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Just doing their jobs?

Analysis - Are recruitment agencies the villains of the job market, or are they just doing their best to meet the needs of their demanding clients?

RECRUITMENT AGENCIES are the pariahs of modern business; up there with estate agents as the bogey men and women everyone loves to moan about.

When there is a shortage of skilled people, or properties, tales of piratical behaviour swirl round the boardrooms and dinner tables. Poaching, gazumping, lying, masquerading and above all 'exorbitant fees' are words that can wind people into a frenzy.

So the Association for Consultancy & Engineering (ACE) will find it has tapped into a rich seam in its quest to examine the tactics used by 'unscrupulous' recruitment consultants (News last week).

The stories will come at them thick and fast. In fact some have come our way over the last few days.

Here is an example. An agency cold calls and offers engineers who thought they were perfectly happy where they were enticing new jobs with rival firms.

After just six months it contacts the engineers placed in the enticing new jobs and, when the finders fee (up to 20% of starting salary) is safely in the agency's bank, offers them a new opportunity.

This time the agency claims to be from one of its competitors to disguise the real source of any underhand behaviour.

Ooh, it's all very nasty.

The thing is, and hopefully ACE will also pick this up, the companies acquiring staff from agencies will usually be quite happy to have got them - no questions asked about the tactics employed, such is the intensity of the staff shortage.

Recruitment consultants are a very important part of the HR artillery for pretty much all construction companies. They are legitimate businesses doing a specialist job.

A major, multi disciplinary construction business can at any one time be using 60 different agencies to nd staff.

Increasingly agencies are being employed by rms on preferred supplier agreements which specify levels of service and acceptable ways of working.

This does introduce some safeguards in terms of a client's own staff.

'We have an arrangement with our recruitment consultants whereby they cannot approach any of our staff at all with offers of jobs from other firms they might be working for, ' said the HR head of one major engineering consultancy.

The staff can go to the agency to look for new work off their own bat, however.

'And obviously we don't instruct our agencies to go cold calling round our rivals. If they are doing anything in a covert way, that's unethical and we would be unhappy. But agencies do have their own databases of engineers that they can contact and it is perfectly ne to ask those people if they would like a new job, or if they have friends who are looking.

'That's normal business networking.' If you talk to the recruitment consultants they will say that they are under enormous pressure to find '20 engineers by Friday'. And clients know they are likely to come from rival firms.

'But we try to be ethical about it. If you are not, you pretty soon lose your reputation and your clients, ' said one former recruitment consultant.

'You will always get the odd rotten apple who uses underhand methods to chase his commission though, ' she said.

'Clients could help themselves by making themselves easier to join, ' the boss of one recruitment agency suggests.

'We are accused of selling off engineers to the highest bidder just to get the best fee.

But when we have a good candidate, we can find him or her 30 jobs. And the recruitment processes of some of our clients grind along very slowly. By the time some companies decide they want someone, that candidate is long gone to another business that is a bit faster on its feet.'

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