An attractive package?

Regeneration means Bristol is fast becoming one of the most attractive places to work in the South-west, however, insurers are still having a hard time recruiting experienced staff. Sam Barrett discovers what companies are doing to attract more senior employees

With a multi-million-pound regeneration programme that aims to make Bristol the number one place to live and work in the South-west, attracting employees should not be a problem. However, the experience of insurance companies and recruitment agencies in the region indicates that many potential employees are expecting employment packages to also undergo something of a facelift.

As with other parts of the country, filling vacancies for junior positions is not really a problem in Bristol. School leavers are one option and there are already a large number of customer-focused companies in the area that typically have high staff turnover at these lower levels. These include a large number of insurance sector companies, as well as call centre and customer services companies. And as skills are transferable between sectors, finding staff is relatively easy.

Dearth of experience

But when it comes to recruiting experienced staff, employers are finding it much tougher. "We're finding that employers are beginning to realise that a lack of investment in areas such as training over the last few years means there is a real dearth of experience in the market now," says Steve Preston, senior consultant with Hays Inter-Selection.

This has lead some employers to take more innovative approaches to recruitment.

Nick Lock, technical manager for claims at Allianz Cornhill, explains how they found fresh blood for their department: "Last summer, when we heard that Norwich Union was closing its claims department in Bristol, we arranged meetings with the staff who were being made redundant and talked to them about vacancies with Allianz Cornhill. Following interviews, we were able to employ 10 people."

The closure of Royal & Sun Alliance's claims office earlier this year enabled Mr Lock to further refine this approach. This time, a team from Allianz Cornhill took a recruitment roadshow to the offices, explaining the company's philosophy and the positions available to larger groups of employees. The RSA employees were then invited to apply, resulting in another 11 people taking up positions with Allianz Cornhill.

Chris Meddings, senior consultant with Personnel Solutions, believes that with regulation on the horizon, there has been a freeze on taking on new, inexperienced people.

"Many broking companies don't want to train people because of the changes to regulation, so they are also tending to look for the experienced candidate and these can be difficult to find."

This has resulted in some broking firms considering acquisition and merger as an alternative means of expansion. Simon McGill, managing consultant with Independent Appointments, says: "We've definitely seen more scope recently in business to business, rather than applicant to business, as a way to move forward in today's market."

Many employers are now promoting long-term career opportunities instead of the short-term, high-turnover jobs that were commonly associated with the sector.

Training is central to the new career-orientated market. Several insurers, such as Allianz Cornhill and Zurich, have put training academies in place and are investing heavily in fast-tracking the right employees. "The need to invest is now widely accepted among insurers," says Mr Preston, who has also started to see some brokers putting training academies in place.

Salaries are also on the up, although they still lag behind those in the South-east. Mr Preston has noticed that employers, especially in the broking sector, have had to weigh up whether to increase salaries to attract the right staff or to leave them at the same levels and accept that the work will not get done. Increasingly, he adds, employers are biting the bullet and paying more to get the job finished.

Beefing up the benefits

Benefits packages are being beefed up too. In the past, most companies were happy to offer staff a basic pension and death in service cover, but now many are including benefits such as medical insurance and discount schemes, as well as developing better in-house facilities such as restaurants and gyms.

Mr Preston says employers are offering more flexible working arrangements and better benefits packages to attract the right people. "Flexitime is becoming more popular to fit around different people's lifestyles and relocation packages are very common."

These changes indicate that employers are taking a much more long-term view to recruitment, as Mr Meddings explains: "Attracting the right people is a problem at the moment, but I think employers now realise that retention really is the issue they need to address."

Relocation

A key factor Bristol has in its favour is that it is seen as an attractive place to relocate to (or close to) for people from the South-east, the Midlands and the North, says Leigh Lipscombe, senior consultant, IPS Group.

"Indeed, we have placed significant numbers of people in Bristol from other parts of the country over recent years and would like to see this feature exploited more by organisations in the city - particularly during times of skills shortage.

"While people relocating to Bristol from outside the South-east need not expect to have to compromise on salary, it would be helpful if more organisations went 'on the record' in offering relocation assistance - ideally at the advertising stage. Those relocating from the South-east will generally expect to take a salary cut of up to 25% for a 'like' position, otherwise, Bristol is the perfect example of an average UK regions salary base on a par with the likes of Leeds, Ipswich, and Southampton."

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