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UK and Global Agricultural Recruitment. For Professionals by Professionals

The Role of Recruiters — Podcast with Inside AgriTurf Hosted by Chris Biddle

De Lacy Executive Recruitment's Managing Director, Stuart Goodinson, and General Manager, Grace Nugent, recently joined Chris Biddle on the Inside AgriTurf Podcast to discuss the role of recruiters in the agriculture industry.

Finding skilled workers is no easy task — sorting through candidates to find someone with the right qualifications and experience is extremely time consuming.

The team at De Lacy Executive Recruitment are experts at finding, attracting, and organising through candidates to discover those with the right skills and personality for the job, which allows agribusinesses to focus on its products or services.

We have included the podcast transcript below as well as a link to listen in at the bottom of the page — enjoy!

— The De Lacy Executive Team

Podcast Transcript

(Chris) Hello, I'm Chris Biddle and this is Episode 65 of Inside Agriturf. Thank you for joining me.

(Chris) Now, finding staff, finding the right person for a specialist and specific role within your organization is probably one of the biggest challenges facing every agriculture dealer at the moment.

Indeed, it's the same with every company in every industry. Do you do it yourself by advertising your newspapers and magazines, posting on social media? Or do you engage a recruitment agency to find suitable candidates, thus saving you valuable time sorting the wheat from the chaff?

(Chris) In a recent episode of Inside Agriturf, the group service manager of a leading multi-branch dealership had a bit of a pop at recruitment agencies saying that they did not do enough to really understand his business and the specific details of the roles he wants to fill. He added that he ended up wasting time interviewing totally unsuitable candidates, which sent me wondering, how should a recruitment agency function?

What relationship will they have with the client? And what steps do they take to fully understand the exact specifications, qualifications, and experience needed to fill vacancies in an increasingly complex and technology-driven industry?

(Chris) So to find out more, I'm pleased to be joined today by Stuart Goodinson, managing director, and Grace Nugent, general manager of De Lacy Executive Recruitment, who specialize in the agricultural and land-based sectors. And let me say, right at the outset, that there is and has not been a commercial relationship between their company and the dealership referred to earlier.

(Chris) So, Stuart, Grace, welcome and let me ask you first, how are you finding the current pool of suitable candidates to fill roles in the agricultural sector, particularly compared with pre-COVID times?

(Grace) Good question. One you can imagine we're getting a lot of at the moment. Chris, I think an accurate description of that question would be it is keeping us on our toes. I think is a fair comment of where we're at because I personally have been in recruitment for a long time and there's lots of ups and downs like there is with any sector, any industry.

I'm sure this isn't the first time you've heard this comment and you will continue to hear that it is a candidate-short market at the moment. But, it swings in rounds, but that is what we are here to do. It's all about how you face these challenges, and when you come across the challenges, it's just maybe altering how you approach things to really adapt with it.

(Chris) Yeah, and, Stuart, you've presumably been in this industry for some time. Is it more difficult now than you've known in the past?

(Stuart) Well, I've been in the agricultural industry for 35 years or something like that, both as a client and as a candidate, and as managing director to De Lacy Executive, and right at the moment is a very difficult time.

It is very difficult for companies to persuade candidates to join them. Candidates are not in a 'moving', or changing company, frame of mind. The last two years has delivered unsettlement to both candidates and to businesses.

A lot of what we have to do at the moment is to persuade candidates that now is the time to think about moving their career. Now is the time to think about joining and taking up the next new thing. So, yes, it's a challenge, but that's what we get paid for.

(Chris) So, Stuart, you're managing director of De Lacy Executive and Grace, you are general manager. So, tell me a little bit about the company—who it is, who it's owned by, and who it's associated with.

(Stuart) Okay so, De Lacy Executive has been around for 22 years, and that just means that we pretty much know everybody in the marketplace. We've either worked with or know every company, and we know an awful lot of candidates. So, it just means we know a lot of people.

