Shirley Parsons celebrates 15th anniversary
Shirley Parsons Ltd (not Shirley herself) is fifteen years old on 1 October 2020. Ahead of the anniversary, SHP caught up with Shirley and asked her to tell us a bit more about the formation of the business, its key milestones and what changes she has seen in health & safety over the last 15 years.
Shirley Parsons is the woman behind the eponymous HSEQ recruitment firm, which was founded in October 2005. Growing up in Yorkshire with doctors for parents, it seemed like Shirley was destined for a career in medicine. But, following a short stint working on a hospital ward, she decided it wasn’t for her and began to forge her own path.
She studied an MSc in Pollution and Environmental control at Manchester University, before becoming a Scientific Officer with the London Borough of Hillingdon and then moving to a small environmental consultancy. She was knocked back when on attempting to become a partner of the business, the owner told her she wasn’t partner material, but her true Yorkshire ‘grit’ drove her to prove that she was capable of running her own business.
What was your inspiration to form the business?
Shirley Parsons (SP): “With a degree in Chemistry and a Masters in Pollution and Environmental control, my first venture into health & safety recruitment was following a lightbulb moment over a curry with the Directors of Sypol, the health & safety Consultancy I was then part of, in the late 1990s. Several of our clients had commented on the challenges they faced in recruiting good health & safety professionals and I suddenly thought that we could provide a specialist health & safety recruitment service. Fortunately, they were keen to work with us in this new venture and after a few years working as Sypol Recruit, the company Shirley Parsons Ltd was created on 1 October 2005 with just two staff.”
How did the business grow?
(SP): “I would say that the key part of our growth has been the recruitment of talented people focussed on the delivery of a high-quality service. We hired Liam, Gerry, Rebecca and Shona within a few months and I’m delighted that they are still with us 15 years later, along with 65 other staff in offices in Aylesbury and Reading in the UK, Boston and LA in the States, the Netherlands, Germany and Taiwan.”
What key attributes made the business stand out?
(SP): “In the early years we very much focussed on the health & safety recruitment market in the UK. We became the market leader in the sector and built a reputation for delivering a high-quality service. I insisted that we met candidates in person – so we built a personal relationship with them and we could be better informed about their strengths and personality when recommending them to clients. We still have that focus on relationships – understanding both our clients and our candidates and building a true partnership with them.
“My being a chartered member of IOSH has been a positive – a USP, enabling us to understand the roles more, to have access to members through conferences and seminars and keep in touch through networking. Prior to COVID-19 I had lost count of the number of dinners, exhibitions and events I had been to, enabling us to establish our H&S network. Over the 15 years we have helped over 3,000 people gain new roles.”
What have been the key milestones?
(SP): “We recruited Ben Hiner from S3 in 2013 to establish an office in Reading to focus on providing contract H&S professionals worldwide. This has been a real success and last year we had an average of 130 contract professionals working in more than 10 countries worldwide. Ben has been promoted to UK Sales Director and is a driving force in our business now.
“In 2014, setting our sights on the International market, we opened our first office in Boston in the USA with two consultants from the UK, Sam Chappell and Tim Melvin. Tim now runs our LA office and Sam continues to run our Boston office and we currently have 20 staff in the USA providing recruitment services to the US EHS sector.
“We now provide expert services within sustainability and quality, enabling us to offer the full suite of HSEQ services with dedicated teams providing expertise in these sectors.
“We have a dedicated Search service for key and senior level recruitment which has grown significantly even during lockdown. Clients appreciate the benefits that a dedicated retained search consultant provides.
“And in 2019 we created a Consultancy and Projects division using very experienced industry professionals as key retained associates. We are now able to provide consultancy and project management services to customers and can offer a more wholistic partnership within HSEQ.”
How does the US market differ to the UK?
(SP): “The US market is quite different from the UK. Employees are on employment contracts ‘at will’, which basically means that when we get them a new job, they can pretty much leave their current role straight away and join the new company a couple of weeks later. This saves the wait of up to six months in the UK, when employees can be tempted by a different role or counter offered by their current employer. Added to this, most of our competition in the States comes from internal recruitment teams rather than specialist agencies.”
How has the market changed in 15 years?
(SP): “Over the last 15 years, recruitment has changed significantly. Social media plays much more of a key role, as do webinars and now of course on-line interviews and appointments because of COVID-19. I have been so impressed with how our team has thrived using Microsoft Teams and Zoom meetings and working from home. Our traffic through LinkedIn to our website and webinars is 900% more than 2019 which shows that people are interested in engaging with us digitally. In spite of all the technology of online portals, job boards and the web – at the end of the day, people still do business with people, and delivering a dedicated, focussed and personal service is still the lifeblood of our business and will continue to be so. I am grateful to all our clients and candidates, and of course SHP, who have supported us over the last 15 years, and we look forward to a bright future together.”
You can hear more from Shirley, in a recent interview on Karl Simons’ show, the Business Hour, on Men’s Radio.