Recruitment activity still volatile in the face of uncertainty

Nov 08 2002 by Brian Amble Print This Article

It may be an employers' market right now with too many people seeking out the few vacancies yet finding key people and making the right recruitment choices is still a headache for many recruiters.

This is according to the last three years of figures for the Recruitment Confidence Index (RCI) - a quarterly survey of UK directors' and managers' expectations of changes in recruitment activity and business conditions, produced by Cranfield School of management and the Daily Telegraph.

Figures for skills shortages over the last three years are starting to highlight structural changes within some functional groups - notably engineering, IT and personnel.

Changes in demand for personnel are currently showing a strong turnaround.At the beginning of the year only nine per cent of organisations said they needed to recruit personnel managers, and only purchasing and logistics professionals were in less demand.

Since then there has been a steady rise in the number of firms looking for personnel expertise. This quarter (autumn 2002) 22 per cent of organisations say they will be recruiting personnel staff with only IT and sales in greater demand. What's more, although this quarter's figures suggest the situation is improving, a growing number of employers have been finding it harder to fill their personnel vacancies.

Shaun Tyson, Professor of Human Resources at Cranfield School of Management, says the trend shows the changing nature of personnel. "There is a demand for high quality HR people, especially those who are business oriented with good organisational development and change management experience who may come from a business background," he said.

"There is still demand for some highly specialised HR roles but the jobs that have disappeared are those in low-level generalist HR. These are being out-sourced or are now performed through electronic HR management systems." Recruitment Sales Manager at the Daily Telegraph, Nick Hill, mirrored Professor Tyson's views: "With regards the HR shortfall, companies are looking for the nirvana of business acumen as well as the expert HR background."

When it comes to IT, the RCI findings show skills shortages have been easing steadily over the past three years. Average figures for 2000 show that 67 per cent of employers were forecasting IT skill shortages. This dropped to 64 per cent over the following year and has further declined this year reaching 38 per cent in the summer. A jump back up to 48 per cent this quarter does not necessarily signify a turnaround in the industry.

While skills shortages in IT have been easing, the RCI has detected increasing challenges over the past three years in the perennial search for good engineers in the UK.

Nick Hill of the Daily Telegraph said: "We are now seeing the new breed of IT professionals feeding into the system and easing the shortfall. These areas have now been replaced by a shortfall of candidates in the rail infrastructure arena and these probably will take longer to clear - around five to seven years.

"Particularly in the rail industry, we are seeing the situation where it's the same candidates moving from job to job rather than new people joining the existing staff."

Although the latest RCI reports a 17-point drop on the previous quarter in the percentage of organisations anticipating difficulties recruiting in engineering at the managerial or senior specialist level (currently 63 per cent compared to 80 per cent in the summer), employers still rate high-quality engineers as difficult to find. As a result skills shortages in engineering continue to plague employers even though the sector is depressed.

According to the Engineering Employers Federation the structure of the profession is changing. "Lower skilled jobs in engineering and manufacturing are disappearing as the industry is becoming more technical and more highly skilled," says deputy director David Yendle. "It's an up-skilling of the industry as it were, and finding higher skilled people can be a problem."

Manufacturing firms - the traditional employers of engineers - are also losing out as other industries compete for specialist engineers such as electronics and IT experts. "The opportunities available to engineers are much wider than they were in the past," says Yendle. "They can go and work, for example, in retail or financial services - sectors that don't have quite the hard image that our sector, unjustifiably, sometimes has."

Recruitment Activity is expected to increase during the winter. The Recruitment Confidence Index stands at 143 for all staff and 134 for managerial/professional staff. Respondents to the survey expect recruitment activity will continue to increase at a higher rate than the previous quarter.

For further information or a copy of the report contact:
Helen Fulcher, Press & PR Manager, Cranfield School of Management.
Tel: 01234 754425
e-mail: [email protected]