditional recruitment methods such as headhunting, and many referrals came – and still come – through word of mouth at races. “This is quite a close-knit industry, teams travel together, so it’s like a family,” explains Allen. “A lot of networking goes on, and it’s fair to say that a lot of successful candidates come to us that way.”

“However, we needed to increase our geographical reach in terms of candidates,” she adds. “There are a number of good universities in France that run aerodynamics courses, for example.”

In late 2011, in order to widen its pool of candidates, Marussia approached job board Monster to become its official recruitment partner and to advertise its vacancies, including specialist roles such as design engineers and a travelling composite technician. Since February 2012, Marussia has recruited 23 of the 40 roles it needed through Monster’s site.

Did Allen have any reservations about using a generalist recruitment site to advertise such specialist roles? “We decided to use Monster because of its global reach. Of course, we still work with niche recruitment agencies, but as a small HR operation it’s important for us to widen our pool of candidates,” she says.

Another challenge was that, as a relatively small team trying to make its way up the grid with limited resources, it was difficult to set itself apart from bigger teams with greater financial clout. “It’s a competitive landscape,” says Allen. “We all face the same challenges in terms of resourcing, and we can’t always offer the same benefits package as other teams.”

Communicating benefits

It has been important, therefore, to demonstrate to potential candidates that whoever comes into the business will gain responsibility very quickly and be part of the team’s future success. One of the company’s composite developers, Jonathan Block, has seen many of the parts he has worked with on the track. “I feel I have had more responsibilities as part of a smaller team,” he says. While the company does not currently offer an apprenticeship scheme, this could be an avenue to explore in the future, says Allen.

To give candidates a flavour of its employer brand, Marussia has used a combination of social media and video content. Allen, Marussia and CEO Andy Webb have recorded videos of them discussing the attributes they look for in new team members, and the company has also posted video interviews with new hires talking about their first week on the job. The videos have been viewed more than 250,000 times. “Being able to demonstrate your company culture is really important, especially with passive candidates. It’s not just about a glossy video,” says Allen.

There are, of course, many speculative applications from Formula 1 fans, and Marussia has also partnered with Monster to use its cloud-based applicant management system, recently whittling down 7,000 applications for a junior engineer position to 2,000. All CVs that come into the company, whether they are sent directly, come through a job board or through an agency, are managed centrally.

Graeme Lowdon, Marussia’s president and sporting director, explains that finding the right talent is not just “nice to have”, but a business imperative for the team. “Grand Prix dates don’t change, so if we recruit the wrong staff or don’t have the skills, it has an immediate impact on our performance.” For a small but growing team that recently achieved its best result to date – 12th in the Singapore Grand Prix – meeting recruitment targets could turn around its fortunes.

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