Rebecca Graves discusses NRL’s 40th anniversary with in-Cumbria
In the September issue of in-Cumbria business magazine, NRL Director Rebecca Graves sat down with journalist Giles Brown to reflect on NRL’s 40 year milestone.
Leading our Egremont recruitment branch, Rebecca discusses how the business was founded in Cumbria in 1983, before celebrating four decades of service growth and delivery capability that now sees us trade internationally.
The one for the job
Finding skilled people is one of the biggest challenges facing businesses today, whatever sector they may be working in.
However, this is not a new problem. Technical recruitment specialists NRL started life as a non-destructive testing business 40 years ago last month, launched by Andrew Redmayne in 1983.
When they started having difficulty recruiting the staff they needed, they began looking into developing solutions themselves. In fact, they became so good at it that recruitment became a core specialism rather than an add-on.
Now, NRL operates across a range of industrial sectors from nuclear and renewables to oil and gas and construction, based across England, Ireland and Scotland, as well as overseas in Egypt, employing around 140 people with a turnover of £183m.
It still retains a non-destructive testing division, as well as a rail maintenance business and even a languages solutions arm and — as director Rebecca Graves explains — it remains committed to Cumbria, where its recruitment operation is focused on the nuclear sector from a base in Egremont.
“It’s so lovely to have kept our roots here in Cumbria while still being able to expand nationally and internationally,” says Rebecca
In Cumbria NRL is based at the Old Lodge, in Egremont, where it employs around 20 people. Rebecca says, many of the challenges and solutions – in recruitment are the same as they were 40 years ago when Andrew founded the company.
“He was innovative, solution focused and always looking at finding ways to bring fresh thinking into the sector, to this day that remains at the heart of everything we do,” she says.
“What you’II find is that we’re all incredibly passionate about the company. They had that right back then, that little bit of something that drove them forward to want to bring positive change and it resulted in a company that’s prospering.” “We look at each sector in a bespoke way and take it on a case-by-case basis.”
For example, NRL worked with a major nuclear client – to find the staff it required in the field of health physics, which is concerned with keeping workers safe from radiation. It identified that there were a large number of former Royal Navy submariners with the right background for taking on this kind of work and set about attracting them to the nuclear industry and working with a partner to upskill them to have the required qualifications.
“We reinvigorated the talent pool,” says Rebecca.
“It’s about looking at sectors where they’ve got similar characteristics or where the skill set is the same. It’s about really thinking outside of the box when it comes to bringing in individuals from another sector and as a business. We’ve got the capacity to give them the training that they need if they’ve got the core skills.”
Rebecca says widening the appeal of the sector is also linked to work around equality and diversity to grow the potential pool of interest and applicants.
“It’s a much, much deeper piece than I think people realise, with regards to future proofing the nuclear workforce and attracting people to the area,” she says.
“We do a lot of work focusing on inclusion and diversity, engaging young people at an early age, young girls, so that they’re aware of the opportunities that are available to them in the sector and the range of careers on offer. And we also challenge businesses to think about how they can attract more women into business by looking at things like transferring skills, mentorships and dedicated training programmes. All of those things are incredibly important.”
NRL runs regular workshops with schools and other training providers in order to try and inspire young people to join the sector.
“It’s about getting out there and talking to young people and not just focusing on the age group that are about to go to university,” says Rebecca.
It is an approach which will only become more important as the skills demand in Cumbria increases in line with developments such as nuclear new build and Small Modular Reactors.
“It seems more certain than ever that a robust workforce is going to be required in nuclear,” she says.
“That’s something that we haven’t currently got. While we do have some of the most elite nuclear workers in the world in our region, it’s clear to see that demand for talent will soon outweigh supply and the requirement for these skills is only going to increase in the coming years. As a community, the only way we’re going to be able to address the ever-increasing skills shortages is to come together and collaboratively move forward with one voice and one goal.”
In many cases, she says broadening the talent pool comes down to breaking preconceptions people may have about the typical person who works in the nuclear sector.
