Recruitment is often cut-throat with high staff turnover. Lizzie Murphy speaks to Suzanne Burnett who says she nurtures her firm like family.
When Suzanne Burnett bought her mother’s recruitment business in 1997, it was a secretarial agency with just two members of staff.
“The pace was very slow and it used to close for an hour every lunchtime,” she says.
Under her leadership, Castle Employment Agency in Scarborough has grown to a £3.5m turnover and 23 employees, having doubled in size in the last two years. Burnett is keen to double the business, which provides temporary, permanent and contract staff for businesses across Yorkshire, again in the next three years.
“My youngest child was eight years old when I took it on and I thought it would be an ideal opportunity to get back into the workplace,” she says.
She ran Castle Employment as a general recruitment firm for many years but following a recent reorganisation of the business it is now a specialist agency working in industries including engineering, hospitality, agriculture and education.
“We have been on an upward trajectory since 1997,” says Burnett. “But I decided that if we wanted to be more successful we needed to put more impetus behind it.”
In 2014 Burnett appointed Kerry Hope as head of recruitment to set up a number of specialist divisions within the business. The firm’s strategy is to expand these divisions by appointing specialist recruiters to work across Yorkshire.
“Technology has changed hugely since I started and it has enabled us to work remotely without having an office base,” she says. “We go and meet candidates all over so it doesn’t matter where people are based.”
Recent figures from the Office of National Statistics show that the number of unemployed people fell by 54,000 to 1.65m in the three months to May, taking the rate of unemployment to 4.9 per cent, its lowest level in nearly 11 years.
“Low unemployment makes recruiting harder,” admits Burnett. “But at times like this people come to specialist recruiters like us because our consultants have those connections built up.”
In the weeks since Britain voted to leave the European Union, Castle has seen a slight slowdown in the number of manufacturing and engineering jobs being advertised. “People are holding back on making decisions,” Burnett says. We have moved into a period of uncertainty. However, generally, the numbers are still up and people are still recruiting. Financial services and human resources are two of our busiest industries.”
In addition to the recruitment business, Castle has a separate HR and employment law consultancy service, which was set up five years ago to deliver practical support to businesses.
Burnett, 53, is a huge supporter of flexible working and says 70 per cent of her workforce works part time. Having set up the business as a busy mother-of-three she knows the value of looking after her staff.
“We have a lot of people with families who struggle to work nine-to-five,” she says. “These are good people with a lot of skills and if you allow them the flexibility they need, they will do a fantastic job.”
She has worked hard to create a positive culture within the business. “I am a bit of a mother figure in the way I run the organisation,” she says.
“Recruitment can be cut-throat but we’re not like that - we value people and make sure they are happy. We are always training people and enhancing their skills.”
When her father became ill last year, Burnett took a step back from the business and they spent his last 10 weeks together, a cherished time which was documented in her fortnightly blog on Castle’s website.
“Since I became 50 I’ve been trying to step back a little bit and it’s great to have reached a stage in the business to be able to do that,” she says.
The 21st century version of the agency, which celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, is a far cry from the small hospitality recruitment business set up by Castle’s founder Hannah Levy in 1966. Recruitment businesses were unusual at the time but Levy spotted a gap in the market to deal with the booming hospitality and tourism trade that was emerging in Scarborough.
The business developed into a secretarial agency. “It was a much slower pace. If you had a job for someone you had to send them a postcard and ask them to pop in for a chat,” says Burnett. “These days everyone expects an instant response.”
She adds: “Our reach has also expanded. We have recruiters around Yorkshire but we also advertise all over and attract people from elsewhere to come and work in the region.”
Burnett is also director of Scarborough Business Ambassadors and the immediate past president of the York and North Yorkshire Chamber of Commerce.“I loved it, it was a really good role,” she says. “I wanted to be a good ambassador for the chamber and I hope I was.”
Born in Newcastle, Burnett’s family moved to Scarborough when she was four. She left school at 17 and initially worked at Yorkshire Bank but then married her farmer husband, Ian, at 20 and had her three children soon after. Her son Robert, now 25, is autistic. “Robert has made us a better family,” she says.
But with a business, three children, a farm and livery yard, life is pretty full-on.“I like to be busy,” she says. “I have a support mechanism in place and to fit everything in I have to be organised. I look to see where I want to be and how to get there in the most efficient way possible.”
Title: Managing director of Castle Employment Agency
Date of birth: April 29, 1963
Education: Scarborough College; Degree in business management from Hull University
First job: Waitress at the Tramway Cafe in Scarborough
Favourite song: 500 Miles, by The Proclaimers
Favourite holiday destination: The Greek Islands
Favourite film: Bridget Jones’ Diary
Last book read: Let it go, by Dame Stephanie Shirley
Car driven: Mercedes ML
Most proud of: My children, Lucy, Amy and especially Robert who has made us very proud.