De Lacy Executive is now owned by Farms.com -- a company similar to Farmer's Weekly -- but are based in Canada. And Farms.com provide information and media to farmers around the world, and they are particularly involved in the recruitment sector. So, they own job boards, like the Farmer's Weekly job board, they own job boards in the food sector, they own De Lacy Executive in the UK. De Lacy now own Merston Peters, another recruitment business in the UK, and we also have a job board called AgCareers.com in North America. So, we're very—the parent company -- is very much involved in recruitment across both sides of the Atlantic, and across the world as well.

(Chris) And this obviously gives you an international reach. And is the other side of the pond—is that experiencing the similar sort of problems that you're seeing over here with candidates?

(Stuart) Yes, I think this candidate-short market exists all around the world. It's the same scenarios.

(Chris) And, Grace, we were talking earlier, and I think you suggested, whilst you are called De Lacy Executive Recruitment, you see yourselves as more than a recruitment agency. Why's that?

(Grace) Yes. Now, it's very interesting because I think the word "recruitment" is such a—it's a very broad term, as I'm sure you can appreciate, the same way, "agriculture" is a broad term. We all know because we're in it how much there is in all these sectors that we're in. There are so many areas, and it's exactly the same with recruitment.

A good way to sum us up of where we are at in the market is we are very much here to take recruitment to the next level. We're about collaborative recruitment, so that means that, we're much more about the person and who is going to actually fill that role rather than it just being a fit on paper. We really do take it to the next level in that way. Our approach we know works, and it very much isn't just, as I say, about putting somebody in a role that can do the job. It's about putting somebody in a role that's really going to help take your business to the next level. That's where our strength is in the market.

(Chris) Yeah, indeed. And I guess in your role, I suppose there's two key questions really. What do the clients expect from you, your agency? And, on the other side of the fence from that, what do you expect from your clients? Stuart, how would you sum up what the clients are really looking for when they engage you?

(Stuart) Well, it's a good question, I think when clients think about an agency, they think about us in the same way that they might think about estate agents. And I would say that you could have an online estate agent for very little money, or you could go to one who actually know what they are talking about as far as agriculture is concerned.

So, what do clients expect from us? Well, they are paying us to take all the frustration, all the hard work, all of the anguish, all of the time, all of the time wasted out of recruitment. Finding the right person is the most difficult bit, and we're saving them all that time. They're paying us money to do that. So, they want us to find the person that can move their business forward, not the person that ticks boxes on a piece of paper.

(Chris) No. And similarly, aligned to that, what do you expect from your clients? I suppose it's a very, very accurate job description because what might be a role on paper is not always what it seems perhaps.

(Grace) Definitely. I think, for us, maybe flipping that question slightly on its head, it's more about the relationship that we have with the client. We can all sit here and do, a job description, but sometimes it's more than that. It's learning who our clients are, having that relationship, understanding their culture, understanding the type of people that tend to flourish in their business, and are more likely to last. It is definitely that relationship / partnership, you know, communication, communication—that is what we do expect when we work with clients. We have to adapt, we have to go to the market, and give them that feedback.

It's our job to make this job achievable, and to find that right person, so we have to look at the solutions together. Sometimes it's not as simply a case of replacing one salesperson with another salesperson. Sometimes it might be different angles that we have to look at to achieve the goal that we're all trying to achieve together.

(Stuart) To support exactly what Grace is saying, what we find often is there can be a difference between what the client wants/needs and what they think they want. You go into this thinking that the person at the top of the business knows exactly what they want, but very often these job descriptions are written third-hand by somebody else in another department who has missed some of the nuance in what the business needs.

Therefore, unless the client communicates really, really openly with us, we can get lost in between that gap of what the MD thinks they want and what got written down. Sometimes recruitment businesses get, lost in that gap, so what we expect from working with clients is just communication, communication, communication, and understanding what they really, really, really want.

(Chris) There's a song coming there... (laughter)

(Stuart) I'm glad somebody said it.

We want to talk to the clients or the decision-maker a lot to really understand the business. To really understand what they're trying to achieve with the business.

(Grace) And how that changes as well, isn't it, Stuart? Because, we all know you can go into it thinking you want somebody, and then you start interviewing, and actually your preconceptions might have changed. And we need to be with you on that journey.

(Stuart) Yep.

