Jason Howles is a “Go To” Recruitment Specialist for Bus and Coach Drivers. Here, He Shows How Knowledge Brings Success.
Jason Howles epitomizes the modern recruitment consultant.
It’s very easy to think of head-hunters as hard-bitten salespeople who take no prisoners in their mission to find the right talent. Working for soulless corporations and drinking far too much caffeine, they do whatever it takes.
Fortunately, Jason is a million miles away from these tired Hollywood clichés. His British politeness and gentle humor are the perfect antidote to these stereotypes.
Jason works for Woodrow Mercer, a high-tech recruitment company with a refreshing approach, and without the high-octane drama.
Woodrow Mercer’s approach is deceptively simple.
Our aim is to know exactly what skills businesses require and match these to the perfect candidate; bridging the gap between employers and candidates allowing a seamless, recruitment solution.
In this article, we look at some of the problems faced by the industry before interviewing Jason, who provides a useful insight into recruitment and the transport industry.
Before we start, let’s look at the company. Woodrow Mercer is a relatively new entrant into recruitment, but the agency has grown quickly.
A Background: The Rise of Woodrow Mercer
It’s hard to believe that Woodrow Mercer didn’t exist seven years ago. From a team of two, working in Birmingham, UK, the company has become a leading recruitment agency. Now, there are additional offices in London and Leeds, and plans to expand into Europe.
Woodrow Mercer’s key to success lies in exploiting niches. The company specializes in recruiting candidates for a number of fields, and has a simple philosophy of focusing its efforts into specific areas. They make sure that their recruiters become experts in their field.
Here at Woodrow Mercer, we know how essential it is to recruit only the best people; after all, you are only as good as the people who work for you. We select our consultants based on knowledge and experience they have of a particular sector; they listen to their clients and understand how the market works, this allows us to build long-term relationships with clients and partners alike. Our consultants make us what we are, providing an outstanding service for both clients and candidates.
Jason shows how this approach works. As a recruitment specialist for the transport industry, he seeks candidates to fill all roles for bus, coach, and private hire operators.
He immersed himself in the industry to understand its unique needs and the problems it faces, visiting countless depots, learning to drive a bus, and spending time on the front line.
Because of this, he and Woodrow Mercer have bucked the trend and succeeded in an ultra-competitive recruitment market.
Why is Recruitment so Tough?
In the UK, recruiting coach drivers is notoriously difficult. At present, agencies face pressure on two fronts.
On one side is simple competition. Recruitment is a lucrative industry, and new companies spring up, crowding the marketplace and fighting for their share.
On the other hand, the transport industry suffers from a decreasing pool of suitable candidates. This is a particular problem when recruiting bus and coach drivers.
Staying Ahead of the Pack
Yet, in this brutal marketplace, Jason and Woodrow Mercer are succeeding. Using technology and a new approach, they have risen above these problems.
At Woodrow Mercer we are proud to do things differently. We have thrown the recruitment rule book out of the window and replaced it with an emphasis on trust and partnership.
Their innovative, constantly evolving approach uses modern IT solutions that match candidates with jobs. However, they also take a refreshingly old-school approach of learning the business and seeing things through the eyes of clients and candidates.
A Problem of Recruitment
Many of us take bus and coach drivers for granted. We want to get on a bus, pay the fare, and arrive at our destination, safely and on time. However, there is a big problem. The UK industry is facing a recruitment crisis, and it is difficult to find the drivers we need to get from place to place.
Across the industry, companies cannot fill their driver quotas, and solving the problem has become a priority for the government, employers, and unions.
Many factors contribute, including antisocial hours, abuse from customers, and low pay. Other problems are the cost of training and earning a license.
As someone immersed in the business, Jason understands the issues.
These include the reliability of individuals, shortage of candidates in certain geographical areas, the reputations of operators, pay rates, and competition from direct competitors or other driving opportunities.
Commonly, it is a blend of the above issues.
How can a recruitment company overcome these problems?
For Jason, an industry specialist, how can he find recruits?
How can he ensure that his clients receive a steady flow of skilled drivers?
We put forward some questions for him, which provide an illuminating insight into the industry and show how recruitment agencies can rise above these issues.
Quality Over Quantity
Aware of these problems, Jason and Woodrow Mercer had to fight to succeed in a competitive industry with a diminished pool of skilled drivers.
Accordingly, they developed a strategy of developing expertise and emphasizing high quality candidates.
We address that by, firstly, being market experts. This enables us to speak to candidates with confidence that we have a deep understanding.
This idea of openness and honesty is something that recurs frequently, alongside focusing on working smart.
This comes from having a good line of communication with the hiring manager so we can find out extensive details of the role.
We are more about the quality of applicants and working smartly to increase reliability and retention rates.
Perception and Reality
Accusations of low pay, unfair hours, and abuse follow the industry, but are these fair?
Jason argues that there is some truth, but it is exaggerated.
Perceptions of the industry are generally driven by people who have had bad experiences.
He argues that unsociable hours are part of the job, although companies can mitigate the problem.
It is a part of the industry that will probably never change…it does discourage people from either coming into the sector or can force people to leave.
The vast majority of drivers who take these roles are happy to work as many hours as possible.
For drivers with families and other commitments, operators have a level of flexibility, but it is simply not practical to employ everybody on this basis.
Enhancing pay rates isn’t the answer, but Jason believes that drivers working unsociable hours should be rewarded.
That seems like a fair compromise to us!
