The Ri5 interview: Simon Pollard and Sophie Milliken

The Ri5 interview: Simon Pollard and Sophie Milliken

For a business still in its comparative youth, Smart Resourcing Solutions is achieving great things in its approach to graduate and school leaver talent. It has an impressive list of clients across the corporate and university spaces, and is beginning to turn its attentions overseas.

Not bad for a business that only came into life in 2013.

The impressive rate at which Smart Resourcing Solutions (SRS) has hit the ground running has been assisted by the previous roles of its founders, Simon Pollard and Sophie Milliken, commercial director and operations director respectively.

Both had extensive track records in graduate recruitment for corporate giants – Milliken spent 12 years at John Lewis while Pollard sent 20 years at HSBC, where latterly his role involved recruiting and developing graduates. These roles meant significant involvement with the Association of Graduate Recruiters (AGR), where they first met and were both voted onto the AGR’s advisory board representing the retail sector.

After realising they shared a commute from the north of England to the south as part of their work, they discussed the prospect of setting up on their own, on their home turf – a bold idea, not just because they had both been in their previous roles for substantial lengths of time, but also because back in 2013 the jobs market and wider economy were in a more challenging state than they are today.

Nonetheless, establishing the business back then was clearly the right thing to do. Pollard and Milliken had well-established relationships with universities as well as large corporates through their AGR involvement, offering solid foundations on which to build the business.

At the time, Pollard was also overseeing a face-to-face event for students, the Graduate Retail Careers Fair, now in its fourth year. Pollard says: “Some of the retailers say it’s the most effective fair they attend, and they hire graduates directly as a result of exhibiting there.

“It includes ’Employer Clinics’, one-to-ones with employers that take place away from the main fair, and they’re always fully booked – they’re hugely popular. From these, students and employers can make a real connection and it encourages students to do their research before turning up, so they’re a bit further down the jobseeking line.”

The event’s success, says Pollard, also helped to confirm SRS’ credibility in the early days of the business.

Pollard continues: “Before we did anything we set out to understand what the market was all about and where we could add value, in order to get established. We started with one or two proposals that led to further conversations – and our experience and reputation certainly helped in those early stages.”

“It was really helpful in getting our first few contracts,” Milliken adds. “We’ve ended up working with some very big employers, and some of those initial contracts have helped us to grow and attract new clients.”

In addition to these early successes, what followed in SRS’ second year – and since then – has been particularly impressive, with 100% growth from years one to two. This has been accompanied by additions to the team alongside a growing network of associates.

However, Millken says: “Although we’ve grown and the team has become bigger, we’re still conscious that we don’t want to be a huge, faceless supplier - it might perhaps dilute some of the quality of what we offer.

“For example, we were recently looking back at some of our work with M&S, and they reiterated how much they trust us, based on how we do things. They know if they bring us in to carry out a piece of work they can depend on us to deliver something high-quality because of the way our business operates.” 

“It’s professionalism with a personal touch”, adds Pollard, pointing out that from the start, SRS set out to act as an extension of clients’ teams rather than positioning itself purely as a supplier. “If anything crops up, which sometimes happens in the sector we work in, it means we can act quickly to resolve things so it doesn’t impact on the candidate experience,” he says.

As well as corporate giants including M&S, Expedia, BP, Boots and JP Morgan, SRS serves a number of university clients, such as Manchester Metropolitan, Leeds Beckett, Kingston and York. Among the services offered to these universities is a module that takes students through a mock job application process, offering a taster of the candidate experience as well as helpful feedback on their performance.

Pollard describes how it works: “A student can experience the process all the way from application form to assessment centre, and they receive detailed feedback in a way that they might not if they were applying for a real job. In the real world they might have no idea where they’ve fallen in the process, but we can tell them where they need to improve.”

“We’ve also seen some of those students go on to get placements and jobs, which is very satisfying – and it also proves the module works!” adds Milliken. “Some universities are very switched on to this kind of scheme and in the case of Manchester Metropolitan they embedded it into seven of their courses, so it’s a key part of those courses now.

“The students who need the most help probably wouldn’t go to something that was optional. So by making it a compulsory part of a course, it ensures it reaches those who need it.”

Pollard and Milliken are acutely aware of the challenges and limitations faced by universities, and are keen to help them and their students through their services.

“Some universities will get employers to deliver guest lectures or CV workshops, for example, but they can’t offer the end-to-end nature of a workshop like ours,” says Pollard.

Milliken adds: “I feel for careers services. They do a hard job and they’re really stretched, so it’s difficult to engage with students in the way they need to. They can’t win – if every student used their services there’d be one careers adviser for every few thousand students, which couldn’t work.”

“Universities and campuses have changed so much,” suggest Pollard. “Students are now customers; they’re increasingly demanding and careers services are expected to do more with less resource. Where our module can help is by providing the same feedback they’d get from an employer. With all respect to universities, they aren’t always in a position to do that.”

So, after an impressive first couple of years, what do Pollard and Milliken have in their sights for the future?

Milliken says: “We want to grow further, and we already have ideas around new products and services we want to explore,” while Pollard says the business wants to grow its outsourcing offering as well as turning its focus back towards the SME sector.

“We’ve also got some new ideas that will complement the university side of our offering,” he adds. “We’re still in the early stages of scoping those out. What we do, we know we do well – and our clients tell us that. But we’d like to also offer something very different to what the other suppliers can offer, so I’d say ‘watch this space’ as there’s definitely something on the horizon there.”

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

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Adam Gretton Date: May 29, 2015

Good work guys - great to see you go from strength to strength!

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