My 20 years of working with the recruitment industry and championing mental health

Kris England Smith
Penta Consulting, Group Operations Director


Why did you choose the recruitment industry as the area you wanted to work in?

I originally worked as a salesman within the car insurance industry, but within a short time period, I knew that type of role within the automotive industry wasn’t really for me. However, I had quickly established the elements of that role that I was enjoying, such as being on the phone with customers, building relationships, and the process of making a sale. After chatting with a friend of my mother’s about my frustrations of the role, she recommended that I speak to a contact of hers about a role within recruitment. When I arrived, the offices were packed with people on the phone selling and there were a lot of nice cars in the car park, which for a guy in his mid 20’s was a big plus point, but it was mostly the great atmosphere and the buzz that I felt from the very first interview that drew me into this industry.

After working for one organisation for 6 years and learning a wide variety of skills, I decided to join Penta Consulting and be part of the journey to build a business and aim to challenge some of the stereotypes of the recruitment sector. I also saw Penta as a place that I could professionally and personally develop, and over 20 years on I am delighted to say my role and the direction of the company have never been in such an exciting position.

What do see as the biggest challenges across the recruitment industry today?

Companies looking to recruit their direct in-house teams, which challenges the traditional recruitment business model, but taking a wider view I feel the pure recruitment model is evolving into a more value-added services approach to deliver complete solutions. However, I still see the recruitment business challenge being able to locate, source, and confirm the hard-to-find, skilled and talented people their clients are looking for. I’m also looking at how businesses can adapt quickly to be able to provide a wider range of services and solutions to keep them competitive.

I also feel the challenge for the industry is to better understand what services the customer will look to buy, and more importantly what they won’t buy anymore.

Then if we think about the traditional phone call style selling, are you looking for people? do you need anybody? I feel that singular type of offering is going to become more difficult to build up strong client relationships which lead to successful businesses.

I’m also seeing clients demanding more from their partners, which no doubt will increase over the coming years (fewer partners providing more services). So, in my view, the market is changing its perception of what recruitment services should look like, and some companies (like Penta) are ahead of that curve.

How do you compare the services and solutions Penta offer today, to those when you first started?

In 2001 Penta solely focused on a range of telecommunications industry resourcing solutions, which were delivered across the world for some of the world’s leading telecoms companies. So, today after doing that for over 20 years we are renowned around the globe for that type of service excellence and also our ability to locate difficult to find talent in remote countries (i.e Afghanistan to Columbia) which is something that separates us, as many other organizations struggle to deliver this.

We’ve also had to build our expertise delivering on fully compliant solutions, meaning all of the ins and outs of hiring people and moving them across borders. So, as we evolve into a different type of business, we always keep at our core that we are a people business first, we share expertise with our clients, and this is what has kept us at the cutting edge of the industry…along with a fantastic team of Penta people.

Today we are bringing new people into the Penta business that have amazing experience selling technical solutions and software as a service to complement our existing core strengths of resourcing experience, so this creates a very powerful offering to our customers who look to Penta to provide enhanced services to them. We are developing a portal platform for our clients, partners, and resources, investing in our operational capability, following proven business methodologies as we transition our business to a true professional service provider. It’s a very exciting time for the business and the next few year will see significant growth for us.

Looking at mental health across the industry, what signs can people look for across their colleagues and team?

In 2019 I was invited to join a not-for-profit setup called Mental Health and Recruitment which was spearheaded by Rhonda D’Ambrosio. Rhonda founded MHIR with the aim to drive change to the understanding of mental health in our industry. This was perfect for me, as mental health is an area, I’m extremely passionate about. If we think back to the recruitment sector in the early 2000s there wasn’t much attention paid to the whole concept of good mental health of our people. It was a live hard live fast environment where you either lived or died by the sword, without too much care or attention to the individuals in your team on how they might be feeling. I grew up within that environment and whilst it probably made me quite tough on the outer shell, it isn’t something that I view as a model for productive team building in 2021.

As business faces the return of people to the office from the pandemic, we will have a big challenge on our hands to fully understand the new needs of our people as they get back into a working environment. Organisations will have to balance their revenue goals with the needs of their people over the next 12 months and really commit to providing support for staff, beyond doing it at a superficial level.

Championing mental health for Penta means checking in on all our people across the world and understanding that they might not always going to be at the top of their game. People need to feel you are there for them when they need it most. I also believe you must care beyond what their work performance is like on a day-to-day basis.

The mental health champion role at Penta can be very rewarding professionally by just making sure that everybody is doing okay. Checking in with them, seeing not just about how they’re getting on professionally, but also taking an interest in their personal life outside of work. If things aren’t working out for them inside or out, I always ask what we are going to do to provide support for whatever the issue is. Taking the time to look and spot signs of stress or discomfort isn’t the easiest thing to always do, so there is a constant development curve for me and with current events that have occurred recently in my own personal life I have an insatiable appetite to learn and help others in this field. We will also be signing up to the MHIR charter program so we can demonstrate what good looks, evolve the program and see the recruitment industry as leading other sectors in the support of our people.

What advice can you offer to people working at different organisations who want to improve the quality of work-life and mental health across their team, and are there any resources that you can point people to?

I’d certainly point people to Mental Health in Recruitment (www.mentalhealthinrecruitment.org), which Rhonda and her team have created over the past 18 months. There are a variety of resources available that include the MIHR survey report and the recent Awareness To Action Campaign and Pledge that provides a free roadmap for recruitment companies who’d are making a commitment to changing the way mental health is viewed and supported in their business.

I would also recommend reviewing what you’re looking to do understand about your team. What do you know today, and what don’t you know about your people? Also, detail what structure you have in place today to provide support to an individual. Also, look at what training you can provide people across your team to create more mental health champions, in a similar way you would do for first aid. When you start the project, you’ll quickly realize how many people will want to get involved and act as a supporter, a champion, or even to actually drive and own it.

Something to also be aware of is that you don’t ever complete Mental Health projects (unlike some other HR-based tasks), so you need to accept it’s an ever-changing shape. I love to hear the stories from other people on different approaches and share experiences on new strategies. The Mental Health in Recruitment website has some best practice approaches, so if you’re new to the area you don’t have to go through the early-stage challenges alone and can learn from others for best practice and what may work.

Ultimately, we all want to be within an environment where people can feel secure enough that they can talk to a colleague about their mental health, so if they have an issue they need to discuss, they don’t have to suffer in silence. I know Penta has an amazing culture today, we have a certified mental health first aider, our board is fully supportive of our commitment to leading the way on this subject and it is becoming part of our DNA for our business, furthermore, I am confident that the recruitment industry can be a leader in business in leading the way across mental health in the workplace.

You can connect with me on LinkedIn here 

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