Fred Roberts, joint MD of food sector recruitment specialists Jarvis Johnson told FoodManufacture.co.uk that increasing demands upon manufacturers from retailers and legislators meant there was a drive for more skills, experience and commercial acumen across all job functions in the sector.
“Companies realising there is a shortage of good candidates are now making faster hiring decisions, offering better salaries to attract skilled candidates and snapping up the available talent,” she said.
“We have seen companies that are unwilling or unable to be flexible in their requirements or salary/benefits offerings suffer from their vacancies remaining unfilled for months.”
Buyers' market myth
Roberts added that it wasn’t even a ‘buyer’s market’ for firms – in terms of attracting top talent – at the height of the recession.
“Clients were expecting to have a plethora of candidates to choose from because so many people were being made redundant, but the reality was quite different. Whilst there were a few fantastic candidates available, companies were holding on to their best people when making redundancies,” she said.
“Candidates still in employment were also reluctant to move to a new company – the stagnant housing market made relocation all but impossible and candidates that felt lucky to still have a job didn’t want to jeopardise their position by moving into unknown territory.”
Consequently,Roberts explained,whilst the market was flooded with candidates, this actually made recruitment more difficult as there were more applications to sift through in order to find the proverbial needle in a haystack.
“This meant that a small number of excellent candidates were in high demand. Those employers that failed to realise this inevitably ended up finding that by the time they made a decision to offer a role to someone, that person had already been offered another role elsewhere.”
Jarvis Johnson has noticed a marked increase in client briefs over the past few months, said Roberts, “with record numbers of vacancies being briefed to us”, although the most significant and encouraging change was less procrastination from clients in hiring, “presumably caused by concerns over making the wrong hiring decision”.
Skills sets missing
Andy Spooner, business development director, sustainable practice consultancy, Suiko, said there were skills sets missing in the sector, with food manufacturing going through a period of change with the movement towards ‘lean’ manufacturing.
However, he stressed that skilled candidates were moving increasingly moving into food manufacturing from other sectors, with the sector perhaps recovering at a faster rate than other industries.
“Certainly amongst major manufacturers there sometimes seems to be a shortage of ‘whole brain’ staff, general or factory manager types. The sector is quite a close community and these roles are often filled by interim rather than permanent staff.”
“Why is this? It’s just a personal opinion, but I think it could be down to just this fact, a shortage of suitably qualified people, rather than firms wanting the flexibility. Perhaps it’s more lucrative for the candidates in question, but it does bring a degree of instability.”
Roberts added that main sector skills shortages (offering the main number of openings as a result) include technical- and quality management roles, and technologist level and specification-writing positions.
Despite many applications from well-qualified overseas nationals, Roberts said UK clients required retailer-specific experience in the sector. However, she was less positive about cross-industry transfers:
“In specialist areas, such as technical, purchasing, production/operations etc, it’s very difficult to transfer into food manufacturing from other industries, as the skills required are so specific.
“Even in areas such as HR and Finance, clients are very reluctant to take candidates from other industries, even though, realistically, as long as their background is in a manufacturing environment, they should be able to transfer their skills very easily into food manufacturing.”
Roberts added Jarvis Johnson had successfully resisted downward pressure on fees over the past couple of years and retained a loyal client base, as well has gaining new clients who felt let down by agencies competing purely on price.