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How to navigate the difficult route to career relocation

PrintWeek

If George Thompson, joint managing director at recruitment company Harrison Scott, is right, then the first thing any print worker looking for employment needs to do is buy a map. And not a little, local A-Z map, either: they need a big, UK-wide, every-corner-of-this-fair-isle-and-beyond map.

"If you are in print production, there is no point in first spending six months looking locally for a job, and then maybe considering a move further from home after that. There just aren’t the jobs out there to let you find work quickly in the local area. If you want to stay in print, you have to be open to a job UK-wide from the off – not just an hour away, but the other end of the country, if necessary."

Even for the most adventurous of spirits, that does not make for pleasant reading. The practicalities of uprooting a life and depositing it somewhere completely new are no doubt panic attack-inducing for the vast majority. That said, according to Thompson, compared with five years ago, 23% more applicants coming to his company say they are willing to relocate. Whether they would take the plunge in reality, given the chance, is debatable, but the process of relocation certainly does not have to be the horror some believe. And for employers, attracting employees from a wider net can be very good for business.

Relocation may not be something many printers have considered, but it is certainly going to be more of a feature of the industry. A brief look through the pages of PrintWeek will demonstrate how print has contracted in size, and the result of that is fewer companies in any given geographical area – so, fewer jobs. This is particularly the case in Scotland, according to Colin Cruickshank, who relocated from north of the border to South Wales to become a customer services and estimating representative at HSW Print.

"Up in Scotland, there are very few large printing companies left and I had little choice but to consider moving to where there was more work," he explains.

Less competitive regions

Thompson reveals that it is not just areas with few print companies that can pose problems, though. He explains that in densely populated areas, there is a lot of competition for jobs, and so looking at regions where there may be less competition is also a reason for relocation.

"If you look to the smaller areas in terms of population, you have some great printing companies, but not as many people and so the opportunities for work are greater," he says.

Reasons to be looking elsewhere for work can obviously vary. Redundancy is the most common reason, but promotion and job security are also key stimuli for casting an eye across the jobs market. For Tim Lovell, the new pressroom manager at Aberystwyth-based Cambrian Printers, the latter was his reason for seeking pastures new after 24 years at a large print group based in the West Country.

"I was extremely happy at my previous company, but with the situation in the sheetfed and web-offset markets at present – both of which are in a bit of turmoil, which breeds a great deal of uncertainty – I started looking around to see what potential employment options were about," he explains.

It’s not just the current employment situation of a job seeker that can determine whether relocation is viable; just as important is an applicant’s home life. Cruickshank and Lovell both explain that they faced fewer complications in moving because their children were grown up. Paul Jarvis, who, after selling his print business in 1998, relocated to Valencia and then the Isle of Man for work, says that the fewer your ties, the easier relocation becomes.

"I don’t think that relocation is something everybody could do," he says. "For me, it was relatively easy because I had nothing holding me where I was, as my daughter was grown up and I was single. For someone with a family and obligations, though, it really would be difficult, as it requires a lot of flexibility."

That’s not to say that relocation isn’t an option if you do have a young family, however. For the right job in the right place, and with the support of the family, there’s no reason why someone with a more complex situation couldn’t make a success of a move. Whatever your situation, though, it is essential that before applying for a position, you are sure that both the job and area are right. Research, then, is crucial.

"I researched Cambrian on the internet, got a feel for what it was about and saw that it had a good reputation," says Lovell. "I also used some of my contacts in the trade to see how it was viewed, and I received some really positive responses. I then had a look at the area, along with my wife, and we considered our options carefully. I did my due diligence."

No special treatment

This process is all the more important because it is likely that you will not be treated any differently than a local applicant. So, for example, you would be expected to make your own way to the interview, with your own money.

"If an individual says I want that job and they have seen the terms offered, then it is up to that individual to get there," explains BPIF HR advisor for the North West Linda Harrison. "The employer has no responsibility to help you."

For Lovell, there was more help in this process than you might expect from other companies. Cambrian managing director Doug Gray not only paid for Lovell’s petrol to and from West Wales, but also put Lovell and his wife up in his house and took them to dinner. Gray knows how relocation feels, having done it four times himself.

"I think my experience of relocating makes me a lot more sympathetic to the circumstances of people we employ in this situation," he says.

He concedes that the amount of assistance an applicant receives will generally correspond with the seniority of the position for which they have applied. This is standard practice across all industries and becomes particularly important when a job is accepted. At director level, some companies do offer relocation packages in order to help with the financial side of a relocation. For a vast majority of positions lower than director level, however, this is virtually unheard of.

"In the print industry, relocation will almost always be financed by the individual. We’re not this corporate world where big packages will pay for all your solicitor’s fees, costs of removals and rental fees," explains Thompson.

Dani Novick, managing director of Mercury Search and Selection, says that these costs are really important for printers looking at relocation to consider.

"When you factor in mortgage fees, legal fees, land registry and stamp duty, most people within the print industry will face costs of between £4,000 and £12,000 for buying a house," she says. "Then you have removals and storage, which could cost between £500-£2,500."

