CEO Q&A: Kieran McKeown, Matrix Recruitment

Business, Interviews | Wed 1 Nov | Author – Business & Finance
kieran mckeown matrix recruitment

Kieran McKeown, CEO Matrix Recruitment, talks recruitment, GDPR and plans for the future.

Q. What are your main priorities and goals in your role?

We have fantastic staff at Matrix Recruitment so staff retention is one of my main priorities. The jobs market is hugely competitive at the moment, and I really believe that CEOs should value good staff.

It’s important for companies to grow and evolve and standing still is not an option in any industry. So in this context, an area on which I have been focusing over the past 18 months is change management and the introduction of a LEAN system. Achieving financial and operational efficiencies is crucial to the long-term success of the business and in any SME that role falls to the CEO.

Managing client and candidate expectations is an important part of my day-to-day role at Matrix Recruitment. We look for the best candidates and seek to place them in great jobs that are suited to their skills and expertise, but sometimes an element of compromise is needed and that’s where expectations have to be managed. So, for example, for the right job and a great salary, you might have to compromise on location or for a job with flexitime, you might have to commit to working the occasional weekend.

Q. What are your biggest challenges as a CEO?

Change management is a continuous challenge in the recruitment industry, as the process of recruiting is evolving all of the time. In fact, it’s such a dynamic process that it can change each time you are undertaking a new recruitment assignment. One month LinkedIn could be the most appropriate tool, but the following month it could be something completely different. So as a national recruiter we have to be agile and ready for continuous change and be experts at leveraging the best available tools, at that time, for a particular recruitment programme.

The legislative environment comes with its own set of challenges, particularly around employment law and more recently GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) that will come into effect from May 2018. There is a significant amount of work to be done around each and we are currently spending a huge amount of time and resources gearing up for GDPR, so that we are fully compliant with the enhanced regulation.

Every prudent business owner keeps an eye on the competition and interestingly enough, where we compete most is in sourcing the right candidates for our clients, which is a challenge that faces everyone in recruitment.

Q. How do you keep your team/staff motivated?

Positive feedback from both clients and candidates is hugely motivating and is always shared with our consultants. We operate in a self-managed environment and whilst everyone has set targets, we don’t berate them if they are not achieved, which I think can be terribly demotivating. Instead, we take a collaborative and supportive approach to helping our teams to succeed.

We do organise staff nights out so that the focus isn’t all on work and we hold an annual communications day, where all staff are invited to input and share their ideas on the future of their business. If they feel invested in the business they feel more motivated.

Q. What are the challenges facing your industry going forward?

Planning for the introduction of GDPR in 2018 is far more onerous that we originally envisaged and affects everyone in our industry. Staff training, updating software, monitoring paper trails, seeking permission from candidates to keep them on databases and appointing a data officer to help manage the process are just some of the steps we, and those in our industry are having to take to get GDPR-ready. As you can imagine, this really draws on a business’ resources, which creates short- and longer-term challenges.

The paucity of candidates has always been a challenge for the recruitment sector and that is not going to change anytime soon. For example, there is a real dearth of skilled tradespeople available for jobs in construction, which is a sector that is returning to growth. Many went away during the recession, found great jobs and just haven’t returned.

Q. What new trends are emerging in your industry?

When I started Matrix nearly 20 years ago the business model was effective, if somewhat basic. You worked with a client one-to-one to understand their recruitment needs and searched for a candidate to fit their profile.

Fast forward two decades and whilst we still match candidates to clients, there is a lot less face time, where we physically meet people. The process has evolved and Skype and even phone interviews are starting to replace or at least complement face-to-face meetings. This trend is set to continue and who knows what’s next as technology continues to develop.

It’s very much a candidate’s market at the moment and remuneration packages are having to change to meet new and changing expectations and lifestyle needs. Any employer that can offer flexibility in relation to working hours, working from home or flexitime is already at an advantage. Employee benefits, over and above salary are now a key focus for employers of all sizes.

