Those who have read some of my previous articles will know I am an (employed) ambassador for flexible staffing. Indeed, as Protocol’s COO this would be a default mantra-setting, if it wasn’t already the ‘no-brainer’ for navigating a stop-start FE sector that it is.

However, I am also a champion for securing the very best talent on a permanent basis; and I think that the best balance in a college to achieve strategic academic and financial (the two are not always complementary) goals is c. 80:20 – 80% of staff should be fixed and permanent (tied down) and 20% engaged in a much more flexible way (and there are various options).

So, how many times have you been shopping for something, say for example an item of clothing, when the colour is good, the feel is good, the fit is right – but perhaps the price is niggling at you. Have you ever put it down, walked away and then had the light bulb moment that tells you that you should not only be buying the black one, but as you like it so much you should also pick up the blue one – to return and find them all gone!

Permanent recruitment, via recruitment specialists often leads to the same outcome. We offer something that may be in short supply and often available for only a limited period. Without doubt, teaching and managerial talent is in short supply; when a really good candidate is available it is inevitable that they may have multiple-representation and often have a number of choices. This is just the moment where assertive action is required, alas we often see the opposite and the college involved loses its traction, and ultimately misses out!

Common failings by colleges, resulting in the loss of the best ‘jersey heavy wool’ include:

  • Colleges are often ‘just looking’ or want to ‘look before they buy’ and have sometimes left home ‘without their wallet’. In order to avoid disappointment, always have a budget to pick up a bargain.
  • Some college structures are over-engineered and a clear vacancy (and empty desk) is required, before a replacement is actioned. Its ‘one out, one in!’ When talent comes along sometimes you need to grab it on the basis that a future teaching load is inevitable. Anticipate staff churn; it’s going to happen so recruit talent ready to take over when it is available, particularly in areas of scarcity (English, Maths, STEM, Assessors etc).
  • Some colleges over estimate their ‘sell’. Yes, some are more popular than others to work at, but the best candidate ‘is always king’. There are often 6-8 colleges in travel distance and to a lecturer each is ‘much of a muchness’. Avoid arrogance and never assume that candidates will walk over hot coals just to join your team. Be prepared to work enthusiastically to get your deal over the line and don’t under-estimate the little things such as discounted gym membership and car parking that may sway things in your favour. These cost little but say so much about your organisation and culture!
  • Some colleges want to deliberate, and when the candidate has impressed everyone who’s professional opinion is needed, a decision is still often deferred to Finance, HR or even the SLT. This is where traction is lost and so can the candidate be! Be bold, take a decision and make the offer!
  • Some recruitment fees can ‘make you wince’ and clearly such expenditure must be fully justified. However, for a fair fee of say between 20 and 15% of starting salary? Come on, you cannot place a hard-copy advert for that money let alone have the choice of numerous pre-screened candidates who are ready to start! Pay the recruiter a fair fee for a lot of unseen work done. This work is often at risk to the recruiter and is more often fruitless than productive. Build a rapport and the price will inevitably reduce for a bit of loyalty and repeat business.

In summary, too much time is lost between one lecturer leaving and his / her replacement arriving. It needn’t be the case if you set a modest budget aside to help you recruit in a timely manner, releasing your scarce HR resources to focus on Organisational Development and your curriculum staff to focus on curriculum planning and delivery. Leave recruitment to the likes of specialist agencies like Protocol who do this every single day, and when the opportunity comes to recruit the best candidate, be decisive and bold.

Ian Sackree FCCA is the Chief Operating Officer at Protocol. Ian joined Protocol in September 2014 having previously spent 10 years as Vice Principal and Deputy CEO in a hi-performing large GFE College.

Protocol has recently launched a brand new tiered permanent recruitment service which provides a unique blend of efficiency, thoroughness and cost effective solutions. To find out more visit

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