Marion Whitty, head of learning and development at Countryside and Victoria Kidd, group recruitment business partner, comment on careers at this prestigious and multi-award-winning national housebuilder, originally founded in Essex nearly 60 years ago.
What is the spectrum of jobs that Countryside looks to fill on a regular basis?
We recruit for a huge range of positions, across the entire spectrum of our business, most commonly in construction, surveying, technical, development and sales on the production side, through to our central services functions such as finance, HR, IT, legal, and health and safety.
We also focus a large amount of our recruitment on our early careers roles, including graduates, interns and apprentices.
What kind of qualifications and qualities do you look for in any candidate? Are personal qualities more important than academic ones?
For us, with our early careers roles, the experience and attitude of a candidate is more valuable than their qualifications. We look for hard-working individuals that are genuinely passionate about construction, share our values and commitment to delivering a five-star customer experience.
We put all candidates through a robust interview and selection process to ensure they are right for us, but most importantly that we are right for them, particularly with our early career roles. We also promote an excellent internal referral scheme, which allows current employees to receive a financial reward for successfully recommending others for a role at Countryside, which we find is a huge incentive for our teams.
Is there anything about Countryside that other major housebuilders can’t match?
Firstly, we are one of the fastest-growing housebuilders which gives plenty of opportunity for career development and mobility. In addition, we have a fully comprehensive benefits package designed to reward our teams for their continued hard work and dedication. Key benefits of which can include an annual performance related bonus, private healthcare, company car or paid car allowance, pension, health screening and access to our Share Save scheme. We also offer a full range of flexible benefits, that our teams can opt into, which includes dental insurance, critical illness, holiday trading, the Cycle to Work scheme, shopping discounts and many more. We hold roadshows every year on renewal of our benefits, where we introduce any new benefits based on feedback from our teams.
We provide a corporate induction programme for all of our new team members, regardless of their position, to provide them with a full overview and detailed history of the business, which we think is so important to uphold our values. We consistently receive feedback from our teams that the company has a real ‘family’ like atmosphere, which we attribute to our joint vision and corporate values. Considering we are a large organisation, I think this is a really special quality and sets us apart from other housebuilders.
What are the basics for those looking to join to learn/enhance a skilled trade (ie an apprenticeship)?
The main areas of the business where we recruit apprentices are in our commercial teams, where we recruit trainee quantity surveyors and in our construction teams, where we recruit trainee assistant site managers. All apprentices are put on a pathway scheme which offers lots of support internally and externally through NHBC programmes, ensuring they get all the training they need to be successful in their roles. We have the ability to provide apprentices across the spectrum, from business administration to construction management, and can train to varying levels. In the coming financial year, we are diversifying to recruit apprentices in other areas of our business such as technical, marketing and development.
Most of our apprentices have no previous experience working in construction, but have demonstrated to us that they possess the right work ethic, passion and drive to become a future manager within our teams. We do recommend that our apprentices have some understanding of the industry, via work experience, training and education, as we know that our industry isn’t for everyone!
Are there any roles for graduates that you find particularly difficult to fill? Are degree applicants difficult to satisfy?
We are very privileged in the fact that we are continuously able to recruit ambitious, dedicated and passionate graduates into our schemes, and highly attribute this to the way in which we recruit them. Our biggest challenge is finding graduates with specific quantity surveying or construction management degrees, as we are noticing that school careers advice does not always educate students in the construction industry. Having said that, graduates without construction-related degrees are also hugely valuable and we derive great benefit from having a graduate community with varying academic backgrounds. There is still lots of work to be done in schools, colleges and universities to educate about the benefits of working within construction.
We do not find any of our graduates difficult to accommodate and can honestly say they are all absolutely fantastic! They are mature in their outlook, committed and proactive and we consider them a huge asset to our business.
Senior staff surely come in from a different direction – does this require personal contacts, or do you frequently open opportunities to experienced people to the open market?
Recruiting for senior management roles requires a different strategy in comparison to early careers and graduates, and we tend to appoint these vacancies through referrals. Our senior employees have built up their network and have a long list of ‘proved performers’ that they have worked with previously and can recommend. We do, however, advertise all of our vacancies externally and also partner with selected recruitment agencies to support us with some of our requirements, so we always welcome candidates on the open market.
Is it important for employees of all sorts to get regular feedback and if so, how do you make that happen?
It is important that the relationship between a manager and an employee is fully developed and there is a level of trust there. We have a fairly traditional performance related feedback process and we are looking to develop this further over the next year, identifying how we can improve and encourage everyone to give and receive regular feedback.
Our employee survey has run for the past two years and we have had outstanding responses, with over 80% participation. On the whole feedback is very positive, however we are always looking to improve and run focus groups to discuss trends raised through our feedback mechanisms.
How do current employees know what roles are available at Countryside for progression?
We run an internal intranet page which advertises all job vacancies and opportunities across the business. This not only encourages staff progression, but also referrals.
How do potential employees know what roles are available at Countryside?
All our roles are available to view on our website and we are currently redesigning a careers website, which will provide a much more rounded experience to our applicants and website visitors. We tend to avoid advertising across multiple job boards or blanket advertising, as we find that this attracts a huge number of responses, often from applicants that are not industry relevant or applicable to apply. We do have an internal drive to increase the numbers of direct applicants we interview and recruit, and are exploring multiple avenues in how to achieve this. Throughout the recruitment process, it is a positive attitude, professional manner, commitment and a real interest in construction which is of interest to us.
In terms of our graduate scheme, this is promoted on LinkedIn and directly on our website. We find that most of our graduates are very specific about what they want from their graduate scheme and from the business as a whole and have often identified Countryside as a result of this.
From start to finish, how does the graduate scheme work?
The process begins by attending graduate fairs at a selection of handpicked universities throughout the year. In the future, we are planning to enhance this process by involving our current graduates and sending them back to their old universities to market the scheme to the students. For those interested, they sign up to receive more information about the scheme.
The prospective candidates can then fill in an application form and send in their CV. The applications are all hand screened and successful candidates invited to a telephone interview and then on to attend an assessment day. The day is organised with a range of engaging activities testing their knowledge of Countryside, leadership, team work, prioritisation and communication skills, whilst the senior management team observes. A Q&A session is also held with our senior managers, to answer any questions and provide a first-hand insight into the daily running of our business. This is then followed by a networking lunch with our current cohorts of graduates and senior managers, allowing for further discussion and observation.
A debrief will then identify the successful candidates, who will be invited to return for a final interview with two directors from differing departments and our group recruitment business partner, who is a consistent presence for our graduates throughout the entire process.
Among the 350 applicants at the start of the process, 14 this year have been offered a position, with numbers hoping to increase in the coming years as our business grows. Unsuccessful candidates are also contacted and we offer feedback on where they can improve or recommend where they might be better placed.
After all the graduates have accepted their contracts, they are invited to join the Countryside family, including attending our summer party, various networking events as well as a ‘Meet the Graduate’ day in their relevant office. This is an addition to our process this year, but we feel that this is an important step, to be able to introduce them to the teams they will be working with and also allow them to visit the region-specific sites and view the finished products we are so proud of.
This ensures that they feel comfortable when they join us in October, as we know how daunting that first day can be!