Karen Stewart

Engineering, Manufacturing & Supply Chain Recruitment

Karen Stewart, Director, 2020 Round up

 21st Dec 2020

As we have raced towards year-end here at Nine Twenty Engineering & Manufacturing, I felt it important to take the time to reflect on the last 12 months. I will try my best to shy away from the many new buzz words created in 2020 but our journey has been pretty incredible, I won’t lie, I am limping to the finishing line, bruised, battered, exhausted but I’m nearly there and for that, I feel grateful and proud!


Here is a rundown from me........


My team and I started the year on a high, our clients were happy, we were busy, the figures were good and we were working hard. Then everyone started to feel ill and take time off. Myself included! I ended up in bed for over 2 weeks and visited A&E with breathing difficulties. I now can assume we had covid before it was officially here but my goodness, it knocked the stuffing from us!


Our sickly hangover continued in February but as usual, we motored on working with candidates to secure new roles in the Manufacturing community. I was a speaker at the CeeD annual awards night and my Insp-hire discussion was well received. The party atmosphere was amazing as always and we partied with our network on that February night.


March started well but by now we were looking at covid and starting to realise that this could affect us. Luckily as a management team, we planned well and had our teams home working way before we had to, we could see it coming do get prepared. We had our office sanitised, delivered desks, chairs, PC's, laptops, etc, to our team's homes to ensure they could comfortably work from home. Part of my new year resolution was to spend more quality time with my mum so we had booked a spa break on Monday 16th March and I will never forget that. We had a lovely relaxing day, but as we got ready in our room for dinner, Boris came on tv and told the nation to stay away from pubs and restaurants. Our tummies fell and we weren’t sure what to do. We walked downstairs in the hotel and there was an eery silence. It was such a strange feeling and we were starting to worry - I felt a bit panicked.


We ate dinner in our room but the mood had changed and in the morning we decided to pack up and go home. I knew my teams would be worried and want to speak with me. Lockdown kicked in and the world as we knew it has changed.


I decided to accept it for what it was and not to stress (easier said than done) and immediately tasked my team, not to business develop anyone. So many people went into firefight mode and I felt it inappropriate to bother them looking for work that they could not focus on.


Those early days in lockdown were strange but I now remember them fondly.


Our management team pulled together and we utilised our network to try and help get sanitizer bottled, get testing kits into our NHS and join as many helpful dots as we could for people.


The furlough scheme was introduced and we decided to utilise this as initially most jobs had been put on hold and we thought best to safeguard for the long term. We chose to top salaries up for our team on furlough then the hard work kicked in for those of us who were left. Phew, it was hard going, we had no admin support, and our workloads were getting heavy but we motored on and were grateful to still have clients needing our support.


Juggling a heavy workload with a toddler and a child needing home-schooled was mental, my days flew past in a blur and I fell into my bed at night. I saw neighbors painting fences and having afternoon G&T but not for me, I was too busy!


My other half turned 40, even in lockdown I managed to get lots of balloons delivered and organised a wee party just for the 4 of us. We had planned a huge party in our garden but that was no longer allowed, I worried my man would be disappointed but we had a great day. The sun came out and it turned out to be one of the hottest days of the year, we played with the kids, drank some good rums, and had a bbq before settling on the sofa to watch the new Star Wars movie with a big cheese board.


As summer rolled on we were asked to support a client with a large recruitment drive and I was able to start bringing some people off the furlough scheme, at last, I had some help in the day job. My team worked hard to deliver well and the business kept coming in.


The furlough scheme really has been a lifeline and we are a great example of a business that has helped not only to survive but to thrive!


As summer came to an end I was being inundated from recruiters looking for work, I spoke to so many that it almost frightened me- the industry had taken a real bashing!


After many conversations, we found 2 people we felt aligned very well to my business area, our values, and how we like to operate and decided to invest in 2 new business area so we introduced the lovely Danielle Scott (supply chain/logistics) and Tina Smith (international). As a business, our strategy was never to be the biggest team, it has always been to be the best team. We have chosen not to chase every piece of business out there and to work with companies who are aligned with us, who choose a partnership. We can now go deeper with our client's thanks to our newest additions.


We have been kept busy towards year-end and I have utilised the furlough scheme when needed but thankfully that has been less and less! The team has worked their socks off (thank you so much!) and we have kept upbeat as best we can.


Zoom/Teams and video chats may be the norm for now but we have been face to face were allowed and when required and been there for each other as much as possible me. Our new additions are doing great and settling into the Nine Twenty way of life. We have partnered with some amazing companies who are doing amazing things and I feel I can look ahead with some positivity. But I tell you this, I can look back at this year with pride. Pride in my hardworking and committed team, pride in the Nine Twenty leadership team who pulled together to support one another, pride in my network who rallied round to help each other where needed, pride in a culture that seems so rare in business.


This year has been challenging, exhausting, relentless, and scary but it has taught me that the people around you matter and I have taken so many positives from this year that will stay with me forever. My family has been amazing snd my husband has supported me throughout, my kids have thrived and loved being together so much, my business partner Gordon Brown has been my rock, my team have done an amazing job and worked harder than ever, my clients and candidates have supported us, my board colleagues have been great at being there when needed and also trying to help each other.


So as I near the finishing line I’m ready to rest. To eat and drink and be Merry in my bubble. I will be thankful to have got here relatively unscathed. I want to switch off, play games, and relax as we are planning some exciting projects for next year and beyond and I need to be ready for the new challenges ahead.


Thank you to everyone, stay safe, and here’s to a hopefully less socially distanced 2021!

Karen Stewart,


Nine Twenty Engineering & Manufacturing













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