Making a standard: the SiR Standard Ltd discuss recruitment standards and why independence matters

It’s hard to find anyone who will argue against standards in any industry and the benefits they can bring. Actually defining them, making them workable and putting them into practice is another thing altogether, but that is what Standards in Recruitment (SiR) has set out to do with the first independent set of standards for recruitment businesses.

“Few would argue that the recruitment industry has undergone a massive evolutionary transformation since I entered the sector in the early 1990s,” says Alistair Singleton, MD of SiR. “Recruiters are engaging with clients in more ways than ever before, and end users have a far greater emphasis on compliance, process and quality. Agencies have had to adapt quickly to demonstrate their ‘value add’ in the supply chain, whether it be for inclusion in a PSL, or niche sector specific functioning.”

“Probably the biggest development of all, however, has been the increased regulation of the industry and the focus by the government on eradicating exploitation of workers and tax avoidance. Year on year the compliance burden grows and proves to be one of the biggest challenges facing the recruiter.

“These changes and pressures have inevitably boosted the number of trade associations operating in the sector,” he continues. “In the main they provide support and representation to recruiters but, in the area of standards and codes of conduct, they may cause more confusion than clarity. They all operate to their own code of professional conduct, or ethics, have different methods of assessing compliance, and any breaches may have no obvious tangible consequence.”

Previously the industry was subject to a statutory licensing scheme. This involved a paper application coupled with payment of a fee dependent on value turnover. It did not include any audit process and it was an administrative requirement that carried no positive endorsement. This licensing scheme was abolished in 1994.

So what choices do recruiters have? “Other than the disparate trade association codes with the consequent confusion I mention above, there is no way they can demonstrate their excellence and commitment in recruitment,” Singleton continues. “Also not every recruiter wants to join a trade association – only some 4,500 out of about 18,000 are trade body members. Membership in itself is not a sufficiently distinguishable factor because of the varying methods of assessing compliance which largely test individuals rather than businesses, and the lack of impartiality because there is no independence.”

“SiR has been developed to address the clear gap in the market for an impartial audited quality mark,” he explains. “Research clearly showed that both recruiters and end users want to see a single set of standards and processes that are set by the industry for the industry, compliance being independently verified via an onsite audit. The fact that before our launch in January APSCo announced that it was in discussion with BSI over development of a standard proves the perception of this need and confirms the gap in the market. I believe that the SiR standard fills that gap and is available now for those that choose to demonstrate that they have a raised game.”

The accreditation standard was conceived some three years ago and developed by an recruitment industry specific stakeholder group made up of agencies, end user hirers and legal experts in order to develop a set of principles, or ‘standards’ which agencies can adopt and be identified with.

The stakeholder group was drawn from a wide range of sectors including education, healthcare, IT, manufacturing, financial services, defence and public sector and included two trade associations. The standards were first suggested by participating end user clients in conjunction with the legal team, and then reviewed with clients and agencies to ensure practicality and effectiveness.

“There is no rigid set of requirements, but rather a framework within which the agency can work to suit its mode of operation. This provides a structure for compliance and processes that ensures quality, consistency and commitment to improvement throughout an organisation. To end users, having the distinctive SiR logo provides similar assurances whilst demonstrating that a supplier has made significant investment in their own systems, processes and training and is therefore a reliable business to work with.”

Most simplistically SiR can be described as a ‘recruitment specific’ version of internationally accepted quality marks such as ISO. It follows similar principles in so far as it requires internal structures but it also incorporates compliance with the recruitment specific standards. This ensures that the business meets the reasonable expectations of end user clients and candidates. “We believe it is fit for purpose providing the necessary choice,” says Singleton.

The standards are built around seven guiding principles: transparency; relevance; impartiality; consensus; effectiveness; legality; value. All of this is tested by a comprehensive three-part onsite and legal audit that looks at the business in all relevant ways. “Our onsite audits are carried out by a network of highly experienced auditors, all of which have a minimum of 15 years working with standards such as ISO, Lexcel (the legal quality mark) and IIP. The legal audit is conducted by our legal partner which has 18 years industry experience. As one of our auditors commented: “what’s brilliant about this audit is that, unlike ISO or IIP, it requires us to look at not just policies but also at the practical setup and recruitment related outcomes.”

The scheme is operated by the SiR Standard Ltd which leads the accreditation process. A significant marketing programme is being rolled out to educate end clients, HR, procurement and RPOs as to the benefits of working with businesses carrying the distinctive SiR logo. A number of accreditations have already taken place and Singleton confirms that SiR is being well received across the industry.

“Given the inexorable drive for compliance and reassurance in our industry, an independent recruitment specific standard is the way ahead. We believe that for any standard to be genuinely credible it should be run professionally, and it is critical to avoid conflicts of interest. This is now a reality, with SiR being available as the mark of choice for quality driven businesses,” concludes Singleton.


This article first appeared in The Global Recruiter – 10th May 2015

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