In our latest blog, we examine Guildford, one of the local towns The Recruitment Lab operates in. We ascertain what makes the local employment market tick and determine what recruitment challenges employers and job seekers typically face.
At first glance, there really isn’t much to dislike about Guildford. It is a picturesque town bordering The Surrey Hills (an area of outstanding beauty). It has the River Wey running through the town centre. A thriving retail sector sees large, modern shopping centres and department stores blend seamlessly against the traditional, cobbled high street. There is an array of solid educational establishments for the kids, and frankly it is no wonder it has been listed several times as potentially one of the best places to live in the UK.
When it comes to the local economy things are equally positive. Guildford has a diverse and vibrant economy which has shown steady and continuous growth over a prolonged period of time. A high proportion of public sector and manufacturing jobs have given way to newer economies so that now the town not only has a solid representation in sectors such as Finance, IT and professional services, but also in gaming, advanced manufacturing, healthcare, learning, and tourism. Yes – tourism….that one actually surprises me a little….I’ll come back to it!
This economic success has not happened by chance. Guildford is a short commute from London as well as Reading and Portsmouth. It has easy access to both Heathrow and Gatwick airports and is only 20 minutes away from the M25. In short, it is well-connected and that has been part of the attraction for a number of international organisations and why they have chosen to open offices in Guildford.
Due to these factors and the towns relative economic success – Guildford is an affluent town and the numbers prove so:
Average Wage Per Annum
|*Persons aged between 16-64|
|Figures obtained from Nomis and reporting from the ONS|
The University of Surrey
One further factor that has added to the economic landscape in Guildford is the local university. The University of Surrey can be walked to from the town centre. It has over 17,000 students at the Surrey campus and it comes with a world-class reputation. It is at the forefront of some of the newest industries such as satellite, 5G and digital technologies.
While that is exciting – the Surrey Research Park then adds another dimension to it. The Surrey Research park was originally created in the early 80s. Among other things the University gains income from tenants – but it allows those tenants easier access to the knowledge, technology and talent the University holds. If you are a business with an interest in satellites or digital technologies you can gain a significant advantage over your competitors by having access to this.
The Research park alone holds 175 companies employing around 4,500 staff and it generates about £500m of economic activity each year.
Now – I mentioned tourism….well it is not just the retail sector, historical sites, the river, the local heritage and cultural activities that attracts visitors – it is also the University. Over 5000 jobs are created by day visitors to Guildford. No doubt the University plays a part in bringing in those day visitors.
Recruiting in Guildford?
So – what’s the issue. An affluent town, well located and with good transport links, a variety of innovative industries and all apparently paying above average salaries….
Well, broadly speaking the success that Guildford has experienced is the reason behind some of its difficulties recruiting and retaining staff.
Firstly, the fact that Guildford is affluent means that property and rental prices are above average. In fact, there is a large, unbridgeable and ever-increasing gap between wages and affordable housing. I appreciate this is not just a local phenomenon, but it is particularly acute in Guildford.
Subsequently young workers, apprentices, key workers and roles requiring low skilled / low paid workers are hard to fill. In many cases these workers are financially better off living and/or working outside of Guildford.
Now, let’s take the 31% of employees in Guildford who work within public administration, education or healthcare. Funnily enough when it comes to teaching, Surrey has one of the highest turnovers of staff in the country. In addition, vacancy levels among Surrey social workers are between 20%-30% and reports suggest pay levels and accommodation costs are the main barriers to recruiting talent. You see in many cases the wage for these professions is set at a national level and that means more many living in or around Guildford is unsustainable. Better to live outside of the town and commute in, or live in the town and commute for a salary with London-weighting.
This is a feature that again crops up when it comes to recruiting for the charity or the voluntary sectors. Workers can simply be difficult to find and even harder to retain. Don’t get me wrong – working for a charity should be about the spiritual rewards as much as financial, but a worker does not live on fresh air.
Private Sector Recruitment
In the private sector similar themes can be seen where employers can sometimes feel they are overpaying for the more junior members of the team or for those roles with low skillsets. In some cases, employers feel because of the wage they pay they should be expecting a broader skillset or at least something that means there is immediate commercial returns to the organisation…and sometimes it doesn’t work like that.
Improving the wage for private sector workers is not always straight forward either. When you are dealing with large multinationals who have established their head office in Guildford – they have in place a pay structure that works nationwide, but not always locally. The end result is you can be trying to recruit employees to junior and low-skilled roles and they can decline a role over salary as other roles potentially pay better.
The other glaring recruitment issue in Guildford is that the growing economy generates increased demand for skilled workers.
This is experienced among the most niched organisations working in innovative and emerging sectors. There are some very large organisations in the town dealing with gaming, satellites and 5G. They may pay above average salaries, but there is a sense they have almost scorched the local employment market searching for talent. They are now searching on a more national or sometimes international basis to find top talent. The end result in bring this global talent to Guildford is they pay big salaries and that raises the property price a little more!
The university can only produce so much talent each year, and frequently it is experience as much as talent that organisations seek.
Living, working and recruiting in Guildford is hugely enjoyable. But, like anywhere, Guildford has some unique challenges and employment issues to overcome.
Low unemployment and high employment lead to a tight employment market. The growing and ever buoyant economy means house prices are incredibly high and in turn this impacts the recruitment and retention of junior and low skilled staff and on key workers and those in the public sector. These workers could commute to London or seek opportunities outside Guildford that creates a better quality of life for them.
The innovative and cutting-edge industries demand skilled workers – lots of them. That again creates problems. The university (no matter how impressive) can supply only so much in terms of skills and experience. Thus organisations may have to undertake sustained recruitment efforts to find talent.
These problems are not unsurpassable. Just recruit with intelligence, pragmatism and awareness of the local market. Of even more importance is to work hard at your employer branding. When it is hard work attracting talent, don’t just let it then walk out the door! You want your employees to feel a real sense of belonging!
About The Author
Simon Royston is the founder and Managing Director of The Recruitment Lab (A recruitment agency with offices in Aldershot and Brighton that offers employment services across Berkshire, Hampshire, Surrey, Sussex and beyond). Simon lives in Guildford and has worked in Recruitment for over a decade. He has a degree and a masters in psychology as well as a diploma in Human Resource Management. If you would like to know more about anything written in this blog or would simply like to express your own thoughts and opinions do not hesitate to contact Simon through The Recruitment Lab website.