November marks the 15th birthday of APSCo. Ann Swain and a committed group of 16 founder members got together in 1999 to form APSCo and fight the proposed IR35 legislation.
As I ate my commemorative cupcake this week, I began reflecting on how much APSCo and our industry had developed over the last 15 years.
I was firstly struck by the real evidence we see of industry consolidation as only 5 of those founder members still exist in their original form. Manpower and Alexander Mann stand out as names and brands with longevity, Harvey Nash has continued to grow Internationally and Computer Futures evolved into the highly successful and respected SThree. Of the 5 survivors, perhaps Parity is the only one that hasn’t lived up to its early promise.
The other 11 have all merged or been acquired. MSB is now part of Networkers International, Abraxas is part of Randstad, Elan is part of Manpower as Experis, and both QA Myriad and Hutchinson Smith (remember them?) became part of Hays. Apex joined the highly acquisitive TMP, whilst a big consolidation play in IT saw Glotel, Spring, Computer People and modis all become part of Adecco. Finally, the last week or so has seen founder member Lorien, join Impellam in a well-publicised and interesting deal.
In asking opinion formers about other significant trends in our sector, comments were made about globalisation, social media, the rise of the niche player, the use of technology, and the whole trend toward flexible working and the importance of employee engagement in a competitive world.
Commenting on the trend to consolidate Graham Palfery Smith , a seasoned Non Exec and board adviser to the sector said “There is no doubting the commercial logic of consolidation plays and many have worked, in various fashions for limited periods, but nobody, arguably, has got it exactly right yet. Culture and ego clash can be blamed in many cases and in others it is simply down to lack of long term planning and short-sighted management or investment. Having said that, I like what Brendan Flood is doing at Staffing 360 at the moment, he has a clear and consistent plan; also the rise of Impellam is interesting, Allegis, with Sean Zimdahl involved, cannot be underestimated and Recruit has a good chance if they buy wisely outside of Japan.”
Pat Brown, MD at IQ Education said economic changes have been the most significant and the recession of 2008/9 pulled everyone down. He cited the need for proactivity in saying “Gone are the days when jobs come to you”. (Although Camino is open for business to anyone reading this!)
Chris Herrmannsen, a sector entrepreneur and investor highlighted a couple of mega trends. Firstly the polarisation of customer needs from the recruitment industry. “Back in ’99 we had a £20 billion industry, working a conventional transaction based model. Since then, client needs have become more complex and sophisticated, with needs around talent acquisition and talent management.” As a result Herrmannsen has seen two diverging trends. “The spot, transactional recruitment specialists have become more and more niche and specialist, whilst others have moved to the strategic partnership model. This has been led by the RPO’s but a number of conventional businesses have also changed their model to offer more integrated solutions.” He cited examples in the oil and gas market where recruiter solutions now extend to travel, accommodation, visas, on boarding and other services, to deliver a complete package to their clients and contractors.
As for APSCo, 15 years on? APSCo is now a thriving and respected trade association delivering a range of excellent services and member benefits and growing at a record rate. I asked Ann Swain for a comment and she said “It could have been worse.” This was not an uncharacteristic understatement, but a comment on what could have been an embarrassing typo in my email. Somehow original had been turned into origami!