(Chris) Indeed, candidate perceptions of a particular role or particular industry can change. They look at a glossy ad for cider and think it's all about sitting on an old fergie tractor, and with the birds singing, and they think, "Oh, well I'd like to do that," so, I mean, you need to sift those people out as they're not entirely suitable.

Indeed, one dealer was saying to me recently, people think it's all mechanical, but it's no longer mechanical—it's all about electronics today. And the kind of people we were looking for then is not the kind of people we are looking for now. So, when you hook up with a client, rather you mentioned estate agents earlier on, do you like to have an exclusive contract with that client, or does it sometimes happen that they will—you will have it shared and so on?

(Grace) Definitely, without a doubt. All circling back to our relationship, we need that—we need that exclusivity for it to work. We wouldn't win in a race in regard to just getting CVs and putting them in. We have to have the time to be able to do that job and do it right and clearly time goes into that.

Also, if I was putting myself in the client's shoes, would I want multiple companies out there representing my brand and not knowing how they were doing it, rather than using one reliable source who I trust and I know is going to represent my company in the right way?

(Stuart) That's a really good point, just to pick up on, Grace. When you work—if you're a client and you're working with a good recruitment business, you are effectively supporting each other's brand. You are part of each other's brand identity. We are selling your brand. We are representing your brand. So, the more we know about you, the more we understand what you want to be seen as in the marketplace. The more we understand what makes your company brilliant to work for, then we are effectively marketing your company for you. By the same token, we need to represent, we are part of their brand as well.

It is the same thing with candidates. With a good recruitment business, that candidate represents the recruitment business' brand. And, therefore, what we do at De Lacy is we will send people across that we think are very, very good for that role. And if we don't, then actually we are letting our own brand down. Brand integrity is so, so important.

Clients really need to understand that they need to work with a company that will represent them well, but also a company that knows the absolute detail behind what you do in your business and what that sector is. Sitting on fergies is completely irrelevant. Understanding diagnostic tools through AI is where it's at now, and unless you understand that, poof, you're not going to find the people for that business.

(Chris) When you're advertising roles, and this is often—you will see a job advertised but the company is not identified, is there a golden rule for you as a company on whether you do or don't identify the company or is that the client's decision?

(Grace) Our personal view on it, Chris, is not to identify the company. And, again, if I was putting myself in the client's shoes, that's what you're paying us to do. Why—if we get the company out there, it means that people, maybe, I would argue, the wrong people, would try and go around us and then go to the client directly. Again, that is going to put more time on them.

Also, it's that curiosity element when you don't put everything out there, it's those candidates that aren't aware that they're particularly—well, those people may I say—that aren't aware that they are actively looking, and they're just, seeing what's out there. Those are the ones that real good conversations can happen with, who definitely know we are, and we stay very strong on that, of not actually getting out who the client is.

Don't get me wrong, Chris, as everything in the world we're in, nothing is black and white and if it's, very important to assert in certain conditions, then okay. But, for that to work, we definitely need that exclusivity and that very close relationship.

(Chris) Presumably, you've got two parts to your business. One is a bank of candidates hopefully on your books who are looking for roles, and the other side obviously is clients, companies looking for staff. How often can you affect an easy cross-over between those two groups? Is that pool of candidates larger or smaller than the jobs available at the moment?

(Stuart) Well, De Lacy Executive has a database of 25,000 or more people in it who are all relevant for roles within agriculture, I wouldn't describe them as being on the books. I think the term "being on the books" is very much what we would call to the high street recruitment where perhaps somebody needs 15 fabricators for three days next week, then that requirement of, "Do I have 20 fabricators available? Yes, no," is a different job to what we would do.

What I would say is that our database is a tool for us to search. And, as I explained at the start, searching for candidates at the moment who are really ready, willing, and able to move roles is a hard job.

Now, what I would say is that 20% of candidates are active in the marketplace, and, if you think about it, Chris, if they're active in the marketplace at the moment, why is that when there are so many jobs that need to be filled? 20% of candidates would be in a position where they're very, very happy and they will not move—in fact get annoyed when you ask them. That leaves 60% of candidates, either on our database or just in general who, if you can find them, if you can tap on their shoulder, if you can talk to them, can be persuaded to think about doing something else.

