Rise of the Oliver Twist worker

2007

The days of being grateful for what you are offered by an employer are long gone. Today, talented workers recognise they are in short supply and are prepared to ask for – and get – big bucks in return for taking up a job offer.

An annual salary survey by recruiters Robert Half International and CareerBuilder.com has found no sign that the war for talent in America is easing anytime soon.

In fact nearly six out of 10 hiring managers complained of difficulties in finding fully qualified people for the job, with nine out of 10 saying the environment today was equally or more challenging than a year ago.

More than half of those struggling to fill vacancies said the key problem was a shortage of qualified professionals.

Talented job-seekers have increasingly cottoned on to the fact that they may be in short supply, the poll of more than 1,000 workers and 900 employers found.

Nearly six out of 10 said they were now more likely to negotiate a better compensation package today than 12 months ago, double the number in last year's poll.

The survey also showed how the war for talent has intensified over the past two years.

In 2005, four out of 10 hiring managers said they were having difficulties hiring qualified staff, but by 2006 this had risen to 55 per cent and this year stood at 57 per cent.

Nearly two thirds were pessimistic about the future, believing the environment will be just as challenging a year hence, with more than a quarter gloomier still and believing it will be even more challenging.

Professional and technical staff were the most difficult to recruit, the poll found, with four out of 10 struggling to find the right candidates for these positions, up from 37 per cent last year.

Nearly a fifth – 17 per cent – reported difficulties in filling director, manager, supervisor and team leader positions, up from 15 per cent the year before.

"The survey results from 2005 to present show an increasingly competitive job market for professional-level and highly skilled positions," said Max Messmer, chairman and chief executive of Robert Half International.

"To recruit successfully, companies must 'sell' applicants on the benefits of working for their firms. Organisations that are adept at promoting the positive and unique aspects of their corporate cultures to prospective hires have a significant advantage over their competitors," he added.

In 2005, just over half of workers said it had been difficult to find a job over the preceding 12 months, falling to 42 per cent last year and staying relatively static this year at 43 per cent.

On the compensation issue, one in five employers put their difficulty in recruiting qualified staff down to an inability to offer competitive salaries.

Nevertheless, nearly four out of 10 planned to increase compensation for new hires, which was consistent with last year, said Robert Half International and CareerBuilder.com.

Workers were also more confident during job negotiations. More than half of employees surveyed reported their compensation had increased over the past 12 months, compared to 45 per cent at the same point last year.

Moreover, nearly six out of 10 said they would be likely to negotiate higher compensation if accepting a new job offer, compared with just under three out of 10 last year.

"With an employee-driven market comes a shift in negotiating power," pointed out Matt Ferguson, chief executive of CareerBuilder.com.

"Workers are becoming more aggressive in demands for compensation and benefits with both current and potential employers. But it's important to remember that, while higher pay may help to initially appease the employee, it's ultimately the overall work culture, sense of personal contribution and opportunities that keep an employee on board."

Nearly a third of firms had put in place new policies and programmes to improve staff retention rates in the past 12 months, the research also found.

The most popular measure was offering bonuses (23 per cent), followed by increasing pay (16 per cent), improving the office environment (15 per cent) and providing a more defined career path (10 per cent).

The top perks workers said would cause them to choose one job over another were flexible schedules (65 per cent), telecommuting opportunities (33 per cent), employee stock purchase plans (33 per cent) and on-site fitness facilities (31 per cent).