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Paul Flynn


Managing Director

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National Science and Engineering Week: Plugging the specialist skills gap


It is unsurprising that the ongoing spectre of a double-dip recession and sovereign debt crisis continue to spook world markets.

As such, one could be forgiven for thinking that Europe is something of a black hole when it comes to employment opportunities these days.
To make matters worse, the European Union’s controversial Agency Worker Regulations that came into force last October have also generated uncertainty, while labour laws across the region mean it is now increasingly difficult to bring in skills from outside of the EU.
This means that recruiters in Europe have a smaller pool of available talent to drawn upon and face stiff competition from markets elsewhere.
An increase in demand for specialist skills, on the other hand, has been driven by rapid change in the technology, finance and energy markets and is leading to skills gaps.
Candidates with the right expertise and experience are benefitting from remuneration at above market rates, but also appear keen on having the right career progression opportunities.
At the same time, the increasing use of mobile technology and social media by recruiters is changing the hiring landscape, not least by enabling them to stay in instant and continuous communication with potential candidates.
Planning for the future
While tools such as Linkedin, Twitter and dedicated Facebook pages are becoming an essential element in any employer’s armoury, understanding how and why individual communities use these social networking sites is crucial in order to integrate them into the recruitment mix in a balanced way.
But it is also worth bearing in mind that mobile technology is expected to become huge in a recruitment context this year as a means of enabling candidates to search for vacancies – although it is still not easy to apply for positions directly via mobile phones.
Despite all of this, however, many businesses are adopting a ‘wait and see’ stance when it comes to taking on new staff. According to the OECD, in November 2011, the Euro area’s unemployment rate was still at just over 10% – the highest recorded since the recession began, which reflected higher levels of worklessness in countries such as Portugal, Spain, Ireland and the Netherlands.
But while Greece’s sovereign debt crisis has stifled growth across Europe, some countries such as Germany are still managing to buck the trend. Here there is strong demand for finance specialists – whether in accounting, controlling or audit – not just in the traditional domain of financial services, but also among corporate, industrial and manufacturing firms, especially in the automotive industry.
Even in the UK, where austerity measures are having a big impact on the labour market, there have been pockets of activity, with an underlying air of quiet confidence permeating the gloom brought about by a drop in consumer spending.
Nonetheless, no matter what is happening in the here and now, it is also important for employers to plan for the future, particularly in those industries such as energy and manufacturing where investment cycles tend to be long.
With a number of major projects looming large on the horizon, European countries face fierce competition for experienced oil and gas professionals in markets such as Brazil and Indonesia. This situation is being compounded by the oil and gas sector’s aging workforce, which means that the availability of professionals with specialist skills and experience is starting to tail off.
Skills gaps
But with renewable energy technologies such as wind, wave and biomass promising a possible ‘third industrial revolution’, the market is crying out for experienced practitioners – many of whom will inevitably be drawn from the oil and gas arena.
The same logic applies to IT professionals, and particularly contractors who are willing to re-locate to countries offering attractive pay and conditions. This is because organisations within the energy supply chain are keen to enhance their use of technology in order to boost efficiency and output.
But other sectors such as luxury goods, high tech and heavy industrial are also eager to attract suitable IT skills, while UK preparations for this year’s Olympic Games have led to strong demand for information security professionals.
Just to up the ante even more, however, the construction of large data centres and shared services facilities have carried on apace in Germany. But because many of these sites are situated in remote locations in order to keep costs down, firms are having to offer higher rates of pay in order to recruit IT professionals with the necessary skills.
Interestingly however, money appears to hold less weight for job candidates than it did in the past. Instead many are looking for what is known in recruitment circles as ‘lifestyle, career and motivation’. This means that the balance between lifestyle, career opportunities and net remuneration has to be just right.
But this change in attitude puts the onus on recruiters to communicate the benefits of working in a particular location effectively – although it is also vital that the reality matches the messaging. As a result, employers really need to take the time to get to know potential candidates, create an amenable work environment and help partners and other family members find local work and other support mechanisms.
What this all means is that, where specialist skills are in short supply, it’s all about adding value and standing out from the crowd.
Paul Flynn is managing director of recruitment consultancy, Staffgroup, which specialises in the finance, technology and energy markets. National Science and Engineering Week takes place from Friday 9 until Sunday 18 March.
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Paul Flynn

Managing Director

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