Those 60% of candidates are not talking to clients, they're not on LinkedIn looking for jobs, they're not ringing up whoever it is asking for a job. It's 60% of the candidates that the clients are paying us good money to hunt and find and seek and talk to and tap them on the shoulders and bring in. So, yes, that's the long answer to your short question.

(Chris) No, no, no, that's fine. And as we're talking about candidates at the moment, obviously some interview well. They're personable, and they can put themselves over. Some can write excellent CVs, but some can't—many can't. What's your role in helping them through that process, Grace?

(Grace) That's a really good question, because we all talk about it. The fact that obviously we are all people, candidates to us. People are our business, we're not just about CVs. It's so much more,. It is about who that person is. And, I've seen it myself. Obviously, I'm in the sector. There's so much information on the internet, and you can almost get yourself in a whirl—the perfect CV, the best interview tips— it's endless really. But what De Lacy are about is we are about you as an individual.

So, yes, anyone can put, top key tips on how to write a CV. But for us, it's about finding out who you are, and actually giving you that personal advice, giving you that tailored advice if that's the particular role that you want to go for, that is how you should, obviously edit your CV accordingly. If this is your interview, this is what we know about the company. This is, the key points we know that they'll be honed into. It's that specific advice rather than just trying to put everyone into one pot, that is really kind of very much where we stand in the market, and genuinely,

Chris, if you are a good person for us to work with, again, we circle back on every side we work with that good communication, that honesty, that keeping us up to date, then really there's no limit on the support that De Lacy can give you.

(Chris) And presumably, one of the available pools that you will be fishing in are the land-based colleges—the agricultural colleges, either higher education or further education. I presume you keep very close links with those organizations, those colleges?

(Grace) Definitely. It's actually very close to our heart—bigger than a commercial sense as well, Chris, because we've all been there. I went to agricultural college myself. I'm a farmer's daughter. I went into it really not knowing what more there was to do than, to work on my family farm. And those opportunities weren't pointed out to me. And actually that's really fueled part of our passion here is to take it forward and to really go out and give a presentation to unis and colleges and to say this is what the sector has to offer, these are where you can aim for, this is, all the opportunities within, and, we do find everyone's great, everyone's very receptive about who we're dealing with. And, my colleague, Alex, she actually is our college and university specialist who we've got in the company, and she is—part of her role is to actually go out and have those connections.

(Chris) And most of your, I mean, you mentioned your background there. Stuart, most of your staff do have agricultural backgrounds or qualifications, do they?

(Grace) Yes.

(Stuart) Yep, most of us, yeah, got farming, rural, agriculture backgrounds. Yep.

(Chris) But, away from the colleges, the ag colleges in particular, what level of interest is there from those who are currently outside the agricultural field? Because obviously the industry is changing. I mean, I'm involved particularly in the agriculture engineering side, and in the engineering, as we mentioned earlier, it's moving from mechanical to electronics. And you would have thought this might well interest those who would not necessarily have been interested in the past. How are you finding things?

(Stuart) For agriculture in general, there is growing interest from outside. And if we stop calling it agriculture for a minute and call it food production because effectively that's what it is, people are interested in food production, where food comes from, and are starting to understand how that is done.

So, let's take agricultural marketing, we're getting a lot of outside interest from people who want to be involved in marketing for food production, for agencies that work in agri-food marketing.

Focusing in a little bit more on an engineering side of things yes the advent of AI, and some more interesting things in agriculture like drone technology, AI technology, diagnostic technology. That is making it more interesting to engineers who have gone down the route of engineers but not necessarily in agriculture. So yes, there is definitely outside interest. It's how we harness that interest and how we make the most of that that's the difficult bit.

(Chris) And there's one other area that I've mentioned a couple of times on these podcasts. I do recall being at an open day at Sparsholt College and showing people a gleaming, lovely big tractor. I just happened to talk about the environment and immediately people—the pupils, because it was a load of school children—their ears pricked up and so selling environmental connections with agriculture would also seem to be a very important route to go.

(Stuart) Yes, and I'll agree with that. Environmental sustainability, reduction of carbon footprint in farming, all those things are attracting outside interest. And, like the more you have on TV for instance like in Countryfile, whether we're talking about regenerative farming, that is generating interest at school level and graduate level.

