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Shaw & Co x Heat Q&A: Part 2

In the 2nd part of our 3-part series in collaboration with Shaw & Co, Heat’s CEO Steve Preston discusses the biggest threats and opportunities in the sector and how demand and skills are evolving. Read the second part of the series below.


The UK Recruitment Sector: Part II

We’re taking an exclusive look at the key issues affecting the UK recruitment industry with two of the sector’s key players Steve Preston, CEO, Heat Recruitment and Tom White, CEO, 5 Values


What are some of the industry’s biggest threats and opportunities?

Steve Preston, CEO, Heat Recruitment: “The rise of AI in recruitment is something that poses both a threat and an opportunity. Its impact on recruitment is still relatively unknown but every agency must be looking at how to leverage it to improve their processes whilst not losing sight of the fact that people buy from people, and recruitment has always been about building relationships.

“There are still ongoing issues around the skills gaps that exist and the impact that flexible working and WFH policies might have on future generations and their ability to develop in an office surrounded by people sharing best practice and learning from the experience of others.

“Candidates and clients both need to have confidence to make a career move or to hire and grow their businesses, which can only be provided by stability in the economy.  Whilst the economy remains turbulent it remains a threat, but those recruitment businesses which provide exceptional service and unparalleled value will be able to turn this into an opportunity.

“Internal talent acquisition remain a big threat and our biggest opportunity. For me, we are not there to try and place as many people as we can into a business that has an internal talent team, we are there to partner with them to support as and when required. We all have targets to work towards and the internal talent teams main target is to reduce agency spend, coupled with finding the right people, which is where partnering works best.  Working with the internal talent teams and adhering to their internal processes can produce a great partnership and fruitful outcome for both. The agency places their candidates and the talent team reach their hiring objectives.”


Tom White, CEO, 5 Values: “The biggest threat to recruitment is recruitment itself. 15 years ago, when I set out in the industry, without a degree (or two) and a long of tenured time training as a professional in fields such as legal, medical or finance, it was incredibly hard to earn a great salary.

“These days the rise of the influencer and YouTuber has given rise to many different streams of income and recruitment therefore has taken a different seat and is not riding shotgun as it once was. There is still a high level of graduate intake into the industry, but attrition rates are up as people grow disillusioned to the long-term potential of the industry in search for quick wins.

“Though, having said that, the opportunity exists for business to find better balance between profit and purpose. We have been inspired by many brands across the world and tried to forge our own path to grow great people, first, better business people second, as without the former, the harder is more difficult to achieve. There’s more to life in recruitment than ‘bashing the phones’ and this evolution poses many opportunities indeed for the good of the industry, longer term.

“As previously mentioned, AI and generative AI are much hyped now and every business is pivoting towards AI to garner some of the investment from PEs and VCs in the space. AI has the chance to be good, very good, but like any technology it is plagued with potential pitfalls, so we see a lot of work going into the design to ensure a digital moral compass is kept in check amongst those developing.  This can be seen in more recent news from big tech across the pond and their AI watermarking efforts.

“There are several types of AI, the most well-known today is generative AI, the ChatGPTs and Bards that big tech are currently in an arms race over. As an all-encompassing term, AI touches on many different areas to automate and to produce results from minimal human input.

“If AI can be harnessed in the right way, there will be winners and there will be losers, so it is essential as a business you make sure you are on the right side, now. The train isn’t stopping and in fact it is picking up speed. Levels of employment will not decrease, they will in fact increase in the technology region, but will likely dip off in other sectors including more blue-collar areas and non-professional roles as these will be the easiest and least critical roles to outsource to AI.

“I believe AI will aid the human worker to increase the level of output and remove data intensive tasks that require human interpretation to decrease, in the same way the computer allowed the type writing operator to achieve more.”


How is the sector evolving in terms of the skills and people being sought?

Steve Preston, CEO, Heat Recruitment: “Demand for the qualified and experienced people is higher than ever. The golden candidate is still highly sought after, but companies are investing more into their training as they open up more junior positions. Some companies are holding out for ‘The One’ but this puts pressure on existing staff and so we have seen a cascade effect in some firms where people are under too much pressure.

“For us we have had some great experienced hires into the business, which in turn, brings a lot of external knowledge from other agencies. Nearly 30% of our business have previous experience from another agency which is invaluable to the development of the team and the business.”


Tom White, CEO, 5 Values: “Speaking from a technological standpoint, in what our clients need, automation is by far the greatest requirement stemming across all industries. To automate the testing, development or validation of software is increasing rapidly.

“Allow the machine to build its own machine and to learn by itself as seen in machine learning both at the edge and in the cloud means that companies want to achieve more output, or as a start the same output, with less people. People creating software to automate rather than doing it manually will therefore be in much demand. Recruitment still needs those people’s ambition (or crazy enough!) to want to change the world. It’s far easier to wind someone down a notch then to try and turn them up.”


If you’d like to discuss how Shaw & Co can help you sell, buy or fund the growth of a business, please email Oliver