Paragon Recruitment is sponsoring the award for Employer of the Year at the Media Isle of Man Awards for Excellence.

Working Week asked the company’s founders, Jo Wood and Debbie Scrimshaw, what makes a great employer – and it’s not all about salary.

‘The words that come out a lot of the times in interviews might be “authenticity”, “wellbeing”, “challenge”, “purpose”, “reward”, “value” - very much around behaviours as well as the role incentives that are offered from a monetary perspective, says Debbie.

Jo adds that flexibility in the hours that people work and how they fit around a good work/life balance is also important and she goes on: ‘I think employers are making those changes, slowly, to adapt.

‘The culture is really important and, living on a small island, it’s very easy to find out what the culture of a business is like, though not every culture suits everybody.’

Debbie adds: ‘Employer branding can be so important when people are making that choice of where they want work.

‘When you see in the newspaper what businesses have been up to, the more positive messages that are out there in the marketplace the better.

‘So quite often you’ll see that certain employers take that leading position as an employer of choice, because not only are they known for providing a good working environment that values their team and looks after them, but they’ll also get involved in the community, with teams spending the day at the MSPCA, or the Wildlife Park, helping out.

‘Especially for the younger generations, it’s the eco credentials of the business, the involvement and the authenticity in terms of what they do, that sometimes can get them really good [employee] prospects.’

But, as with everything, all that glitters is not always gold.

Debbie says: ‘With a lot of the big employers who can provide that sort of ‘Google environment’, the people working there are working very long hours. It’s play hard work hard and that doesn’t suit everybody and we tend to find that in those organisation they don’t have flexibility that medium sized organisations would have.’

She and Jo bought Paragon Recruitment in 2007.

Jo recalls, laughing: ‘It was a very expensive dinner party I went to Alf Cannan who was a good friend of ours and had the business before. I approached Debbie as she’s such a professional and we basically just said “Yes, lets do this for ourselves”.’

Debbie says: ‘We’d both been working in recruitment agencies on the island and we both had a very clear idea in our minds of how we thought a recruitment business should work.

‘We like to say that recruitment done well is life changing.

‘People from all walks of life come through our doors and some are so unhappy. The impact of working nine to five in a position that’s not right for them can be catastrophic. If we can find the right environment for them it can make a massive difference to their lives.

‘That’s probably what’s always been our passion behind the business: it’s great to have the commercial success, it’s great to place people in senior roles, but to make a difference to somebody so what, when you then speak to them again in three to six months’ time, they say: “It’s the best thing I’ve ever done - thank you so much”, that’s where our job satisfaction comes from.’

One of the things Jo and Debbie decided from the outset, which sets them apart from many recruitment agencies, was that they were going to operate on a profit sharing model, rather than commission.

Debbie says: ‘When we looked at what we wanted to create, and how we wanted to create it, our view of how a recruitment agency should work is that when profits are made, we like to share them among the team. Whatever you put into the business, the quality, the responsibility, the enthusiasm, the drive you get back – it’s worked particularly well for us.

‘Commission can cause division in terms of how people work. It doesn’t always make for excellent teamwork, whereas for us it doesn’t matter who picks up the phone: whoever you see has that same motivation to help the individual.’

Jo agrees: ‘It’s not about commission we wanted to make it about the people: I think that sometimes gets a bit missed in other organisations.’

They also practice what they preach to other employers in terms of flexible working. Jo says: ‘Both of us have young children and we wanted to make sure we had a full time career, doing what we do, but we were also not short-changing our families, and we have extended that to some of our staff who have wanted it.

‘It’s meant that they’ve also had that work life integration.’

Debbie adds: ‘We’ve always recruited individuals who were experts in their field – banking, life assurance, egaming, or wherever they happened to have worked previously - but we’ve always looked to extend our rewards at the high level to make sure we attract the right people and, looking to reward them, it’s flexible working and it’s that shared profit.’

Following Covid, which derailed many people’s careers, Paragon was appointed by the Isle of Man Government to run the Manx Restart Scheme.

This was developed as part of the Government’s Economic Recovery Programme to help individuals on the Isle of Man who have been unemployed for three months or more, and to financially support businesses who wished to grow and take on new staff.

Many people had lost their role due to the pandemic and Jo and Debbie were initially asked to help place 120 of them in different roles in the island.

Debbie says: ‘We were there to help with CVs, to develop confidence, to help with interview prepping, and all job search techniques that they needed.

‘A lot of people at that point were looking at career changes because the industries they had been involved in had been hit by the pandemic so we were looking to see where people could transfer, or be trained, or start again.

‘We ended up placing 160 people in new roles and it’s one of the things that we’re most proud of doing.

‘The team loved working on it as well.’

‘It was such an uncertain time for everybody, they had so many worries, and for us to be able to help those individuals was so rewarding,’ adds Jo.

She and Debbie also know exactly what it feels like to win at the Awards for Excellence: they won the Award for Small Medium Enterprise of the Year in 2014.

Jo says: ‘The awards are important because they’re a real showcase and they have picked up incredible momentum across the business community.’

Sponsoring the Award for Employer of the Year at this year’s Awards was an obvious fit for them.

Debbie says: ‘We wanted this category because we know how important it is for businesses. People are perhaps the most important aspect of any business and I think, attracting new people in is one thing, but retaining the people that you have, and making sure that you keep them happy, if all those different points continue then the results speak for themselves.’

She and Jo have also been talking to some of their own clients, encouraging them to enter: ‘We know what they do, and they do it brilliantly,’ she says.

Which exactly what she and Jo aim to do at Paragon.

Debbie says: ‘We can’t fix every situation but we know that at the end of the day we’re doing the best that we can under any circumstances. That was always our mantra.’