'We have undergone huge transformational change in the past two decades': Meet the managing director of Class People

Celebrating its 20 year anniversary with some ambitious goals for its milestone 2023, SoGlos meets Naomi Howells, the managing director of leading independent supply teaching recruitment agency Class People - who shares the secret of its business longevity, her passion for changing the conversation surrounding careers in education and exactly who Wilbert is...

By Michelle Fyrne  |  Published
Meet the managing director, Naomi Howells, leading education recruitment agency, Class People, into 2023.

Founded in 2003 by primary teacher Lynis Bassett from her living room in Gloucester and having grown to cover the whole south west region, the helm of successful supply teaching recruitment agency, Class People, has been taken by her daughter Naomi Howells.

Celebrating its 20 year anniversary in 2023, SoGlos spoke to Howells about leading the independent second-generation family business into its next chapter.

How did you become managing director of Class People?

I don’t ever recall telling my careers advisor I wanted to go into recruitment (I don’t know many people that do) and with a degree in architecture, it was never my plan to come into the family business. But in 2006 I did, opening our first branch outside of Gloucestershire as a trainee recruitment consultant.

Almost a decade later, in January 2014, I ‘flew the nest’ to specialise in IT recruitment in a large corporate environment only to find that motivation and passion were in short supply when it wasn’t for the family business, so I returned nine months later as branch manager for Cheltenham and set about working my way up through the business.

I settled into my role as MD in September 2019 and everything was going well in terms of business performance and growth before we were struck by Covid-19 in March 2020 and lost 95 per cent of our business overnight.

But, after two challenging years, I am thrilled to see the back of that period with renewed verve and revised business missions.

Are you doing anything special to celebrate your milestone 20-year anniversary?

The theme running throughout much of our PR and marketing this year will be about celebrating our anniversary and shouting about becoming a second generation family business. Plus, in September 2023 we will be welcoming staff old and new into our new premises with our annual vision presentation.

How has the business changed over the past two decades? 

I have witnessed so much change. Fundamentally, increased competition and the desire for growth has meant we have undergone huge transformational change in the past two decades and continual development to bring about improved business processes that drive efficiencies and increase profitability.

In short, we have heavily invested in technology to allow teams to have greater capacity for handling more clients and candidates. This has been a real journey that began with the introduction of a new CRM system five years ago and has been continually modified and added to since. 

You describe Class People as ‘education professionals that learned recruitment; not recruiters that learned education’ how does that make you different?

We make pupils, teachers, schools and all the individuals working on the frontline of education our absolute priority – and a third of our staff have previously worked in an education setting and, of course, share in our business mission of providing a quality education for all.

The knowledge held by these individuals and shared throughout the business also means we are aware of what is happening in schools and the challenges staff might be facing and we seek to offer different methods to combat or alleviate these pressures – this is not always purely about staffing, but sharing knowledge and offering ideas and solutions which may, in the end, improve recruitment, staff retention, budgets, funding – all of which contribute to the ‘big staffing problem’.

What type of people do you find job roles for? 

More recently we have been looking further afield for suitable individuals to work within schools – reviewing more of the soft skills and qualities rather than just their qualifications.

For instance, we linked-in up with Partners of Bristol to help people who have been out of work gain employment through a two-week volunteer placements at schools. We also recently did a campaign for Ukrainian refugees who were seeking to work in the education sector.

There are so many untapped resources to recruit people who may not have the necessary qualification at the moment but merely need a way to access the education sector and our aim is to enable them to do that.

Is there a secret to Class People’s business longevity?

Fun and humour! Recruitment poses many challenges, so it’s important to ensure our days our filled with equal quantities of these. One of the benefits of working in an SME is no two days are the same, and you are always wearing different hats, which is a great opportunity for skill building and personal development.

What does the future hold for Class People? 

Much of our current plans for the next five years are around achieving business growth and re-enforcing our brand through the south west. However, the purpose for the growth is not merely for profitability, but moreover to broaden our business portfolio of projects for improved recruitment and staffing within the education sector in order to enhance our contribution to the local community and the lives of those within it.

Can you tell us more about how the Class People team give back to the local community? 

As part of our business objectives of supporting the local community, our aim is to change the conversation surrounding careers working in education.

Notoriously, much of the PR around education comes with negative connotations regarding low pay, long hours, stress and bureaucracy and we firmly believe this does very little to attract the next generation to pursue or even consider going into teaching. With a growing population and more schools being built all the time there is no wonder the government continues to miss its teaching recruitment numbers.

Therefore, we hope to begin the conversation much earlier and with positive context, working with local secondary schools and colleges, teaming up with the local training providers to secure employment for those newly qualified and then, once qualified, supporting teachers with their first two-year induction.

For two years, Class People has also allocated some of its profits into the Class People Foundation, a registered foundation designed to financially support schools and pupils.

And finally, we’ve seen your Wellbeing Wednesday campaign on social media, why is wellbeing such a hot topic?

Ah, so you have met my pooch Wilbert. My BIG LOVE! He regularly shares his top tips for dealing with issues like stress. As there has been a big push on mental health in recent years and the importance of offering support and outlets for individuals to express themselves, there has, in turn, been a great deal of responsibility put on employers to champion the wellbeing agenda.

Our employee engagement activities are not driven merely by popularity but because of its overriding benefits to the business. Fundamentally, recruitment is dealing with people, more specifically people buying a service from people, and therefore we need to ensure the teams are well equipped technically but also emotionally to provide the best support and service to our clients and candidates alike.

You really can’t underestimate the impact of a smiling face in the morning or a positive jovial conversation to kickstart someone’s day right – so I hope that’s the impression people have when dealing with any member of the Class People team. And it’s my responsibility to enable them to do this.

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