Recruiting for the Long Term

Having worked for over ten years in international exchange there came a point, in that twilight moment between sleep and wakefulness on an aeroplane, that I was increasingly unable to recall where I was coming from – and more worryingly – where I was going. The world of glamorous international travel was feeling decidedly less glamorous. Somewhere between Madrid and London I decided to exchange the trolley-suitcase for a walk to work. I decided to set up my own business.

Four years ago I was reading Every Child Matters and numerous commentaries on the developing agenda in services for children. Occasionally at conferences or in articles a cry went up for more attention to be paid to the question of who would deliver the new agenda – many wanted more attention paid to the recruitment and retention of staff. I read about the reliance on agency staff, spiralling costs and the effects on children and young people. I felt there was an alternative that could meet an immediate need and had the potential to contribute to practice in the UK. I set about offering that alternative – and so Jacaranda Recruitment was born.


Jacaranda is not a typical recruitment agency. We are specialists in permanent recruitment. We have no agency temps and no locum staff. We attract staff from Europe, primarily Germany. The goal is to assist employers to stabilise their workforce, introducing more stability for children and young people as well as reducing budget over-spend. In addition, this form of recruitment brings fresh and new approaches to working with children and young people, for example pedagogy.1

It is a challenge to be recognised for the service that we actually offer. That is little wonder in a climate where agencies are best known for supplying temporary staff at premium rates that are not sustainable. From our clients I occasionally hear stories of unethical behaviour and a non-understanding of the sector that remind me why getting our message across can sometimes feel like a very big challenge.

When setting up Jacaranda it was clear that we would not offer this kind of service. I do not deny there is place for an agency staff service, but I engage readily in debate on the subject of its extended use, the negative impact on financial resources, the lack of continuity in the workforce and, most importantly, the negative impact this can have on children and young people.

International recruitment

Some regard international recruitment as “the last recruitment resort”. This is often implied rather than explicitly stated. International recruitment is not, however, a last resort. In October 2006, the first Social Care Code of Practice for International Recruitment was launched. It has 12 principles, the first of which states, “International recruitment is a sound and legitimate contribution to the development of the registered and unregistered social care workforce.”2 This is not a theoretical statement or abstract notion.

One of our clients states, “We have been most impressed with the quality of the candidates referred to us from Jacaranda. More importantly, the children in our care enjoy the cultural diversity that these individuals bring to our organisation.” At a review meeting in early 2006 a local authority service manager told me he felt the results of their JAR would not have been as good as they were without the staff we provided. At that same authority, one candidate has been promoted to Senior Practitioner, another sits on the fostering panel…. this is not the stuff of last resorts.

Social pedagogy

Even a cursory reading of Care Matters indicates that a closer inspection of our European neighbours is taking place with consideration to what practices in these countries can offer work with children and young people in the UK. Particularly interesting is the practice of pedagogy and social pedagogy.

The National Centre for Excellence in Residential Childcare is running a pilot project to raise awareness, practice exchange and development, in order to facilitate a better understanding of the relevance and possible translation of social pedagogic approaches into the English residential child care context. It is clear that such an approach cannot simply be picked up from one country and transplanted to another, but in the meantime pedagogues from Europe have been working in residential child care settings for some time. Some social pedagogues have chosen direct work with children and young people; some have registered with the GSCC and work in local authorities. Via Jacaranda this has been taking place for over three and half years. Who are they? Why do they come? What do they think of our services and is it always a smooth ride?

The candidates

Jacaranda has placed nearly 200 candidates in permanent positions in a variety of locations throughout the UK. Hundreds upon hundreds more than that apply, but not everyone makes the grade. Language levels and competence to integrate both professionally and personally are robustly assessed. Carefully looking at motivation and expectations is essential and these are many and various, ranging from a dearth of work opportunities in the home country or having friends and family in the UK to a desire for a professional change.

To understand the openness to move amongst these professionals better it perhaps helps to exchange our British shoes for a pair of German shoes. In my German shoes, I have most likely had nine years of school English. I may have spent one year in an English-speaking country between school and studies. I will have studied social work, social pedagogy or pedagogy, most likely for four years. Some of my courses may have been delivered in English and I may have taken the option of comparative studies, looking at the systems in the UK, the Netherlands and the USA. I am also used to a federal system where the overarching, national legislation is fundamentally founded on the same values as those in say, the UK, but guidelines, frameworks and the way of delivering services may vary from one federal state to the next. So, I am accustomed to the idea of picking up different ways of working – I have been taught to learn.
And, in my German shoes I have a different concept of “overseas” – I can travel a long way, encounter many languages and cultures and not cross one single sea.