Relocation’s two guises

This is why relocating comes in two guises. To avoid the financial upheaval of the above, some opt to keep the family home and rent a room near their place of work, travelling between the two on weekends or days off. This is what Cruickshank does and he says it can be done affordably by setting yourself up as a limited company. Cambrian’s Gray tried this approach for one relocation, but says it was ideal for neither him nor the company he worked for – hence, he will always advocate a new starter moving to the area full-time.

"You can get difficulties with relocations when the employee doesn’t move completely to the new area. We find that it is harder for those people to settle into the new company than those who move locally," he explains. "Also, most print companies of a reasonable size now run 24/7, and increasingly companies need staff near at hand in case things go wrong. If you’re hundreds of miles away, you can’t offer that. Personally, as well, when I did it, it was a very lonely experience and very stressful living away from family."

One thing to bear in mind if you do wish to take the plunge and up sticks completely is the probation period – indeed, you also have to consider this if you are just renting and looking at long-term leases. For director-level appointments, probation periods can last up to six months; for below director level, they tend to last three months. This period is essentially a safeguard for both the employer and the employee if things don’t go as planned.

"Probations should set standards for attendance, performance and conduct," says BPIF’s Harrison. "There should be regular reviews during the probation period to see how things are going. If issues do occur during this period, the employer should first sit down with the employee to see if there is a way around resolving the issue. If things are not resolved, then both parties can agree that the best solution is for the contract to be terminated."

It’s this fear of things not working out that scares some companies away from looking at applicants who would need to relocate. Novick explains that although this cautiousness is natural, it can lead a firm to miss the chance to improve its business.

"Some companies will even leave vacancies unfilled, holding out for a candidate with the perfect skill set on their doorstep, rather than look at someone who would need to relocate," she explains. "The reasons for this are usually focused on the perceived hassle and time of getting someone up to speed or the concern that the relocation will be too much for the individual, leading their performance to suffer. Of course, these issues can be very real, but in our experience, not considering relocating candidates limits your access to talent."

Certainly this is the view of Cambrian’s Gray, who says that broadening the geographical search pool for applicants means he is more likely to find the best person for the job. HSW Print managing director Malcolm Hackett, who has employed many people from around the country – not just Cruickshank – agrees, and says that with the protection of a probation period, there really is nothing for a company to fear in such situations.

"I don’t have any fears about being trapped in a relationship that is bad for the firm, because of the security that probation periods provide," he explains. "The benefits of employing people from further afield far outweigh any risks, as well. If you are casting your net wider, you do manage to find what you want in terms of applicants."

Thompson adds that relocating can be just as good a career move for the applicant themselves: "Relocating can have a big impact on how a person is viewed on a CV – that person’s previous willingness shows they are a strong, committed person with a sense of adventure and real ‘get up and go’."

Obviously, the upheaval of relocation should not be trivialised. For many, it will be beyond what they want to inflict on themselves and their families, but it should be something every print worker at least considers, even if then to dismiss it. This is not just because it might be necessary to stay in print in the current climate, but also, as Thompson says, because moving around can lead to experience that really helps progress a career. With the right support from a willing company, it could be a fantastic opportunity.

CASE STUDY

In January, Tim Lovell moved from a West Country-based print group to be pressroom manager at Aberystwyth-based Cambrian Printers. This is his story.

"I had worked at my previous employer for 24 years and was extremely happy in my time there. However, with the situation in the sheetfed and web-offset markets at present – they are in a bit of turmoil, which breeds a great deal of uncertainty – I started to look around at what sort of potential employment options were about.

When the agency rang me and mentioned that the job was in Aberystwyth, I have to confess I took a step back in shock. But I thought: ‘keep an open mind’.

I researched the company on the internet, got a feel for what they were about and saw that they had a good reputation. I also talked to my contacts in the trade to see how they were viewed and I got really positive responses. I did my due diligence, so to speak.

My wife came up to Aberystwyth with me in the initial stages. We looked around the town and had chatted with Cambrian. It was important that she was happy with everything. In the end, she granted me her permission.

Obviously, in practical terms, making the move across the country has its hurdles – I have had to sell my house, for example. Changing jobs is going to bring some pain, some of which may be financial, but if you really want the job and it will motivate you and make you happy, then you have to put yourself out to achieve it.

I don’t think relocation has to be this big intimidating thing. If you do your research properly, it does not have to be daunting.

My top tip would be to be sure that the job is what you want. If you are going to move 300 miles but you are not 100% sure, it could end in failure. Once you have that part settled, the rest of the process is easier, as you have the confidence that the decision is the right one."

TOP TIPS FOR EMPLOYERS

  1. There is no obligation to pay travel costs for interviews, no matter how far away the applicant is coming from, but some companies do pay travel and/or accommodation for second interviews
  2. For director-level appointments, it is customary to offer some form of relocation package that helps a relocating new employee to finance the move. For below director level positions, however, this sort of aid is not normally given
  3. Probation periods are essential. Lasting 3-6 months, they are a ‘getting you know you’ period for both employee and employer, and an escape route if things don’t work out During the probation period, regular meetings can help solve problems before they become bigger issues
  4. It is important to be supportive of the new recruit, so information packs about the area, housing advice and support structures for the family as well as the individual, should all be offered

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