15 May 2018 Interview

Tony Bucciero, Siamo Group

How the employment agency's rebrand from Templine reflects current labour market trends

Employment agencies need to provide more than labour if they are to survive, says Tony Bucciero, chief executive of Siamo Group – the new name for Templine, which has provided flexible workers to the manufacturing, logistics and retail sectors for the last three decades.

“The outside perception may well be that what we do is provide labour, and that as long as that labour is reference checked, has the correct safety wear on when they arrive for work, and can speak the requisite level of English to be able to understand instructions, that’s where our responsibility should start and finish.

“However, we do much, much more than that. We’re now responsible for productivity. We’re responsible for attrition. We are partly responsible for safety. We are responsible for accuracy.”

With management teams based on site for a significant number of clients and a growing training offering – as well as recruiting for more white collar and permanent roles – Siamo Group is attempting to diversify from the high volume/low margin business that Bucciero says is no longer the concrete foundation for the company’s future.

And it’s the sizeable shifts in labour market trends that lie behind its recent rebrand.

Changing with the times

“The rebrand was a brave decision,” explains Bucciero. “When you’ve worked for the same brand for 25 years and that’s all you’ve done in your adult life to just completely rip that brand up and start again, it’s been hectic and it’s been emotional.”

But times have changed. Even the name, Templine, is evocative of the 1980s when it was set up.

“Nowadays temp is a bit of a dirty word – a case of ‘they’re just temps’. It creates a ‘them and us atmosphere’, especially on sites where you may have 500 full-time employees and 200 flexible colleagues.”

It also doesn’t reflect the business model the employment agency has adopted, under which it directly employs its pool of 9,000 workers – in part to disassociate itself from any controversy surrounding zero hours contracts.

But it goes further than that. This year, Siamo Group is set to take on around 20 per cent of its client facing workforce on full-time, 40-hour-a-week contracts, essentially guaranteeing them that work – recognising that it’s what many of its best workers want, but many of its clients can’t offer in the current climate.

“That creates a lot of value for my customers and for my workforce,” says Bucciero.

It’s how he explains why Siamo Group can find the people it needs, when there aren’t enough workers for the economy as a whole. Even so, he admits that they are now interviewing people they “wouldn’t have looked at three years ago, because that is how bad the labour shortage is at the moment”.

And that’s before Brexit, he adds.

He talks of the quality of the EU workers currently on his books and highlights the impact they’ve had in the wider workforce delivering what consumers want. “Regardless of your personal beliefs, everything you touch, everything you eat, has been touched by them. They’ve either packed it, delivered it, driven it, built it.”

From a practical point of view, he questions what that means when there is no longer easy access to these workers.  

“What’s that going to do to the economy? I haven’t got the answer to that but it’s going to be hideously complicated.”

A port in the storm

The business had outgrown its Templine name in other ways too, Bucciero continues.

He believes labour shortages are just one aspect of the “perfect storm” putting businesses under the cosh at the moment, reeling off a list that includes crippling labour cost inflation, the rapidly increasing national wage, increased pensions contributions and the apprenticeship levy.

He calls the latter an “absolute disaster” for firms where employees choose not to stay in their jobs for 12 months at a time.

Nevertheless, the need to drive more productivity and retain the staff they’ve got means training has become far more important for his clients. “It’s one of the reasons why we bought a training company,” says Bucciero.

That training company, registered apprenticeship training provider Qommunicate, now forms part of a new arm to the Group, Siamo Training.

Siamo Recruitment, meanwhile, brings together the other acquisitions made by Templine over recent years: FSH Recruitment, ANA Recruitment, Witton Recruitment, Evolve Recruitment, Nation Recruit – reducing what Bucciero calls “brand schizophrenia”.

As Siamo means “we are” in Italian (Bucciero is half Italian), he also suggests the name is scalable to cover other potential avenues the group could explore for growth in the future, giving Siamo Payroll Services and Siamo HR as examples. 

A technology turning point

Like other businesses in the sector, Siamo Group is also investing heavily in technology to cut operating costs where appropriate, and because it’s what millennials demand. An employee app, for example, has helped streamline the way it communicates with a workforce spread across 250 locations.

“We are also looking at artificial intelligence robots to take the place of some of what I call point and click clerical functions,” he continues. “You can buy a robot for about £10,000 a year. And that robot can do something like a payroll function overnight, in two hours, that you would pay two people £30,000 a year to do.

“But I’ve learnt from those in my network that you’ve got to make the robots real. You’ve got to give them a name if you want them to work properly within a function and you don’t want people to panic that their job is at risk. So you call the robot Kevin. And you give Kevin the boring jobs – because no one minds if those are taken off their plate.”

The last thing Bucciero wants to do is test his staff’s loyalty. After all, they are the ones who he credits with pulling off what he sees as a successful rebrand over the past nine months.

“I’m really proud that I’ve got an army of people who work for me that really just bought into the whole reason for doing it and just got on with it. I’m proud of them, and I’m proud of the business,” he says.

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