Sat, Oct

Widening the net while watching the wallet

Stylo production director Simon Wheeler explains what the company is doing to attract youngsters, while keeping a tight reign on the recruitment budget.

“Recruitment agencies are my least favourite method of recruitment. It takes away the hassle but it’s expensive, and there’s always the danger that you’ll get career agency people – that is to say, those who go to a firm for a couple of years then go back to the agency to find them another job. We want to attract people who want to stay with us.” So says Simon Wheeler, production director at Stylo, who is very involved in the company’s recruitment strategy – and that means proactively seeking youngsters with a certain attitude and mindset. 

“We have a very low staff turnover because the people we employ understand this is a creative business and that they have the potential to develop their skills and role as we evolve. It’s important to us to retain good staff. But it’s also important to bring youngsters into the business with good potential. We are doing all sorts of things to reach teenagers etc., but we don’t always have a specific job for which we’re recruiting,” explains Wheeler, “rather we’re seeking those with a certain flair, then we’ll get them in and see how they would fit into the company.”

This approach means that Watford-based, £7.7m turnover Stylo is currently involved in school placements, university partnerships, social media activity, apprenticeship building and something called Watford Works ‘Meet the Expert’ seminars.

“It’s about making sure we’re in a position to spot talent,” says Wheeler, who is in charge of recruitment on the operational side of the business, while managing director Simon Olly concentrates on the sales/project management side of things. Between them they receive about 100 CVs a year, and about ten of the 64 on-book staff were recruited this way - Wheeler’s favourite way to find new blood.

“The clever bit is being able to spot talent via a CV,” he laughs, but he is serious about Stylo positioning itself to ensure it attracts the right calibre of people in the first place. And that starts with the work it’s doing with schools. The company has forged relationships with local Queens’ School and Kings Langley School. With both it supports A level art-based students by providing offcuts of textiles, acrylics etc. The intention is also to get eager students involved in work placements within the company. “We hoped to get some people in this summer but left it a bit too late,” says Wheeler, who points out: “We’re busy over that period and need the labour, and they need experience. We pay those we bring in, so I think we’ll get a bigger response if we flag up the option earlier next time.”

But that’s not all there is to the schools initiative. As of September Stylo is working with Queens’ School on a project for the British Museum. The school is running a competition for resistant materials GSCE students to meet a design brief for the museum. Stylo will go to the school to discuss options and the students will visit the factory, with Stylo then helping the winning design come to fruition. “It’s about opening the door to possibilities,” stresses Wheeler. “They’ll come to see how creative and exciting this industry can be, and we’ll we able to note anyone showing a real interest.”

West Herts College is on Stylo’s radar too. Through Watford Chamber of Commerce Stylo now has a contact at the college and is about to start talks on how it can reach those on its courses (design, photographic etc) in relation to possible work experience and recruitment.

And then comes the university approach. “We tend to use university website careers sections as a cheap way of targeting people we know have real talent for a more specific business role,” says Wheeler, with a nod to marketing executive Fiona Shurville who is playing an instrumental role in reaching youngsters.

“This route was how we found someone for maternity cover in a creative marketing role,” explains Shurville, who points out that while that person has now left Stylo and gone on to work for a design agency, “she’s taken the print message with her”.

Shurville is largely responsible for increasing Stylo’s brand awareness via social media, with Facebook, Instagram and Twitter deployed to this end. “There are lots of images up there that show that this is a creative sector. We talk about jobs and we talk about roles – we’re basically ‘selling’ ourselves and the sector. If the message catches the eye of a brand, then all well and good. If it catches the eye of a designer or someone who might be interested in working with, or for us, that’s good too,” she says.

Social media is seen by Stylo as key in attracting creative types, and Shurville says “we get lots of speculative CVs this way – mainly graphics/design people because they’re interested in what we’re posting. We got about 150 CVs via social media for the creative marketing role.”

Stylo also uses advertorials in design magazines etc. to attract talent, though they’ve yet to take on anyone via this approach to date. “We think that kind of thing will attract designers wanting to get into the retail space for instance,” says Shurville. “It’s not about recruitment per se, but about getting our brand name out there and getting people to understand what we’re all about.”

And retail design is an area where the company is looking to grow according to Wheeler, “especially interior design”. Yet there are other areas where recruitment is currently more of a key focus; installation and fabrication for instance.

“We have 64 staff at Stylo right now, but at any one time we can have more than 100 people working for us,” says Wheeler. “Many are freelance or subcontracted in certain departments. When it comes to installers we need people who understand that the job means difficult hours yet still show dedication. In fabrication we want people with specialist knowledge of using acrylics etc. We tend to go the route of advertising and word of mouth to find experienced people and maybe try the local press if we want trainees.”

Another avenue being explored in the recruitment of trainees is the Watford Works ‘Meet the Expert’ programme. Run by the Watford Football Club Community Trust to get 16 – 24-year-olds into further education, training or work, the ‘Meet the expert’ seminars run every four of five weeks. “For just over a year I’ve been going along to some of these meetings, where I talk about how I got started, give the youngsters advice and work with them on their CVs, presentation etc.” says Wheeler.


Currently Stylo has no youngsters on board via this programme, but it has through an apprenticeship scheme it helped develop. Jack Wheeler (Simon’s nephew in case you were wondering) has come through an 18 month on-site print production based apprenticeship.

“I didn’t know what I wanted to do when I left school,” says the younger Wheeler, “but this opportunity was offered to me and having known the company since I was much younger I thought I’d give it a go. Since being here I’ve learned so much more about how graphics are made that it’s made me want to stay.”

His uncle explains: “I could see potential in my nephew and started looking at apprenticeships, but I couldn’t find anything specific enough to what we do at Stylo. We worked with the training provider to build a scheme around our industry, specifically print production on aqueous, solvent, latex and UV technology. Now Jack is one of our most qualified production staff.”

Wheeler says the course could run again “if we have the need and there’s the right person”. But for now the focus is on increasing Stylo’s appeal to youngsters in a wider sense, so that it has a pool of talent that it can draw on for as yet unspecified roles across the business.

“It’s all about putting the company in a position where it’s an attractive proposition so that you get the CVs coming in, and then about having the ability to spot someone with that spark and enthusiasm.”

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