“It’s about helping people understand the sector is open to all sorts of people,” she says.
“I’m all about championing the benefits of building a career and a life in this area. There are fantastic employment opportunities and you match them with the community and quality of life and the major projects on our doorstep. Do we talk about that enough? The answer is probably no.”
NRL is also trying to play its own part in building a stronger community locally through actions such as signing the Social Mobility Pledge and becoming members of the Living Wage Foundation.
Rebecca says as a homegrown international business, NRL also understands the value of contributing to its local community, hence its long-term support of the Pride of Cumbria awards, as well as being the headline sponsor of this year’s in-Cumbria Business Awards in November.
“We’re an incredibly ambitious business but our people and local community are at the heart of everything we do, we’re so incredibly proud of everything we’ve been able to achieve on that front over the last 40 years,” says Rebecca.
“I always say we’ve got the scale of a leading international company but we’ve got the heart and soul of a family-owned business. It’s never lost any of that soul or any of that spirit and I love that.”
As well as fostering a family ethos, NRL is also still family led. Although Andrew Redmayne has since passed away, his brother Hugh remains as vice-chairman and Andrew’s son David is chief executive.
Rebecca herself grew up in West Cumbria and says she had solid role models in her dad Des – who worked at Sellafield as a decommissioning manager – and mum Jean.
“My dad’s the hardest working man I’ve ever met and he showed me what it was to be passionate about your career from an incredibly young age,” says Rebecca.
“My mum injects a little bit of magic everywhere she goes. She certainly instilled in me that you can accomplish anything you set your mind to. She encouraged us to dream big, work hard and stay focused. She would always say ‘If nobody else can make it happen for you, you can’.”
Rebecca had an interest in sales from a young age and studied marketing management at Northumbria University. She worked in the nuclear recruitment sector in West Cumbria during her holidays from university, which is where she first came across NRL.
“It was like lighting touch paper,” she says.
“I immediately knew it was the career and company for me. So when many of my peers moved to different parts of the country after university, I knew I wanted to return to Cumbria and begin a career in the industry that I loved. I already knew from my summer placement that the opportunity in the region was vast and I was very keen to immediately start my career.”
She first joined NRL as a recruitment consultant, receiving mentorship from the company’s then managing director.
“I’ll always be eternally grateful for that mentorship, in fact as a business it’s something we’ve remained passionate about. To this day our next generation are still getting the same level of mentorship that I received when I was coming up through the ranks from our senior team.”
Fifteen years after joining the business, Rebecca now oversees its regional strategic direction, as well as managing its clients, which include many of the biggest names working in nuclear in the county.
“I look after a fantastic team of people and they are absolutely the jewel in our crown right across the business,” she says.
“They are as committed to our clients and candidates as I am.”
Rebecca says the 18-year average length of service of other members of the senior leadership team is testament to the culture of the business.
“When I came through the doors I had no intention of staying with one company for so long,” she says.
“It’s the way that NRL treat their people and the way they allow you to grow with them. I couldn’t be anywhere else. It’s in my blood. There really is just such a passion for what we do. We’re genuinely embedded with our clients and we believe in collaboration and partnership. All of our staff have one common denominator, which is that they always try and do the right thing. We have always recruited individuals that are going to be focused on inclusivity, care, openness, integrity and professionalism.”
Beyond recruitment, NRL’s non-destructive testing operation carries out radiographic and ultrasonic testing for the nuclear industry, while the rail division is involved in specialist improvement and maintenance across the UK’s railway network.
For the future, Rebecca says NRL will continue to focus on finding new ways to work with its clients and fulfil their needs, as well as supporting the local community.
“We’re working with everyone from SMEs right up to global engineering and construction companies,” she says.
“Each and every recruitment plan and programme is different, but that’s what we love, it’s innovative, it’s bespoke and it’s tailored to the needs of our clients and that’s what we’ll be doing for the next 40 years.”
You can read the full issue of in-Cumbria business magazine here