GARY SMITHSON RAIL DIRECTOR AT MORSON GROUP

Gary is an experienced recruitment professional with in excess of 20 years experience in the recruitment arena, mainly within the Rail, Automotive, Construction and Engineering sectors both in the UK and overseas.

 

What is your role within Morson Group?

I am the Rail Director at Morson Group and I’ll be celebrating 20 years with the company this June. I have been a recruitment professional for the past 30 years and have specialised in recruitment and associated services for the rail sector for the past 25 years, working with clients across the delivery chain to provide tailored solutions.

Tell us about Morson Group.

Morson is the largest technical recruitment company in the UK and also the UK’s largest rail recruiter. We offer so much more than recruitment, such as scope of works, training, screening, and technology solutions. We are a company defined not by what we gain, but by what we give back.

With more than 50 years’ experience, we offer recruitment, consultancy and technology that allows us to deliver tailored solutions for the rail sector, and we deliver more than six million person hours to the rail industry every year.

Rail accounts for 21 per cent of the Morson Group business and we not only have a strategic network of offices across the UK, we also support the rail industry and its supply chain around the world, including Canada, the USA, Australia and Europe.

We understand rail and we make sure we understand our clients’ needs by providing an integrated approach to recruitment and training across both white collar and blue collar roles, including temporary, permanent, contractor and contingent labour recruitment, RPO (recruitment process outsourcing), MSP (managed service provision). Our reach across the rail industry and its supply chain is broad, but our expertise is laser focused.

Which sectors do you work in?

We work in all sectors related to rail, nationally and internationally; from infrastructure and rail operators (underground and overground), through to rolling stock, services and supply chain. Because our services are so diverse we can offer an integrated approach that goes beyond recruitment and consultancy to engineering. Our Morson Projects business provides multi-disciplined teams of experienced engineers to deliver mission critical projects for clients in the rail supply chain. And thanks to our industry-leading early careers development programme and ambitious growth plan, we are constantly bringing new talent into that arena, ensuring we leverage the skills and knowledge in our business to develop a sustainable engineering talent pool.

With that 360-degree approach to helping the rail industry tackle immediate engineering project requirements, while also helping them recruit at all levels, and train and develop future talent, we are a trusted partner for rail sector companies at every touchpoint in the industry.

What is your Unique Selling Point?

We are the only rail sector partner that can offer such a diverse, joined-up service to such a broad range of rail sector businesses, combining an experienced team with industry-leading technology and a proven commitment to customer service. We take a consultancy approach to understanding the client’s challenges so that we can build our services around their needs and add value to their business.

How passionate are you about sustainability in the rail sector?

We are passionate about the environment as well as sustainable skills and talent pipelines. For every permanent placement we make, we plant trees to offset the carbon emissions of that hire. We have planted thousands and thousands of trees right across the country as part of that commitment and our team is not only supportive of that, but actively involved!

Members of the Morson team have been out with spades, digging the ground and physically planting the trees. That’s important, because it connects our values as a business with the people who work at Morson, ensuring we are all actively part of working towards our environmental goals.

What are some major projects you’re currently working on?

Our training business is now the Managed Service Provider (MSP) for Network Rail’s training requirements, co-ordinating training from our own experienced team and specialist providers to provide a joined-up and centralised approach to skills, training and personal development.

Our Group Training Director, Matthew Leavis, recently held a supply chain seminar for Network Rail and training providers at our HQ, outlining the benefits of the MSP and the range of services that training providers can access from Morson thanks to this model. It was a really positive session, with Andy Reid giving a talk to highlight just some of the additional work we’re doing in rail around social value and transferable skills.

When a client comes to you with a particular problem, what’s your process for coming up with a solution, and how closely do you work with clients throughout the projects?

When it comes to helping clients overcome problems, our experience in the rail sector and our integrated range of services are central to providing meaningful solutions. We work with the client to get under the skin of their organisation and understand both the problem and its causes. For example, the problem may be with attracting
skilled candidates, but we might also identify issues with retention, employee value proposition and selection processes to help them develop a more sustainable hiring strategy and leverage the value of transferable skills. Thanks to our in-house resources, such as our Pathfinders Academy which helps businesses attract, train and retain the talent they need, and our marketing services, which support clients with defining and communicating their employee value proposition, we can deliver a joined up solution, as well as advising on the problem.

What are some of the biggest challenges this sector currently faces?

