Concrete Conversation with Rob Ford

Head shot of Rob Ford
Rob Ford, Construction Director at Thorn Baker.
We had the opportunity to interview Rob Ford the construction director at Thorn Baker.
Thorn Baker Group is home to three specialist brands, Thorn Baker Construction, Thorn Baker Industrial Recruitment and Thorn Baker Estates, Facilities and Maintenance.




IM What is your role within Thorn Baker?
RF So, as a Regional Construction Director I look after the Southern portion of the Construction brand. Construction makes up about 60% Thorn Baker Groups turn over, and I directly look after the offices in London, Birmingham and Bristol.
IM And did you set up the company yourself or did you get brought in as a director?
RF I joined as a Consultant 14 years ago; my background is in the motor industry where I worked for 6 years. While I was working a lot of my friends had gone to Uni living the life of Riley while I was grafting. As they all started graduating a lot of them opted to go travelling which I decided to do for six months, three years later I ran out of money and came home. I went around the world and came back without much money but had decided that weekend working was not for me anymore so going back to the motor industry wasn’t an option. I applied for two jobs in the paper – Estate Agent or Recruitment Consultant, the rest, as they say, is history.
IM Brilliant, so you worked your way up through the company?
RF I came in brand new to recruitment, I’d never done it before and didn’t have a clue about Construction. Thorn Baker had been supplying within Construction in other offices but prior to me starting we didn’t have an office in Bristol or London, which I’m very proud to say I started from scratch. I’d been a Sales Manager in the motor industry where customer care was imperative so I just adopted the same approach.
IM Right so you had leadership experience, just learning to apply it within the recruitment industry?
RF Yes, I knew I could do it; it was just a matter of whether I could get my head around what recruitment was and the process. It quickly became apparent from a young age that I had quite a ‘salesy’ brain, so it was the same deal in recruitment as it was looking after customers looking to buy a car.
IM And is this what you imagined yourself to be doing when you were younger or something similar?

What drew you into recruitment?

RF When I was younger my Dad was a Farmer and my Mum was a Legal Secretary, so I hardly went to school on a Monday when I was younger because I went to the market with my dad and sold sheep, cows and straw. And I think when I was younger I was, in a way forced to talk to older people in that environment so I got involved with people a lot more mature than me. Because my Dad is quite a big character I just got a lot of confidence from that at a very early age and I never found it difficult to talk to people. Starting in the motor industry at 18 my exposure to sales was also at a young age so I started quite early with a mature head. All I’ve really known is that I want to work with people, always loved managing people and really enjoyed earning good money which initially was to buy nice cars but now to look after my family.


IM Was it a hard choice not to go to university?
RF I had the grades to get into University It just wasn’t part of my agenda. It didn’t really cross my mind I just wanted to work and buy a better car and save up for a house – those were my to-dos. I think people are getting a lot smarter with what they want to do at a younger age, I think what we will find with younger people is a lot more will start looking at the degree they’re doing and how it can help their future – not just going to University. When I was that age most of my mates were doing degrees because that’s what you did. I know lots of people who went to places just for the nightlife and now none of them is using their degrees in what they do now.
IM I’ve heard this a lot and agree, I think this somewhat links back to the skills shortage that Simon had previously mentioned, people are going to Uni for the sake of it rather than waiting to discover what they want to do and perusing a degree in a choice career choice. Are you seeing the effects of the skills shortage?
RF Well my biggest want and need for an employee at Thorn Baker Construction is their drive to want to work and earn money, be motivated to come in and want to learn, whether someone has been to Uni or not you do need a certain amount of intelligence to understand terms, compliance, employment law and what you are getting into. But for me its motivation and what drives people, so all sorts of background and different types of education. For our clients my team is split in two, White Collar both contract and permanent. We also supply Blue Collar temporary workers – Labourers and Carpenters etc.

So, the biggest skills shortage we are finding is tradesmen on the Blue Collar side, and I put that somewhat towards skills shortage but also a lack of migrant labour coming into the country. In the recession it was easy to fill jobs, coming out it was easy and even a couple of years ago it was still but the migrant workforce in the country that we are finding is excellent, the unreliable labour has gone.

There aren’t as many workers moving to the country which had always been part of our influx so I think there is a skills shortage.  I think Brexit has played a factor, also wages and the cost of living has risen. I suppose there are a lot more opportunities for people around the world now as well.

IM Do you think the amount of people you have out a week would be higher without these possible constraints?
RF Possibly. However, our work practice is great and our communication skills are excellent so our Clients know what they are getting from us. It became very clear when I started that in some businesses there was a practice of ‘bums on seats’ and none of our teams is like that.

We communicate to our Clients that we know our people and that we have used them time and time again, and I think the way we do things is the reason why our Clients keep coming back to us and I think the Candidates do so as well. That’s what sets us apart; my non-recruitment background has meant I’ve come into it more with a customer care head rather than ‘bums on seats’.

IM Do you feel that is what has made your team so successful?
RF Yes I do. I did extremely well as a Consultant; my client retention was great because I was just really honest and really clear on what was happening. So no one was getting any surprises and I’ve just taught all of my teams that that is the right approach and until someone comes along and says it’s not or finds a better way that’s what we are sticking with because it’s working. Back to your question about the constraints, yes I do think we may have done better but these are the challenges we have faces and if you had asked me 10 years ago “what is your biggest problem” I would still tell you that we haven’t got enough Candidates. It’s always going to be there.
IM Ah you’ve answered my next question already rob, I was going to say what do you think the issues will be in the next 5-10 years?
RF I think technology will affect the industry.  I think it has affected my previous industry, in that you can now go buy a car and take out a £20,000 loan within half an hour on your mobile phone. What we do is slightly different, we are dealing with human beings so therefore a little bit more communication is needed, it is not like a product on a shelf moving from A to B, so I think technology will change things we are upgrading and investing in technology as much as we can. So, we are looking to invest in the right tools that will help us in the long term.


IM Do you worry that apps and technology will cut out the middleman in recruitment?
RF Yeah, but I think that will always be there and necessary to the process. Whilst we are still supplying workers, people are still a key part of recruitment. Until the time we are hiring robots but by then I will hopefully be retired on a beach.
IM *Laughs* Hopefully somewhere hot and sunny!
RF *laugh* hopefully with a drone serving my drinks. I think technology will come in and change things. But I also think all the people coming into recruitment now for them that’s a good thing because ultimately, they are ten times better at technology than people my age and older, so I think it’s actually a good thing and will only make things a bit more efficient and suit the audiences coming in.

The other challenges will always be there. But the reason I’ve stuck in Construction is because things will always need to be built, things will always need to be refurbished and things will always get better, so it’s a market that will never dip even in the recession we had some excellent times and made some excellent margins because there was still markets that needed to be driven.

IM I’ve heard previously that the construction and construction recruitment industry is a really great indicator of how well the country is doing.
RF Yes, I agree it does.
IM Right well I’ll let you get back to your busy day, thank you again for taking the time to speak with me.
RF No problem, take care, Isabel.

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