Is there a skill shortage?
11 May 2006, News release from JSM Associates
Having been involved in sourcing staff for the environmental industry for a good number of years now, it has been interesting to note the changes in the job market over this time.
In my time in the industry, the industry has grown massively and unsurprisingly so has the demand for experienced staff.
The volume of vacancies for people with upwards of 4 years experience is today more acute than ever, and with the industry continual growth there does not appear to be any let up.
Why then, when environmental graduates are in abundant supply, is there such shortage of people with commercial industry experience?
The eternal question to agencies and companies alike is 'do sufficient people exist or are we constantly going to be trying to fill more roles than there are people to do them?'.
The answer has to be the latter, with a glance at any website or industry publication, they are bulging with the latest vacancies.
In my experience the current shortage seems to be at an all-time high, with clients winning more and more work, their requirements for competent staff has never been higher.
All the main sectors within the industry are experiencing shortages of experienced staff; these are EIA, Ecology, Contaminated Land, Air Quality and Waste Management.
Discussing many of these requirements with clients makes us all too aware just how much of an impact staff shortfalls have on a business's ability to achieve their targets.
There are vacancies that we are still trying to help fill that clients have been searching for the right person for well over 12 months.
The impact on these teams is undoubtedly that they will be struggling under the pressure of their current workload and probably prone to losing staff.
Clients are struggling to find time to focus on recruiting, despite the urgency of their need; they are forced to address the workload instead, so the vicious circle continues.
Looking at this situation, I have tried to pin point some of the factors that are key to the situation.
Reasons for the shortage are:
· Only small numbers of graduates making it into the industry Companies have been unwilling to take on large numbers of graduates due to the cost of training them, and the valuable time it takes up of line managers. It appears that there is a common belief that they are better off investing in experienced staff, despite there being so few.
With graduates taking up new position on average after about two years in their first job, companies often feel they are not getting good returns on their investment. Therefore the shortage of experienced consultants is inevitable further on.
· People leaving the industry there is still a significant number of people who despite making it in to the industry as a graduate decide to leave after a couple of years. Reasons seem to be: people becoming sidelined into new industries, either by chance or in order to get better paid employment. There are also a small percentage of people leaving to peruse a career closer to environmental protection.
· Companies not anticipating the growth in the market in the current climate of comparative prosperity with a lot of development going on, there is a lot of work for consultancies. Maybe three or four years ago, companies were anticipating a possible slow down in the market.
· Commercial experience over qualifications the main criteria to the majority of clients appears to be the commercial experience of a candidate. Good qualifications are essential, but without a demonstrable track record in a recognizable firm, companies seem reluctant to risk someone who may not 'hit the ground running'
· Volume of vacancies from a job hunter's perspective the number of vacancies advertised at any one time is rendering them overwhelmed and making them indecisive about moving.
· Emergence of new companies the growth in the market has seen a lot of experienced people leaving firms in order to set up new ones. Either as a sole trader working direct for clients or with the view of establishing themselves as consultancies for the future
Are companies waking up to these problems, and what can they do about the problem? There do appear some ways in which companies can address the shortage, and there seems to be some taking up these ideas.
More flexibility, to make themselves more attractive to perspective employees, we are dealing on a greater number of positions where clients are prepared to offer more benefits, obviously better salaries, but also things like more scope for home working, longer holiday, better career progression etc.
Clients seem to be taking on people with either less years experience or from outside of the consultancy world. There are increasing numbers of good consultants albeit with only a small number of years experience holding some pretty senior posts within companies.
Clients are recognizing talent early and accelerating these people careers.
Clients are less concerned about people from the public sector may lack commercial experience.
We are also seeing that there has been a better take up recently of people with experience from outside of the UK.
But there is still the inevitable hesitancy from companies, concerned that precious time and resources are required to get these people up to speed on UK legislation.
In conclusion, if the shortage is to be seriously addressed then companies are going to need to be more open minded on who they take on.
By Jeremy Money
For further information please email JSM Associates