Skills is the single biggest challenge the rail industry faces, at every point in the delivery chain and at every level in those businesses. With CP7 due to start and contracts soon to be awarded for the next phase of HS2 demand for skills is set to grow even further and we need to think differently about where the skills, knowledge, experience and innovation we need are going to come from.

What are some potential solutions?

We have to think differently about the skills issue and Morson is leading the charge in developing innovative approaches to attracting, developing and retaining talent in the rail industry.

We have to make the industry appealing to candidates who have other potential options – 250,000 people (and rising!) work in rail in the UK so rail needs to be an industry that is exciting. We need people who want to work here. That means highlighting the diversity of roles available in rail and attracting a diverse range of candidates. Site work is not everyone’s first choice…neither is an office job. There are candidates who will be attracted to different types of roles and thrive in them, but we have to tailor the message and recruitment journey to those audiences.

We also have to accept that a ready-made talent pool doesn’t exist, so we have to create one by nurturing transferable skills, encouraging retention, and investing in training and career development. At Morson, we’re doing that at every level, from sending engineers into schools to inspire the next generation, through to our Morson Forces programme, Pathfinders Academy and dedicated training business.

How have you seen the industry change over the years?

The industry has changed enormously since I began working at Morson 20 years ago – reporting has become a much more important part of what we do at every layer of the supply chain and, for Morson, that means that we are not just placing candidates in roles; we’re also tracking demographics, measuring our carbon footprint, and reporting on social value.

We’re also finding that clients want more than recruitment from their recruitment partner; they look to us for added value services and transparency on ED&I too. For Morson, demand for that diverse service and credible accountability is no problem, because we have the ability to offer complementary services, use technology tools and provide real-time management information. But there is always more to do and more change ahead, so our business is constantly evolving, using our industry insights and trend mapping to stay ahead.

How do you make your business a good place to work?

As a recruitment business, we have to practice what we preach, and investing in our team lies at the heart of that philosophy. We don’t just want to be a place to work; we want to give our people the opportunity to set and achieve career goals, supporting them with training, career development and mentoring. We have great office environments, with a gym on site at our HQ and London offices and subsidised gym membership at our other locations. But we also offer hybrid working, as well as online and various subsidised work related perks, such as a cycle to work scheme and many more.

The same goes for the diversity agenda – 60 per cent of our employees are women, including several of our business heads and directors and we want to keep investing in diversifying our team.

Wherever there is potential for improvement, we’re looking at it. We know that AI will make a big difference in the future, for example, and we’re at the forefront of our sector in exploring how we can leverage the potential of AI to enhance our services and the client experience. But, fundamentally, we are a people business, so, while we embrace the potential of technology across everything we do, it is human insight and knowledge that drives our business.

How are you delivering social value in the rail sector?

When it comes to social value, we don’t just talk the talk; we’re actually making a genuine difference. For example, we’re working hard to bring more diversity into the rail sector with selection processes designed to avoid unconscious bias and consultancy services that help our clients develop their employee value proposition and candidate messaging. I am a Trustee of Women in Rail and was responsible for the judging process for this year’s Women in Rail Awards, for which Morson was the headline sponsor, because we believe that bringing more women into the sector requires role models, allies and advocates.

Our Morson Forces programme supports rail sector businesses looking to recruit from the armed services and veteran communities. This joins the dots between rich talent pools of experience and transferable skills that are so valuable to the rail sector and creating opportunities for those who have served to step into a rewarding second career in rail. Our Morson Forces ambassador, triple-amputee, Andy Reid, is at the forefront of that outreach, inspiring companies and candidates alike with his insights on the benefits of veteran recruitment for both parties.

We’re also looking ahead to future skills and helping to create opportunity for young people from disadvantaged backgrounds. Morson is the biggest donor to the University of Salford and the Morson Maker Space at the university is a hands-on facility where students from all disciplines can collaborate and innovate. Thanks to the Gerry Mason Engineering Scholarship (named after Morson’s founder) and the Morson Group Scholarship, more than 50 students have been funded through their degree at the university. We’re also involved with Into University and Primary Engineer; both projects designed to inspire young students from disadvantaged backgrounds to help improve attainment and support aspiration.

We also encourage our team to take part in charity fundraising and have nominated charities each year. I will be one of the Morson rail team taking part in the Railway Children Three Peak Challenge in June, which involves travelling between the three peaks by train, as well as walking the ascent and descent in each location. A number of colleagues also did a D-Day anniversary cycle ride.

 

Tel: 0161 707 1516
Email: gary.smithson@morson.com
Visit: www.morson.com