Tough But Successful

Spencer Symmons, co-owner at CPS Group discusses the business, one year one from the start of the pandemic.

It’s now been a whole year since the Covid-19 pandemic began to overwhelm the UK, forcing businesses to close their doors and all of us to stay inside. Though we’ve spent 12 months doing the Hokey Cokey in and out of lockdown, with peaks and troughs of freedom and restrictions, for many it feels like the year has been spent on pause. A frustrating and worrying place to be.

Thankfully, that hasn’t been the case for us. Our clients haven’t stopped working, and neither have we – in fact, we are on course to achieve our second best financial year since the business began almost two decades ago. That’s not to say it hasn’t been a tough year. We’ve had to adapt to things that no one saw coming and the only thing that feels certain this year is uncertainty. But, just as we’ve done for the past 12 months, we’re going to continue to make bold moves in order to grow the business.

I would hope – as I’m sure anyone would – that I’ll never have to live through another year quite like this, but looking back I can see a lot of our decisions were the right ones.


No redundancies

It’s not a particularly common story being told from the past year, but we are incredibly happy to say that over the past 12 months we haven’t had to make anyone within the company redundant.

As any agency will tell you, it’s an eternal truth that recruiting recruitment consultants is one of the most difficult hiring tasks. So, with that in mind, there was absolutely no way we were going to lose the brilliant talent that we’d built up. I honestly believe we have some of the best consultants in the business, and I’m not going to push them into leaving.

We were in a fortunate financial position in March 2020 which meant we could tackle the upcoming crisis head on. There’s no denying, however, that without the dedication and commitment of our employees, that ability to weather the storm would have been impossible. Letting them go when we had other options wouldn’t just be a disservice to them, it would severely impact our growth and recovery when things picked up again. So, we let everyone know – consultants and back-office team – that their jobs were safe from redundancy. Instead, our board of directors took pay-cuts, and we applied for a CBILS (Coronavirus Business Interruption Loan Scheme).


No furlough scheme

The Coronavirus Jobs Retention Scheme (CJRS) or ‘furlough’ has been used by many businesses, and it makes a lot of sense for organisations, such as those in hospitality and leisure who have been forced to close in the past year. But it wasn’t right for us. I know many recruitment businesses did make use of the furlough scheme and there’s no denying the sector took a hit, but we knew the work was out there. We were fortunate in that technology hiring was less affected compared to that of other industries, but we pivoted to new areas too.

Ultimately, ignoring the furlough scheme benefitted both the business and our employees. It meant we were all able to keep working, protected mental health, ensured a sense of job security and didn’t stall development.


Continue with expansion plans

Cardiff will always be our home, but since 2018 we’ve opened three new offices: London in 2018, Amsterdam in 2019 and Bristol in 2020. Obviously, no one has been able to spend a lot of time in the Bristol office so far, but this is still an important foothold for us.

By opening the Bristol office, we make ourselves more accessible to our clients in the South West and open the business up to a whole bank of new talent, who wouldn’t have considered a role with us ‘across the bridge’. We have ambitious hiring plans, and when the furlough scheme ends and more consultants find themselves facing redundancy, we’ll be ready and waiting to snap up that talent.


Promote, hire and reward

The last 12 months has made people take stock of their lives and question what they want from their careers. Plus, while the jobs market may still be recovering, there are always jobs out there for highly talented individuals – and those people don’t want to sit still and wait around for career progression when things are ‘back to normal’.

We’ve made five promotions in the last 12 months, which included creating two new senior roles, a permanent director and contracts director. These appointments in particular confirm our commitment to our staff and our ambition to grow.

When the first lockdown was enforced in March 2020, we did pause our hiring. This was important to take stock, protect our current staff and ensure any new recruits could begin with certainty and stability. By June 2020, we were hiring again in earnest and we have recruited for eight roles since then. This includes another senior appointment for our London office.


Be open to what’s new

Throughout the past year we’ve been unafraid to make bold decisions and take our own path. This attitude, I think, is what has ensured our success. While other businesses – understandably, perhaps – battened down the hatches and waited for the storm to blow over, we were agile. We adapted to every change in restrictions as it came, exploring all of our options to keep working and growing.

We began serving new areas and new customers – often those whose usual recruitment partners were unable to help them, as they had placed almost all of their staff on furlough. Our consultants stepped up to the plate to work on new desks and serve the busiest areas of the business, and our back-office team rallied to keep everyone motivated and engaged while working from home.

It’s never easy to change your business in response to unexpected changes, particularly one on such a global scale, and especially if things had been going well beforehand. But it’s definitely paid off for us. As well as growing the business, opening new offices and announcing new appointments, we’ve been able to pay back our £100,000 coronavirus business interruption loan in full – five years before we needed to. We’re back in the list of the top 100 recruitment firms in the UK, and we’re ending 2020/21 in an incredibly strong position.


Looking ahead

There’s still a lot of fear and uncertainty around the jobs market and economic recovery, but things feel much more hopeful compared to this time last year. The rollout of the vaccine, combined with the ‘super-deduction’, which could reduce the tax bill for both us and our clients, make this a brilliant time to invest.

They say fortune favours the brave, and I’d say that sums up the past 12 months nicely. It’s been tough, no doubt about it, but opportunity is always there for those bold enough to find it.

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