Transferable Skills in Higher Education Commercial Services and Student Accommodation A Q&A with Anna Kacprzak

Higher Education Commercial Services and Student Accommodation are sectors in which MRG takes immense pride. Working with prestigious institutions such as the University of the Arts, University of Leeds, King’s College, and PBSA providers like Yugo, we have had fantastic experiences in appointing roles from senior management to board level.

Today, Anna Kacprzak, a specialist in senior appointments across these sectors, shares her professional journey. She discusses how her personal experiences influence her candidate sourcing methods and covers the benefits and challenges of working in this dynamic industry.

What is your current role at MRG?
I have been with MRG for over 18 months now, concentrating on recruiting mid to senior-level management positions within Higher Education. My responsibilities span a variety of appointments across diverse areas, where I assist our clients in filling positions such as Residence Manager, Student Wellbeing Manager, Head of Commercial Services, and Training and Facilities Manager.

What led you to joining MRG?
MRG is my first position in recruitment. Previously, I worked in hotels and senior hospitality for over a decade. I worked as the Front of House Manager in the largest airport hotel in the UK, led large and diverse teams of +60 people, and supported a complex operation across room division, catering, banqueting and leisure services. During the pandemic, I also supported the hotel with pre-opening, rebranding, and transition projects that were required of the hospitality sector.

While hospitality is often associated with customer service, it demands a range of skills beyond the traditional scope of running a hotel. Skills such as crisis management and multi-tasking are easily cultivated in the hospitality sector and remain highly transferable. In addition, strong time management and problem-solving skills are seamlessly applicable as well within Higher Education’s commercial and facility services or the student accommodation sector. Drawing from my own industry transition, I am passionate about sourcing candidates with unique skills from different sectors.

Can you describe the candidate supply market in commercial services?
Current trends in commercial services are focused on innovation, sustainability, and enhancing the student experience. Consequently, candidates displaying adaptability, forward-thinking, and an understanding of the market and overall sector—regardless of direct Higher Education experience—can offer valuable perspectives and contribute to HE institutions’ commercial services.

Candidate availability and skill levels vary across the country. Universities in remote locations may experience challenges sourcing candidates with direct HE backgrounds compared to more accessible regions like London. In those cases, the flexibility around the background and appreciation of transferable skills from candidates in diverse industries become advantageous.

One of the key aspects to consider when appointing candidates from outside higher education is the cultural fit. It is important to ensure individuals have the soft skills required which range from their internal stakeholder engagement and communication skills, but also their willingness to adhere to governance and process. Higher education systems are more complex than the private sector so you need to ensure candidates are happy to produce business cases for approval and work in an environment with set budgets.  This can be assessed both via the formal panel process but also through personality profiling (psychometrics).

What makes HE Commercial Services attractive to candidates?
Firstly, the opportunity to work for such reputable institutions is attractive to ambitious candidates. Secondly, the benefits package is appealing, comprising generous holiday allowances, a pension scheme, healthcare, and a focus on work-life balance. Higher education institutions prioritise fostering a healthy work environment, emphasising the balance between personal and professional lives for their employees. This aspect is desirable for candidates transitioning from industries like hospitality, retail, or the private sector, where working long hours and sacrificing family time has often been the cultural norm.

What types of skills are in demand for the roles you appoint?
Leadership, communication, customer service, and organisational skills are crucial skills. The specific requirements vary based on the position and the recruiting organisation. Our longstanding and strong relationships with clients empower us to gain a deep understanding of competent and compatible candidates, assessing their personalities to ensure a seamless fit within the team and the organisational culture. In the past year, I’ve successfully filled managerial positions across Residence, Security, Wellbeing and Accommodation, and most of the appointed candidates were made without having prior experience in Higher Education or PBSA.

How does candidate assessment help you?
The assessments we carry out are as, if not more, important than CV content; they focus on a person’s strengths and weaknesses, irrespective of their background. We establish core competencies before the interview stage as part of our forensic process. We aim to evaluate all candidates based on identical criteria, ensuring equal opportunity for everyone. Following a comprehensive assessment of all candidates based on the same competencies, we can confidently present the most suitable candidates to clients. At MRG, we are advocates for inclusion, transparency, and fairness. While relevant experience holds value, exceptional talent can deliver extraordinary results in any setting.

Thank you, Anna, for taking the time to talk about your professional journey and what you do at MRG.

If you are interested in learning more about the Student Accommodation and Higher Education Commercial Services sectors, contact Anna Kacprzak.

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