What is really interesting in our industry is the emergence of new roles that are being created in digital and IT that might not have even existed 18 months ago. Data Cleanser was not a job title with which we would have been familiar two years ago, but the GDPR has created a new need and therefore, a new type of position.

Positive feedback from both clients and candidates is hugely motivating and is always shared with our consultants. We operate in a self-managed environment and whilst everyone has set targets, we don’t berate them if they are not achieved, which I think can be terribly demotivating. Instead, we take a collaborative and supportive approach to helping our teams to succeed.”

Q. Are there any major changes you would like to see in your sector?

Many recruitment firms operate a temporary payroll service for freelancers and contractors who we place in temporary employment contracts.

If an individual is working on a contract basis and this continues beyond a period of two years, then that person would be entitled to a redundancy payment in the event of the contract being terminated. This has led to contracts being offered for up to 18 months and then terminated, even though the work is still there. In this instance, companies go back to the market and recruit again for the same role, despite the incumbent having amassed significant experience, usually preferring to stay on with that company rather than having to start over and look for a new contract.

This needs to change as the way in which people work has changed. More and more employees are on temporary contracts, so legislation needs to reflect this new trend.

I would also like to see multinationals improve their payment terms for using the payroll services of a recruitment firm; it can take as long as 90 days for payment, which can really impact cash flow.

Q. As an employer are you finding any skills gaps in the market?

As a national recruitment firm we are certainly seeing skills shortages in certain areas of IT. There’s no shortage of IT trainers, but for quite specialist roles, recruiting skilled candidates can be a challenge. We could also do with more candidates in engineering and there are not enough quality laboratory personnel in Ireland.

Q. How did your strategy develop in the context of the banking crisis and economic crisis?

We cut the number of sectors on which we worked from 15 right down to four. It was a drastic measure, but allowed us to focus on areas that were viable and helped us to get through those very difficult and lean years.

Q. How will Brexit affect you, or have you started to feel the effects already?

We have noticed that clients in the food and agri sectors are being very cautious and circumspect and recruitment has certainly slowed in these areas. The hospitality industry is in a similar position and whilst it is benefiting from increased levels of tourism overall, the number of visitors from the UK is in decline, primarily because of the strength of the euro against sterling. So our clients are now looking beyond the UK to other markets, which is a new challenge for many of them.

On a positive note, I think that Brexit is bringing with it new opportunities, particularly in the financial services sector. And, whilst Ireland is certainly being looked at by the big players in this market, we also need to attract financial services professionals, including our diaspora, so that there are no skills shortages.

Q. What’s the best advice you’ve been given, or would give, in business?

I heard some very sage words recently that relate to the financials of the business: turnover is vanity; cash flow is sanity.

Q. What have been your highlights in business over the past year?

We introduced a lean programme for all of our processes earlier this year and that is already starting to yield strong results for the business. We have been nominated for a number of business awards locally, which is a fantastic testament to the team at Matrix Recruitment and always generates a great buzz around the office. At the start of the year we were recommended to a public relations consultancy that has achieved incredible results for us and has really helped raise the profile of Matrix at a national level.

Q. What’s next for your company?

We plan to build the business in niche sectors and become specialists in those areas. We are really focused on going deep where talent is scarce, as we feel we can make a significant impact and take ownership of these areas.

In terms of our own recruitment processes, we are embracing what we call the ‘future recruiter’ who has a strong mix of both social and traditional recruitment skills, which we think will enhance Matrix’s offering for both candidates and clients.

Q. What opportunities or plans for growth do you see in 2018?

We are growing our financial services recruitment division dealing with both national and international clients in this sector, so our growth will be mapping market growth, which is pretty dynamic at the moment.

The construction sector has really rebounded and there are many new opportunities there that we are looking at. We also see medical devices and pharma as key to our business for 2018.

Q. Where do you want your business/brand to be this time next year?

I want Matrix Recruitment to become a household name and one that is instantly recognised by candidates and clients.