Recruitment in Guildford comes with its own set of unique challenges. In this blog, we check out what makes the local market tick and determine what recruitment challenges employers and job seekers 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 where 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 that 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 the new economies. Guildford has a solid representation in sectors such as Finance, IT, and professional services. Granted so do most towns! But Guildford can also boast about more diverse areas such as 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 is no accident. 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 the attraction for a number of international organisations that 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. 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 significant leverage over your competitors by being in this environment.
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, historical sites, the river, the local heritage, and cultural activities attract visitors – and so does 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 regarding recruitment in Guildford. An affluent town, well located and with good transport links. A variety of innovative industries all apparently paying above-average salaries….
Well, broadly speaking the success that the town has had is now adding to the difficulting of recruitment in Guildford 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 living in or around Guildford it’s 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 and voluntary sectors. Workers are simply 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 sometimes feel they are overpaying junior or low skilled workers. Employers can feel that with the wages they pay they should see a broader skillset or more direct commercial returns…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 salary keeps coming up as a stumbling block.
The other glaring problem for recruitment in Guildford is that the growing economy generates increased demand for skilled workers.
This is most acute with the niched organisations working in innovative and emerging sectors. There are some very large organisations in the town dealing with gaming, satellites, and 5G. Moreover, they may pay above-average salaries, but there is a sense they have almost scorched the local employment market searching for talent. They now search on a more national or sometimes international basis to find top talent. The end result is they pay top dollar to attract the talent to Guildford…and those big salaries push the property price a little more!
The university can only produce so much talent each year, and frequently it is experience as much as fresh-faced 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 mean 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. Subsequently, that 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. Recruitment in Guildford means you 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 master’s 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.