People who make the move are professionally experienced and newly qualified, older and younger, with and without families. All are expecting to learn and motivated to do so. Some may never have realised that they had the option of working in the UK; others might have planned it for years; some have been to the UK before; others have never set foot here, but all candidates attend interviews in the UK.


As these European professionals work in the UK, there are cultural, personal and professional interfaces allowing a multitude of comparisons to be made. Some qualitative research is under way. One candidate placed by Jacaranda is researching the use of social pedagogy in the field of UK child protection in his PhD whilst working in a local authority children’s service.

Jacaranda feedback shows that candidates greatly appreciate the training they receive, find colleagues and team spirit comparatively more supportive and friendly in the UK, find the work to be more procedurally-led than based on their own professional judgement, note their ability to grow into the speed of the work and learn the vast number of acronyms we use with great satisfaction.

One candidate reports that almost everyone knows someone who has been to Germany, often with the army, and this is usually a good ice-breaker. This same candidate has twice been called a Nazi. A British worker has been told she is a b***ch with a big nose. Verbal aggression is what it is in any language.

Language is a very important tool of communication and with no sense of excuse, candidates tell us that they often state at the outset of their communication with someone that their mother tongue is not English and if the person they are talking to doesn’t understand, or finds something strange, they should just ask. Jacaranda pre-screens all candidates for a minimum level of English, which is necessarily a very high level.

Often we hear that this perceived disadvantage, when handled with confidence can be turned into an advantage. Never is one more aware of the meaning between the words than in another language. An awareness of what is said, and often more importantly what is not said, requires a certain level of cultural awareness.

The cultural distance<3 between Germany and the UK is not great and, with a good approach from the outset, exploring that is part of the joy and learning experience of intercultural contact for both parties. The cultural differences matter when they are not acknowledged at the early stage of an international recruitment exercise and, as is the case in all walks of life, assumptions cause problems, as does lack of transparency. A professional approach helps to minimise any potential misunderstandings.


At recruitment road-shows Jacaranda asks people to consider what it takes to make a success of working and living in another country. This discussion forms a fundamental part of any recruitment event. Rooms full of people share their experiences, fears, aspirations. Less than half the people in those rooms will take their application further after that discussion; they realise they cannot, or do not want to, do it. Herein lies one of the considerable advantages of working with recruitment professionals who take pre-screening seriously. This stage should happen well before any employer meets a candidate for interview, thus avoiding the possible upheaval and disappointment that result from inaccurate expectations and ill-thought-out moves.

At Jacaranda we take recruitment checking very seriously and work hand in hand with the HR staff of our clients, fulfilling and often exceeding their recruitment and reference check requirements. Criminal Records Bureau disclosures are completed and home-country police-checks are done in accordance with CRB recommendations when recruiting internationally. Strict quality assurance procedures are in place with documented procedures, rigorous checking and a policy of always having two sets of eyes reviewing references and double-checking dates.


Any discussion, they say, when carried on for long enough, is most likely to end in semantics. In my view, any attempt at understanding intercultural contact, no matter how formal or informal, should start with semantics. I witnessed a discussion between professionals from four or five different countries recently. The subject was how many more looked after children there are in Germany than in the UK. It took some time before it came to light that Germany has a form of care which is something between fostering and a care home, forming a large part of its looked after population.

By asking what something really means at the outset, one reduces the chances of missing anything interesting or avoiding confusion later. Jacaranda has developed a one day familiarisation training delivered in the first week of a candidate’s employment. It sets out to assist candidates to develop the right strategies required to work in a new workplace, with new colleagues, in a new country with all its customs and culture, working in another language, and yet to be the fully trained and often experienced professionals that they are.

No employer can expect international staff to “hit the ground running” – if they do, the exercise will fail. Thought and effort needs to be put into effective induction, training, supervision and buddying. Expectations must be right on both sides. It is for this reason that Jacaranda has developed a recruitment methodology that gives candidates and employers the chance to form realistic expectations of each other; all interviews take place in the UK, with the employer. And this means there is no international travel for recruiting staff – glamorous, or otherwise.

Abby Ladbrooke is Managing Director of Jacaranda Recruitment

Contact details for Jacaranda Recruitment:
Ingolf Block, +44 (0)208 676 5619 or [email protected]

Via the Contact Us section of the website or
Rene Mantik +44 (0)208 676 5620 or [email protected] or  
Joel Attar +44 (0)208 676 5615 or [email protected]


2 for further details.

3 The Psychology of Culture Shock, Ward, Bochner and Furnham, Second Edition provides interesting insights into acculturation and cultural distance.

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