Lifting the lid on cowboy recruiters

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Living in the shadows can be a lonely place made all the more tiresome by the absence of a recognised professional footing on the corporate ladder; Annie Hayes caught up with the Recruitment Employment Confederation on the eve of the launch of its first ever degree in recruitment.

It’s hard to fathom why the bold steps towards professional accreditation haven’t been taken before now. After all the recruitment industry is a powerful market and an important cog in the labour market wheel. Worth £24 billion a year, Gareth Osborne, Managing Director of the Recruitment Employment Confederation (REC) told me that the industry was fired up and now more ready and willing than ever before for a professional standard of this kind:

“Ten years ago the industry was worth just three billion. That has grown beyond all recognition to around £24 billion a year. It’s time for the industry to mature and build a reputable career path for its people, the first ever degree in recruitment will do that.”

Joining forces with academics, Middlesex University Business School the REC will deliver a new suite of qualifications perfectly polished and honed specifically for the recruitment industry.

For many years recruitment practitioners have had access to two industry qualifications: the Foundation Award and the Certificate in Recruitment Practice.

And the standards are not to be sniffed at for every year 2,500 proud recruiters pass through its ranks and the numbers say the REC are swelling.

But with more recruiters wishing to progress their studies to a higher level the REC and the Business School have been working on the development of a Foundation Degree leading to a BA in Recruitment Practice in order to meet the needs.

To pave the way for the introduction of the degree level qualifications the REC’s existing qualifications are being re-branded. The Foundation Award in Recruitment Practice will become the new Certificate in Recruitment Practice giving holders the entitlement to use the letters CertRP while the existing Certificate in Recruitment Practice will become the new Diploma in Recruitment Practice – users gaining the eligibility to use DipRP.

This will mean that the recruitment industry can now offer a four-tier qualification framework.

"It's all about raising the standards and esteem of people within the industry," explained Judith Armatage from the REC. "Quite simply we want to attract people into the recruitment industry who see recruitment as being a good career choice with exciting development opportunities."

For years the recruitment industry has been dogged by the underhand tactics of the cowboys. The free market has allowed any man and his dog, seemingly to set up office, get a few candidates and start trading. So long as you had a phone, a few contacts and some clients then you were away.

Big players aside; getting on HR’s preferred supplier list was a game of chance. A little ‘gift of the gab’ and you might be in but that was no guarantee to HR that the delivery of services would carry the hallmarks of professionalism.

I asked the REC whether the new qualifications would help to keep the lid on the cowboys:

“I don’t think it will stamp them out but what I do believe is that the new qualifications will widen the divide between the professional upper-end of the industry and the cowboys at the other,” commented Osborne.

And that can only be a good thing for HR professionals looking to hone their preferred supplier lists.

One of the best elements of the course is its relevancy to everyday situations. Students can jump in and out of the course and tailor the learning to their particular needs. The work based learning involves following a study programme centred around the recruiter’s role at work.

The cost is therefore staggered accordingly and accreditation is based on gaining credits. With 240 you will have gained a Foundation Degree.

For roughly the cost of one placement fee you could have a BA under your belt and it is for this reason that some of the big boys like the Blue Arrow are putting their recruiters through the programme while smaller outfits are also showing marked interest.

The CIPD’s own professional accreditation programme has completely infiltrated the HR profession. Most HR jobs now require candidates to have gained the standard. Whether, this new suite of qualifications will ever dominate the industry in the same way is yet to be seen. But what is certain is that for HR the new standards will help them distinguish the cowboys from the big boys and with £12 billion having been spent on ‘bad’ recruitment in 2003 alone that can’t be a bad thing.

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