The point I wanted to make particularly about engineering is that once engineering graduates start down the route of, say, aeronautics or motor, then it's very difficult to pull them back out of that into agriculture. Why? Well, because often the salaries are higher, they're better looked after, they have a strong career path, they're invested in their apprenticeship programs are usually quite extensive. And so, once they start down an engineering career out of ag, yeah, it can be difficult to bring them back in.

(Chris) I was talking to a dealer recently, and I don't know whether you find this as a problem, who thought he had found an ideal candidate and not through your company I might add. And played all the way along, only to find out that he was kind of playing off one employer against another. Do you find that an issue?

(Grace) Yes.

(Stuart) Yeah, sorry, do you want me to answer, Grace, or are you going to answer?

(Grace) Well I was just going to say definitely counteroffers. Again, it goes hand-in-hand with where we're at. But, it's—there are things that can be done. We've specifically trained our team on how to deal with counteroffers, and it's not a case of just letting it run out and hoping for the best and crossing your fingers out the end.

If the people that you're dealing with, the consultants, have managed the situation right from the beginning, and said, "Look, what would you do in a counteroffer situation?" Clearly there is an element that goes beyond everyone's means. But, as long as you've done all that you can to manage that situation and not make it be a big shock at the end, then that is part of what we do. It's definitely gone up like just significantly I would say in the last year. I would say—I'd be fair to say that we're getting about 75% more of counter offers.

(Stuart) Yeah.

(Grace) ...Than we've ever seen before.

(Stuart) And it goes back, and just to support you, Grace, it goes back to what we were saying—where the market is, with two years of uncertainty, this two years of unknown, and then inflation, all these things add up to people just going, "Oh I'm going to move, I'm going to move! Ah gosh, it would be easier to stay where I am. Oh and you're going to give me some more money, are you? Alright, I'll just stay where I am."

The truth of it is that we often call these people six-monthers, because the reason why they pick the phone up, or the reason why they listen to us, is usually, "I don't feel like I've got a career path, I don't feel very supported." That's why they pick the phone up or why they listen to us. Another few thousand pounds a year doesn't make that issue go away. And it usually resurfaces within six months, they'll be back on the phone. So that's very, very common situation at the moment.

My advice to any client is look after your people, make them feel wanted. Make them so that a recruitment consultant wants to pick up the phone to them, but look after them so well that the candidate won't listen.

(Chris) That comes in a number of ways and means, and some people offer shares in the company and so on and so forth. I mean, as we all know, farming, food production shall we say, is facing a lot of financial challenges at the moment. Pay is obviously an issue. How do you find—you've mentioned something earlier about engineering students going off into aviation, other sectors—do you find that the pay structure is a challenge for you sometimes? Getting over that?

(Stuart) Do you mean in the engineering sector?

(Chris) I'm thinking generally actually.

(Stuart) Yeah, well I think I would say two things. I think we've certainly seen a creep-up of salaries following this pandemic, but you'd expect that in any market where there's short supply and costs go up. Yes, I think salary can be an issue in the agricultural engineering sector. I think you're asking people to be maybe doing, on-call seven days a week to be lying in a muddy field maybe with a computer or without computer. Whereas, you can go into the automotive sector, work in a cleaner environment 5 days a week, and that can be more attractive for you Generation Z's. Why would you want to lie in mud underneath a tractor when you can be in a Honda factory in Swindon?

(Chris) And I've talked to many people—particularly women engineers recently—in the sector who have been in the automobile industry, find it boring, too sanitized, and actually are the adventurous type, and they want to come into food production, outside careers because of that very reason. They don't want to be in a sanitized job. Grace, do you find that from some of your clients?

(Grace) I definitely think there has been an understanding from that side much more than ever before, and I do think people are starting to sort of open up. There's a lot—there's still a lot we need to do, Chris. In my opinion, we're only just scratching the surface.

(Chris) Indeed, and you—you are involved in a lot of sectors within agriculture, food production. Do the combined might of all the associations involved in that sector—do they do enough to promote the opportunities within it?

