Lorna leads the fightback

Lorna leads the fightback

A major weapon in the region’s fightback to economic recovery will be a new generation of business talent which a former young entrepreneur, Lorna Moran, is doing much to hone.

One of the North East’s most promising antidotes in the midst of the recession lies in its determination to combat the symptoms even as they appear. It is manifest in prescriptions prepared and administered at organisational levels by the likes of One North East, North East Chamber of Commerce, Business and Enterprise North East, and the Entrepreneurs’ Forum.

It appears grass-rooted through the likes of the relentless and commendable campaign by employees of Corus, who are vociferous in lobbying to save their steel jobs on Teesside. And it is evident in contributions by well placed individuals in business who are giving time, effort and resources to ensuring the region will emerge from the difficulties stronger than when it went in, particularly in employment

A major achiever on this floor at the North East’s Department of Recovery is Lorna Moran, chief executive of NRG recruitment group. Inspirer and co-founder previously of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum, which accelerates start-ups for many aspiring entrepreneurs through one-to-one mentoring by leading business owners, Lorna Moran has now launched through NRG the Leadership Enterprise Opportunity (LEO), which has now developed 18 people through its first course.

The LEO programme, accredited by Northumbria and Teesside Universities, has a twin objective.

It is helping to re-settle bright individuals who have lost - or may lose – their jobs in any sector.

And through this it is trying to ensure that their talents are not lost to the North East through migration. In a region fighting to raise its skills levels anyway – and particularly now, for when recession lifts - even leading businesses have had to reduce workforces, losing potential managers as they do.

LEO’s programme of three or four weeks helps those hit to analyse their own skills and realise the full extent of the opportunities open to them by starting a business or moving to a new sector of employment. The feedback from participants on the first course has exceeded all Moran’s expectations.

“Every person has had their own journey,” she says, “but they’ve all had huge benefit.

Some are starting their own business, some are taking further education - at least two are applying for MBAs.“Three have found new jobs, each saying LEO gave them much more confidence during the interview process.

Several are looking at self-employment and opportunities for consultancy, and all but one are determined to stay in the region – fantastic!”Among the early venturers into businesses of their own are Northumbrians Clive Grey of Whittingham and Chris Powell of Bedlington. Clive, a former Royal Marine officer, worked for Sage plc until taking voluntary redundancy earlier this year when the software giant shed200 jobs.

Now he has set up Aln Side, an outdoor teambuilding and networking support for other businesses. Chris, an engineer, has launched Be Safe Today- a software enterprise enabling firms to design and produce their own safety signs for the workplace. Does LEO overlap the Entrepreneurs’ Forum? Moran says: “Because the LEO programme encourages participants to explore all potential opportunities, becoming self-employed or, indeed, starting their own business will alwaysfigure highly in their choices.“Of course, the Entrepreneurs’ Forum is the organisation for entrepreneurs, and I will naturally encourage suitable participants to apply for membership.”Participants are briefed on the changing nature of the North East economy, and on which sectors are in growth and may offer good long-term openings to them.LEO urges its participants to be flexible and willing to consider new environments in which to get their careers back on track.

As Moran explains: “A significant part of the programme brings in experts who look at the landscape of the region for the future.

Where will the new opportunities be, and what will the supply chains look like in, for example, renewable energy and electric vehicles?”Peer group sessions and one-to-one coaching predominate, with course members getting otherwise elusive access to major employers, influencers and decision makers such as Alan Clarke, Mark Henderson, Alastair MacColl, Paul Callaghan and Lucy Armstrong. Afterwards, the participants gain entry to the LEO Community, which is their own online networking club.

Moran, whose services to employment earned her a millennium MBE, is a sharp networker herself; evident from LEO endorsement by OneNorth East, Business Link, the CBI, the NorthEast Chamber of Commerce and the Entrepreneurs’ Forum.

Her intimate access to knowledge of up-to-the-minute opportunity in business and public service, via the nature of work done by NRG group which she founded, has her well-placed to devise and introduce measures ensuring that our region has the potential to emerge from recession better resourced through a new generation of entrepreneurs and prospective corporate talent.

