Business Essentials: 'Staff departures will pull the rug out from under us'

A renowned wig maker wonders how it can attract new people for highly skilled work. By Kate Hilpern
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The Independent Online

Recruiting the right staff is difficult for many businesses, but for Wig Specialities it's particularly hard. All the wigs produced by the company are made using real hair by a team of skilled workers, and it's highly specialised work.

Recruiting the right staff is difficult for many businesses, but for Wig Specialities it's particularly hard. All the wigs produced by the company are made using real hair by a team of skilled workers, and it's highly specialised work.

The managing director, Richard Mawbey, takes pride in his firm's status as one of the country's leading wig makers, working for TV, film and stage. Among its most recent assignments have been wigs for the film Alfie and for the stage production of The Producers. In addition, it provides wigs for private clients - mainly women who have lost their hair due to alopecia or chemotherapy.

"England is considered the best country in the world for wig making, and our company undoubtedly has a reputation, being one of the oldest names in the business," he says. "This means we get a lot of work, much of it from overseas."

Also to its advantage is that Wig Specialities is a relatively large company and able to take on projects of virtually any size. "Many people in this industry set up privately from home, but when it comes to a big movie, they can't take on the work because they don't have the workforce or indeed the stock," explains Mr Mawbey. "We, on the other hand, have plenty of staff and we are able to rent out many wigs.

"In many cases, we are asked to make wigs for the leading actors and rent out the rest."

But, he admits, the recruitment of the right employees is becoming a worry. "I've got 11 permanent staff working from our premises in central London. They perform one of two very specialist roles - either making the base and foundations for the wigs or doing the knotting. In addition, we employ outworkers who do their jobs from home. We send them the wig and instructions and they do the knotting for us.

"But I am becoming more and more concerned about what will happen when they leave - for reasons such as pregnancy or retirement. I'm particularly worried about the staff who operate from our premises because wig making is something that works best as a team effort."

Mr Mawbey is willing to take on trainees who can acquire the skill from scratch. "But wig making is not something you can learn quickly, which puts many people off. Also, it's not something you can make a lot of money out of immediately. Once you're experienced, it can be lucrative, but it takes time."

He is also keen to take on more experienced people. "The phone rang this morning and someone wanted a wig made in six days, including fitting, foundations and knotting, and you need experienced workers for that. But I'm finding it equally hard to find such people."

So far, Mr Mawbey has tried taking ads out in specialist publications like The Stage, and has rung round colleges that offer wig making as part of courses in, for example, film make-up.

"But I haven't had much joy in attracting people via these methods," he says, "and I'd love to know if there is anything else I could be doing."

www.wigspecialities.com

WHAT THE EXPERTS SAY

Angela Baron, organisation and resourcing adviser, Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development

"The recruitment of highly specialised staff is hard. A limited number of people with the right skills makes many of the traditional ways of attracting people ineffective.

"Expanding the home-based workforce might be an option. With some innovative use of technology, these people can be effective teamworkers too. This might also enable Mr Mawbey to attract trainees who are willing to trade financial reward early in their career for flexibility. And it could help him to hang on to some of his experienced staff - leaving because of pregnancy, say - as they might have the chance to work part time or from home, or even both.

"Another option would be to develop a network of self-employed individuals to whom he could outsource work. He would need to think through the nature of the relationship but both sides could benefit - Wig Specialities from being able to expand at very little cost, and the outsourced workers from being associated with a well- regarded company."

Tom Hadley, director of external relations, Recruitment & Employment Confederation

"Mr Mawbey is using the right channels to recruit staff for such a specialist profession.

"However, it may be an idea to consider those outside the industry. Many young people don't have specific career paths mapped out and therefore may be open to professions they haven't thought of before. There is a wide range of recruitment agencies - many specialising in a particular sector - matching thousands of people to a job role each day.

"Using an agency would take the hard work of finding suitable candidates away from Mr Mawbey, and by choosing one that is a member of the Recruitment & Employment Confederation he can ensure the highest possible standards. Mr Mawbey should log on to www.rec.uk.com for a full list and he will also be able to search for recruitment companies in specific sectors."

Louise Cunningham, media make-up lecturer, Barnet College

"Work experience should be offered as part of a relevant course for longer periods. As wig making is an acquired and patient skill, vocational study should be an element of a long-term schedule, rather than one week out of the academic year.

"Students should be presented with the opportunity to work within the company as part of the wig-making team one day a week for no less than a term - providing the student with not only a specialised skill but an insight into the industry and the professionalism needed in working life.

"Another longer-term solution is creating a multi-skilled taskforce. This would not only make for a more colourful job role for the employee but enable the firm to avoid bottlenecks created by the constraint of only one employee being able to carry out a particular task.

"I also feel that despite the job being so specialised, skilled and time-consuming, the financial rewards do not always reflect this - an area the industry needs to address."

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