(Stuart) Good question, it's a good question. And probably the answer is no, otherwise you probably wouldn't be having the conversation. Agriculture or food production is short of people in it. But I think what we're dealing with are two things. I think we have the brand of agriculture and food production, which, for years, had people, farmers, whatever you want to call them, saying, "Hey, there's no money in farming. Why would you want to do it? I'd much rather go on holidays than do farming." We spent a long time telling anybody that wanted to listen how tough and badly paid farming was. And then 10 years later, 20 years later, we're wondering why people don't want to come to join us in this sector. I think we've got a legacy that we are changing opinions towards it which we've already discussed.

I think the other thing is, is that the individual companies within the food production and ag sector have a role to play in this as well. And I think companies are very good at marketing their products or services. Many companies are less good at marketing themselves as great places to work. And I think many people at the top of some of these businesses came through the 80s and 90s where it was, "You're lucky to have a job. Why wouldn't you want to come and work with us. Our name is whatever it is. Why wouldn't you want to come and work with us?" So, I think companies need to change that perception of brand identity and sell themselves as hard as they sell their products to be a company that people want to come and work for and feel proud to be part of. So that's the other element that I think the industry really needs to tackle. Some companies are doing it well, some other companies aren't.

(Chris) And, Grace, in your team, you, most of you, pretty well all of you, got an agricultural background. Do you find that your enthusiasm for the sector can often rub off on those people that you are perhaps interviewing, and you can open eyes for people maybe?

(Grace) Oh, yeah, definitely. And I don't—I don't blame them. There's a lot of people that think because we're in recruitment, we don't know the difference between hay and straw. And I think when they actually start speaking to you and they realize like the amount of people I spoke to and I go, "Yes, I'm a farmer's daughter myself," and you can almost hear the change. They then realize we know, we understand, we feel their pain in some areas and, that is definitely a big part of what we do and I think that's a great way of describing it, Chris, is they can understand our passion.

But flipping it the other way, they also know that we will know if they're talking about something wrong. (Laughter) We will pick them up on it. Because we are experts and we understand, and again that's part of what we're here to do, but, I definitely think that is what's needed. That passion, that drive. Those are the ones that we can, we describe as maybe diamonds in the rough. The ones that, have that passion, have those great attitudes, who are the ones that have that potential. And those are the best placements, are the ones that the clients are like, "I wouldn't have looked at them if it hadn't been for you."

(Chris) Sure. Well, look, I do thank you both for joining me today. Just one sort of last question. You—you're a specialist recruitment agency within the agriculture field. Do you compare notes with other specialist agencies? Do you get the chance to do that to really see how they're issues compare with yours? I mean, is that something that you have the opportunity to do?

(Stuart) Do you mean in the agriculture and food industry?

(Chris) No I'm thinking about other industries as well, Stuart.

(Stuart) I think certainly one of my roles is always to communicate, talk to, and benchmark what we do with the whole recruitment industry across the board. And valuable lessons should always be learned from competitors and from—from similar businesses. So yes, we're constantly learning. And I think other recruitment industries, sectors learn from us as well.

(Chris) Well, look. Thank you, thank you Stuart. Thank you, Grace, very much for this insight. One of the reasons why I wanted to hook up today is, and I don't know too much about recruitment agencies and the way you work and your ethos and your thinking, so might I thank you both very much today for your participation. Thank you.

(Grace) Thank you for the opportunity, Chris. Thanks.

(Stuart) Yes thanks for the opportunity.

(Chris) Well I find that quite an eye-opener, and certainly an interesting insight into the world of a specialist recruitment agency. I particularly like Stuart's plea towards the end, that it was important for companies to place just as much focus on themselves as a great employer as they do on promoting the products that they sell. Why, even Amazon, who are not free from media attention about some of their working practices and conditions, counteract that by spending a considerable sum on TV highlighting the positive and beneficial aspects of working for Amazon.

So, thank you to Stuart and to Grace for giving me, and I hope you, the low-down on unearthing that exact match, that ideal candidate, for a key role within your company. I'm Chris Biddle, thank you for joining me, and this is Inside Agriturf.

To listen to the Inside AgriTurf Podcast featuring Stuart and Grace, visit here.

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