Showcasing the Best of Welsh Business

Exclusive Interview: Che Hookings, CEO of the Recruit 121 Group

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As part of our ongoing series of interviews, Business News Wales spoke to Che Hookings, CEO of the Recruit 121 Group.

  1. Can you give our readers a little background into yourself and your role within Recruit 121.

My name is Che Hookings, and I am the CEO of the Recruit 121 Group. I have worked throughout Europe within the professional recruitment industry for over 20 years. My job is two fold. Firstly, to ensure that each individual understands they are the architect of the company’s future and secondly that they feel supported, respected and empowered to undertake that responsibility.

  1. Here at Business News Wales we are hearing a lot about innovative technology such as VR and its impacts  on the recruitment industry. What trends can you see changing the world of recruitment in 2018?

There have been a number of ‘ground breaking’ innovations in recruitment technology, starting with the move away from Rolodexes to the uprising of the online job site in the mid 90’s. Currently the emphasis is around Google Jobs, Artificial Intelligence and Machine learning. The latter two are primarily aimed at crawling the internet quickly and providing accurate matching solutions. It’s still a long way off, so the accuracy of results is questionable and it does not take into account one key factor, the need for validation. There is no doubt that these technologies will revolutionise what we do, but I don’t believe recruiters should run scared just yet.

  1. We know that you are currently planning the inaugural Finance Awards Wales event; tell us more.

The awards were a brainchild of an esteemed colleague of mine. Prompted by a commuter time train ride from Cardiff to Bristol where he noticed the significant number of professionals heading East from Cardiff. Despite Wales’s financial services sector growing faster than anywhere else in the UK, it still had an image problem, often luring people to Bristol and London, possibly unaware of what was available to them on their doorstep.

Conversely, one of my companies within the group, Recruit 121 Finance and Accounting Solutions which has a deep understanding of the Finance sector in Wales, was experiencing first hand the shortage of skilled professionals across all functions. Not only for the senior positions in industry, but essential components such as Payroll and Credit Control were in high demand.

This led to the ideas around how we could promote and celebrate the achievements and opportunities within the Welsh Finance industry. Lets reverse the die and stop people from commuting eastwards and possible attract some the other way across the Severn.

  1. What do you think are the most important qualities for success in recruitment?

The recruitment industry is awash with malpractice. Primarily as the barriers to entry in mainstream can be very low. Sales is often prioritised over service. Thankfully, this is changing when Clients and Candidates expect more and the industry puts more emphasis on training. However a resulting hang up from this is that it can be difficult in the first stages of engagement to differentiate yourself. You need to be resilient to take the knock backs you will invariably receive from Clients and Candidates who have often been bombarded with varying levels of professional skill or courtesy from other recruiters.

You need to be analytical and be able to self reflect to enable you to understand where and how you may be able to best offer your services. You need to be able to manage multiple concurrent scenario’s, all which will be at different stages. Finally, most importantly, recruitment is contingent on everything coming together and staying together. We work with people who have no formal obligation to you other than the relationship equity you build through the delivery of your services. Despite your best efforts, accept failure gracefully, as things often fall through.

  1. Do you have any predictions with regards to the impact of Brexit on your sector?

I am an eternal optimist and believe that the ‘polarity’ of the news that people listen to creates its own outcome. I would like to think that whilst Brexit would not have been my choice, now we are underway it has shaken the pot which can often be a good thing.

  1. What do you think Wales’ strengths and weaknesses are as a place to work?

One key strength is the pride we have in our Nation, that underdog factor that rallies such a stirring. You can propagate an idea to the Welsh by the passion associated with it being Welsh, but how do you create a broader appeal. Revelling as the underdog does little to coerce the skills and experience we need to come or indeed remain here.

  1. How important is it for there to be a close relationship between business and higher education in Wales?

The direct and in-direct benefits are vast, especially due to the population of Wales in proportion to that of the UK as a whole. Higher Education creates mobility in the young professionals of tomorrow, taking them to places they may otherwise not experience. The role of business and industry is to work with higher education to support and influence  courses that attract students but also to showcase the opportunities that are available to them in Wales after their education.  We work in partnership with Cardiff Unversity and in particular the Cardiff Business School and were nominated as a placement partner. The programme run by the University enables the top 100 students (out of 450 students) who from the evidence (course work and exam results) are in line to get a minimum of a 2/1, to apply to the nominated employment partners. Therefore we currently have 2 students getting the opportunity to get work experience whilst studying in their chosen fields.  This both benefits them as it gives them a clear advantage when looking for a job after graduation and gives them an edge in a very competitive market.

  1. What are your plans for the next five years, and where do you see your challenges and opportunities?

We have grown significantly over the last 18 years, but particularly in the last 12 months  with around fifty employees currently working across the group in one of the specialised recruitment sectors. We will continue to be known as specialists and for delivering only the highest level of service and will look to expand our capabilities across regions. We have a number of specialisms within the group, namely Finance and Accounting Solutions, which delivers its services within Wales, a technology recruiter, specialising in the delivery of SAP experts across more than twenty countries and an Education Services provider.