Claire James can certainly be credited with having one of the quirkiest offices in Wales.
From her shipping container office in the South Wales Valleys, she runs her company, Highgrade Recruitment, a recruitment agency for the education sector.
Claire provides a personal service, matching teachers, learning support assistants, school administrators and cover supervisors with schools and nurseries on both short and long term contracts.
She also provides full support for her clients throughout the process.
After a degree in European business management and a short spell in retail management, Claire decided to retrain as a teacher of modern foreign languages in 2000.
Around this time, she also took a job in a recruitment agency in Newport to help make ends meet.
From being head-hunted to going it alone.
While doing the recruitment job, she was head-hunted by a PE teacher, who was setting up his own education recruitment agency.
There were only two such companies in Wales at the time, compared to the 63 agencies in existence today.
She worked there for over ten years and helped the agency set up another six education branches, despite the recession. By 2011, she had enough experience and passion to take the plunge and set up on her own.
“It wasn’t the easiest move I’ve ever made as I had no investment or financial backing. In the process of travelling around the country alone and working long hours for someone else, I’d lost my self-belief that I could do it for myself with much success.
But I never gave up. I steadily built my database of quality staff and approached clients I had worked with previously.”
Musical inspiration for business name.
Around this time, Claire was also a DJ in the Cardiff underground ‘house’ and ‘techno’ club – Backroom.
When booking international DJs to perform at Backroom, Claire and her colleagues dealt with a Berlin-based booking agency called Highgrade Entertainment.
When discussing potential business names with her friends from Backroom, Claire suggested they try out names related to their musical endeavours.
The name Highgrade Entertainment cropped up and Claire had her lightbulb moment. Highgrade Recruitment was established officially shortly afterwards.
Moving into the Shipping Container.
Claire started her business working from home but soon started to encounter some of the challenges of doing so.
“Running a business from home can be isolating,” explains Claire, “so the confidence, self-belief and motivation needed to run your own business all has to come from within.”
There was also a lot of bad press around the teaching profession at the time, making it even more difficult for an education recruitment specialist to keep positive and motivated.
Being unable to afford a high street location for her office, and finding it unnecessary due to the specialised nature of the work, she made the unusual but ultimately fruitful idea to buy a shipping container.
She placed it in the beautiful setting of her father’s farm near Pontypool, allowing her to have a professional looking yet quirky office and keeping her home as a home.
“It’s a very holistic setting for a very demanding job,” she says, although she does hope to have a high street presence in the future.
“Don’t do everything yourself”.
When setting up, she received support in the form of grants from Caerphilly Council and the Job Centre. She also received funding from the Go 2 My Town project to set up a website.
She also accessed Chwarae Teg’s business networks and events to help her increase her bank of contacts.
“Don’t do everything yourself,” Claire advises. In addition to the start-up support she received, she now has a part-time administration officer to help with the everyday running of the business.
“And don’t give up when the going gets tough. No matter how difficult the obstacles seem to be, don’t give up.
Never lose your self-belief and pull in support when you need to. There’s always someone to talk to.”
Excellent service makes for a successful business.
Claire’s future plans for Highgrade Recruitment include diversifying into other areas of recruitment such as commercial, construction and industrial, which will make it more necessary to move out of the shipping container and to have a high-street presence.
Yet she maintains that the personal service she offers her clients will still be top of her agenda.
“I want to continue to build a successful business that is known for its service that stands out above the rest.”