Moran agrees about her advantageous standpoint, but stresses: “We are showing applicants all avenues along which to find new opportunities - not just that of NRG.”She says the recession, having caught everyone off guard, has put too many talented people out of work."The region’s economy has drastically changed in a very short time.

We are now aiming to show people like the course participants that there are opportunities still, making it worth their while to stay put.

This is to the long-term good of the North East also."The course, which is endorsed by One NorthEast, encourages the consideration of all options, from embarking on a new career to starting a business.

For, as Moran warns:“Often, other areas get out of recessions faster than the North East.

If that happens again, people will tend to go to those areas to find new jobs, depleting the labour market here. Moran warms particularly to young people who are ambitious to set up on their own.

She was 25 when she did it herself, setting up Geordie Jobfinders, which became the foundation for NRG .She did it with the experience of having worked for Northern Electric, Newcastle Chronicle & Journal and recruitment consultant Hogget Bowers & Partners, for whom she was northern controller. With 33 years of activity to date – including a switch from private to public ownership and back again - NRG has ridden the crest of waves both good and bad in the regional economy.

Throughout, it has been proactive on behalf of both the public and the private sectors, meeting an extensive range of human resource needs, at one end headhunting chief executives while at the other filtering myriad applications for a "gofer". Its client base includes some of the nation’s biggest employers - Procter & Gamble, British Airways, Royal Mail and HMRC among them, the latter placing NRG’s longest contract requiring more than 10,000 recruits.

NRG also provides consultancy in human resources, learning and development. It has worked in teams of 50 and more on contracts requiring larger scale recruitment all over the UK - the needs of call centres for example, and employers who require administrative staff for a fixed term.

And it is one of only seven companies in the country on a pan-government framework contract to supply temporary administrative and clerical staff for government offices around the UK. On a personal level, Moran, who is married with five children, is the region’s first woman to have taken a company to a full stock market listing and then a de-listing - and the first woman also to become North East Business Executive of the Year.

That was for1997, and a tribute to her skills in taking NRG to a flotation. The firm employs about 140 and has a turnover of around £20m.

Did she imagine in her own infancy of self-employment her business would spread from a headquarters in Newcastle’s fashionable Grey Street to operations also in London, Edinburgh, York, Middlesbrough and Tees Valley? No, she laughs.

"That’s what makes entrepreneurism so interesting.

It’s about taking opportunities as they arise, and I have been lucky enough to have plenty of opportunities."The jobs market has changed remarkably in NRG’s time.

High levels of professional unemployment are now liable to appear, and many employers have increasingly had to reassess and redeploy their workforces. Flexibility and adaptation have become watchwords for employers and employees alike.

Flexi-working is more common. So too is the practice of making interim appointments with caution evident prior to the filling of permanent positions. While supporting clients which are edging forward like this, NRG also prepares candidates for longer and more detailed selection processes they might encounter.

Moran is optimistic. She says tougher times than these have been confronted with success.NRG and LEO have a key role in One NorthEast’s Talent Challenge, which is also aimed at keeping highly-skilled people living and working in the North East.

One North East has set aside £4.65m, with the goal of helping2,000 people by 2012 – particularly professionals, managers and highly skilled technicians. Craig Fawcett, 39, of Chester-le-Street, has benefited.

He says he now has a range of opportunities and appreciates the guidance he had from an NRG team.

“They were great to work with,” he says.

“They helped me plan my career path after redundancy.”Besides having to find a new paymaster, what are the biggest difficulties that talented people in redundancy need to come to terms with?“Rejection,” Moran says.

“Unemployment not only alters your status in the workplace, but often at home and in your social circles, too. It attacks how you perceive yourself being valued. Much of week one of LEO is about getting confidence back and understanding the participants’ value.”She says of the region’s attainments generally, though: “We’ve made astonishing progress.”She points to something she can personally vouch for; that besides a growing success in attracting talent from the wider world, the North East can now grow its own more readily too.

“That should be a priority for all of us- make sure we can emerge from the current situation even stronger than before.”

For more information on LEO courses,contact Lesley Sabiston, tel 0191 260 4412,email lesleysabiston@nrgplc.comand see www.leoprogramme.co.uk