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Double jeopardy: the battle for talent and margin

Posted by: Katherine Garratt 10 Jul 15 - 4:02PM  | Engineering
Food Processing magazineAs recently published in Food Processing magazine's Skills Spotlight, Dan Plimmer, Head of FMCG at Jonathan Lee Recruitment, looks at the possible routes to recruit in an increasingly competitive market, where securing talent can be a difficult task.

While the magic number of 170,300 is often quoted when discussing the skills crisis facing the food and drink manufacturing industry - which is the number of new skilled workers needed by 2020 to fill the looming gap - the number across the whole of the UK industry is far greater. To achieve growth in the industry, employers and candidates both need to show flexibility so as to ensure that skills shortages don’t constrain the sector.

Understanding the pressure that employers are under to retain even a narrow profit margin is essential for candidates. 
Food processors are being squeezed on price by the intense competition between traditional supermarkets and new discount retailers who are encroaching on market 
Download a pdf of the article here:
Food Processing Magazine June 2015 - Double jeopardy the battle for talent - Jonathan Lee Recrutiment
share. It’s a huge challenge for employers, who are under pressure to cut costs and yet need to recruit. With candidates in short supply, which gives them the upper hand certainly, how can companies secure the best talents for their business?

Transferable skills
The first step for employers looking to recruit is to ensure that they are focusing their search in the right areas. Many employers begin with a very specific idea of the desired candidate to avoid wasting time, but this can narrow the search too much, and can mean that they’re overlooking some potential areas of talent. Previous sector experience is often at the top of an employer’s list for good reason, but there is a rich vein of potential candidates from other areas of manufacturing with transferable skills that may be highly beneficial to a food business.

The fast-paced, precise nature of food production, for example, shares many features with the automotive sector. We’re seeing our clients transition very strong candidates with an automotive background into food production roles, especially where they can bring knowledge of lean and efficient processes. Candidates who show their ability to transition between sectors will strengthen their own CV and future marketability to potential employers. We expect to see increasing evidence of candidates moving between sectors as employers become less reliant on the traditional sector silos.

“Role creep”
“Role creep can also be a barrier to effective recruitment,” adds Andy Macpherson, Industry Sector Manager for the food and beverage industry at Festo. “Role creep can be defined as an insidious growth in job roles as a result of companies trying to do more with less. Often we expect new recruits to have multiple capabilities and competencies, potentially bridging what might have been two separate roles. This can set the bar extremely high and companies need to recognise that when recruiting it can be hard to replace like for like. In this case they should look hard at what is really required, focus on core competencies and ensure development plans are in place to support new recruits.”

Looking further afield
To keep growth plans on course, businesses can also look beyond the UK’s talent pool as part of their recruitment strategy. EU countries can offer a very accessible pool of talented candidates, and businesses are already becoming attuned to this. Half of the applications for our vacancies come from countries such as Portugal, Italy and Spain. And in cases where employers are able to sponsor work visas for highly-skilled non-EU workers, there is even merit in looking further afield. Candidates from South America and the Asian sub-continent, where qualifications and careers in engineering are highly prized, can add real value to employers in the UK market.

Selling the job
Once the shortlist of candidates has been identified, the employer needs to work hard to sell the job. For any candidate that has been headhunted, this is particularly important as they haven’t sought out the opportunity to interview. It may seem obvious to not pose questions like “why do you want to work for us?” to a passive candidate, but some businesses do indeed fail at the final hurdle by conducting the interview as if there is a surplus of available talent.

Businesses need to think carefully about the best way to sell the role to each prospective candidate. With the pressure on margins making it difficult to offer inflated salaries, employers should use the interview to find out how to shape the role to suit the needs of the candidate. For example, where do they want to develop their experience? And what special projects could the business make available for the candidate to get involved in, or lead?

Employers who are able to think more broadly about where to find potential employees and work hard to get a candidate on board will ultimately win the battle for talent, putting them in a strong position to grow their business.
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