Enhancing pay rates can help in this situation but, if someone is prepared to work unsociable hours for more money, they could have worked them in the first place, so it is a pay related issue.
That said, people who do work these more unsociable hours should be rewarded.
Abuse and Protection
We have all seen bus drivers receive abuse from Friday night drunks, or unfair complaints from stressed commuters.
Regarding abuse/complaints, this is unfortunately something that does make a lot of people leave the sector.
It is an area where companies can support their drivers and turn around the negative images.
I think operators who fit extensive CCTV/monitoring equipment can massively reduce, eliminate, or deter any potential abuse.
This should eliminate any wrongful complaints and protect the employee.
Training and Recruitment
One problem with the driving industry is that job offers are conditional on passing a test.
No pass, no job, so how can you encourage a candidate to leave another secure job?
As always, preparation and honesty are crucial.
I think the key to this is being very honest and transparent with the candidate.
We cannot guarantee that they pass any test. We can, however, prepare them as best as possible.
When it comes to preferred candidates, there is a difference between coach driving and bus driving.
Bus companies are more willing to seek young, inexperienced drivers and provide training, while coach companies prefer the tried and tested.
Bus and coach operators seek experienced recruits because they start work almost instantly, with minimal training.
From experience, bus operators are more likely to employ younger candidates…People become trainee bus drivers, obtain their PCV, work on service routes and then either stick to that or explore opportunities in coach driving.
One problem is that, for a job with strict license requirements, who pays for the expensive training?
Naturally, companies are unwilling to pay for training without protecting their investment, but candidates might not be able to afford the expensive process.
As always, Jason looks at things from both sides.
Companies who put their drivers through initial training or ongoing development training get them to sign bonds.
Building a Career
Jason does not agree with the perception that bus and coach driving can be career dead ends. He has seen many drivers move through the ranks.
A large number of the managers I work with have progressed through from lower level roles.
Obviously, there are only so many senior positions so it will be impossible for everyone to be promoted.
I think if a driver pushes for the right development, they will give themselves every chance.
Why is Everything About Brexit?
We know that everybody is bored of Brexit, but we have to ask!
On this subject, Jason knows as little as everybody else.
Until this actually happens, it is hard to say how it will affect recruitment directly.
Whether continental drivers are able to drive on the left is much more important. Language competency is also a factor, because customer-facing employees need to communicate.
We have had operators who are reluctant to employ non-UK drivers for a variety of reasons, including driving on the left.
Language is a barrier too, as coach operators focus massively on customer service.
A Source of Competition
One factor affecting recruitment is competition from similar sectors. If you can drive a big bus, you can drive a truck, and some drivers prefer other opportunities.
As always, Jason believes that transparency and honesty are important.
I would say the pay and working conditions are different.
Generally, HGV Class 1/2 work does pay slightly higher than PCV driving, and a number of drivers have gone out of the sector to pursue these driving opportunities. They very rarely come in the other direction.
Again, we can only sell/present the opportunity to the candidates and let them make up their mind.
Beyond Driving – The Essential Skills
Someone can be the best driver in the world, but if they hate working with the public, you have a problem.
As an agency, Woodrow Mercer help candidates prepare as much as possible, and argue that those less comfortable with public interaction can find other driving opportunities.
As an agency, we screen all our candidates fully for each opportunity.
We offer as much advice as possible.
Generally, people who do not want to work with the public will go into more non-customer facing roles (HGV or logistics).
An Important Lesson: Expertise and Building Niches
Jason Howles, recruitment specialist of Woodrow Mercer
Overall, we enjoyed discussing things with a real expert, deeply immersed in their field. Now, we understand recruitment, and we gained unique insights into the bus and coach industry.
Perhaps, we will even stop taking bus drivers for granted.
Jason and Woodrow Mercer provided some lessons for us all with their focused, client-driven approach. What impressed us most about Jason was his deep knowledge of his industry. Jason understands the problems faced by clients and candidates. For every problem we threw at him, he had the answer.
Some businesses see driver shortages as an obstacle, but Woodrow Mercer see it as a challenge that forces them to innovate and adapt.
A business isn’t defined by how it performs during the good times, but by how it performs during the tough times.
Knowing what to look for and how to match the right person to the right job is something that can take a long time to understand and multitude of experience to perfect. We pride ourselves on doing things differently; throwing out the recruitment rulebook and replacing it with an emphasis on trust, partnership and a shared common goal of finding the right person, first time.
By remaining focused, listening to your clients and your candidates, you can match people to jobs and develop a strategy that helps you succeed even when all around you are failing.
Too many companies simply play the numbers game and think that sending bucket loads of CVs is the answer. This interview has shown us that knowledge is the key to promoting quality over quantity.
Understanding how the market works and building long-term relationships with clients is the key to our success. We go the extra mile to provide a slick, efficient and bespoke service that is tailored to your needs. We pride ourselves on customer service levels and our professionalism.
Constant learning, market expertise, and client-driven approaches are basic business principles, but many companies forget these. Instead, they rely on sound bites, business-speak, and other corporate BS.
While Woodrow Mercer uses technology to underpin its business, it’s the hands on approach from people like Jason that brings success.
This is crucial for industries working in niches. What sets you apart from the larger companies, with their generic approaches, is subject knowledge, working closely with clients, and developing a unique understanding of their problems, allowing you to work together to find solutions.
It might be a cliché, but rarely does win/win sound more appropriate.