From fast food to the fast-paced world of Industrial recruitment; this month, unLTD’s Ash Birch heads to Wokie Box to grab lunch with Simon Gillott, an industrial recruitment specialist and owner of Sheffield-based recruitment firm Steel Cactus, to find out about his journey from McDonald’s restaurant manager to recruiter.
Hi Simon. Can you start by telling us a little bit about your business Steel Cactus?
We’re industrial recruiters specialising in manufacturing, production and warehousing, so anything within that sector or things that are associated with it. We can cover anything from an unskilled factory worker with no experience, up to management and supervision roles.
When you set up Steel Cactus, why did you decide to focus on the industrial sector?
It’s more or less what I’ve always done. I’ve worked as an industrial recruiter, mainly within Sheffield, for the last 20-years, so when I came to set up my own business, that’s what I wanted to stick with.
What were you doing prior to moving into recruitment?
I worked for 10 years at McDonald’s, starting in 1995 at the Meadowhall drive-thru, working my way up from crew member to restaurant manager by the time I left. At that time, it was a good culture, with good people and they looked after you. Once you got to management level, they’d do a lot of business management training and got you to a point where you could pretty much run a business from top to bottom, which has come in handy. The salary was okay back then and I’ve got no complaints, just good memories.
“You get a feeling for people. We make sure that anybody we put up for interview, we see them first. That way you can pick up little cues that you don’t necessarily get from a CV or a phone call.”
What made you decide to move away from a career in hospitality to recruitment?
I got to a point where I no longer wanted to work weekends and evenings. I loved the job and the people, but I wanted to do something different. We also had a young family and I became a little bit envious seeing people going out on weekends and bank holidays. I wanted to offer a bit more of a stable home life and routine.
I moved into catering recruitment at first, and I did that for two-years. Unfortunately, it was everything I wanted to get away from, because it was all evenings and weekends! Out of the McDonald’s fryer and into the fire! While it wasn’t exactly what I wanted, it was new, it was interesting and it was fast paced, so I stuck with it and got an opportunity to move into industrial recruitment. That was everything I really wanted. The hours were more stable, you get to see behind the scenes at a lot of places and the workers stuck around more, because you were filling placements for jobs that were ongoing. It was exciting.
Was it a culture shock to move into that world?
I suppose it was, but it was interesting as well. I got a buzz from it and when you get it right, and things go well, there’s nothing like it. I think that’s why I stuck with this job because when it goes well and you actually fill bookings well, people stay and it goes to plan, it feels great. Conversely, when it goes wrong, there’s nothing worse.
Do you think over the years you’ve managed to work out how best to match the right people to the right positions, so you have less of the throughs and more of the peaks?
To an extent, yes. A lot of it is instincts. Ultimately, you’re working with people, so there’s no guarantees. It’s a business where the product has a mind of its own, so you’re sometimes at their mercy. That can be frustrating because you can let a client down through no fault of your own. What you do have control over is how you manage it and not being complacent. What we do well, is find the right people and we have a high percentage of people who become permanent because of that.
“I got to a point where I no longer wanted to work weekends and evenings. I loved the job and the people, but I wanted to do something different.”
Are there indicators you’ve learned to look out for when searching for candidates?
You get a feeling for people. We make sure that anybody we put up for interview, we see them first. That way you can pick up little cues that you don’t necessarily get from a CV or a phone call. Then we’ll look at little things, like their attendance at our interviews, promptness in filling forms in, and paying attention to what they need to bring to the interview, etc,. and hopefully that leads to higher success rate.
How do you feel the recruitment sector has changed over the last few years?
People have got more choice now. There are more vacancies than there are candidates in our industry, some of that it to do with Brexit. We’ve lost that influx of Eastern European labour that we’ve had for the last 20 years. The pandemic has also changed things. It gave people a long time to think and potentially choose to move sectors, or set up their own business, taking themselves out of the candidate pool. It just means we have to work harder and spend more time searching and more time interviewing to get the right people.
How difficult has that been?
I think it’s the toughest I’ve ever found it. Combined with the decision to set up on my own business in 2022, it’s been really tough at times. But we’re finding new business opportunities all the time and we’re doing well. I’m proud of how we’ve started.
To find out more about Steel Cactus and to contact Simon, visit www.steel-cactus.co.uk.
Where we ate: Wokie Box
Wokie Box is the latest venture from the lovely folk behind city-centre, Szechuan-inspired Chinese restaurant China Red, and If you’ve already checked out their Rockingham Gate restaurant, you’ll be well familiar with the exquisite, Asian cuisine they have on offer at the new site.
The furnival Gate venue offers the familiar concept of Chinese food in a takeout box (something I longed for after watching episodes of Friends in the 90s!), cooked quickly in a wok over a high heat and married with their familiar, refined touch. Think of it as China Red’s little sister venue, perfect for lunches, takeaways, or a quick bite to eat at teatime.
The menu, which is displayed above the counter, is fully customisable; you simply pick your favourite type of noodles, protein or veg, and enjoy with your pick of delicious Asian sauce and toppings. If you find the choice overwhelming you can let them do the thinking and select one of their Special Boxes. There’s also a range of popular Asian sides, ranging from satay skewers and crispy wonton, to salt and pepper chips and tempura prawns.
As me and Simon have chosen to eat in, while we chat about his recruitment history and his slightly different fast food background, we are presented our food on plates in the comfortable restaurant setting, not far from the whir of the kitchen and the firing woks.
We’re presented with Singapore vermicelli noodles, Sweet and sour vegan chicken and rice, spring rolls, vegetable gyoza and prawn toast on the side.
We’ve opted to share the dishes and we get stuck in while the conversation flows. The vermicelli noodles have a warming Singapore spicing and the sweet and sour vegan chicken is sticky, sweet and packed with flavour. The sauce that comes with the vegetable spring rolls adds a firey touch and is my favourite of what’s on offer.
At around £9 a box, it’s perfect for an indulgent lunch that will leave you well set up for the afternoon ahead.
Find them at 26 Furnival Gate, Sheffield, S1 4QP // www.wokiebox.com