Dominic Graham Head of professional and technical, Kelly
“Are there skills shortages? If there were a lot more engineers, we’d certainly make a lot more money. It’s a very competitive world. The change now compared to the depths of recession is that it was a client-driven market then. Demand now is certainly outstripping supply.
“If you look at the West Midlands automotive base, you have Jaguar massively increasing headcount, and we’re starting to do some business with JCB – they’re ramping up. We have Honda, Nissan in the North East, and we’re doing stuff with McLaren in the South. Part of the problem is a lack of quality among candidates, but if you look at the targets we have in terms of renewable energy, sheer numbers are likely to continue to be an issue.
“There is a definite shortage, full stop. But the demand at the moment is for certain skillsets – and it’s acute. There are a lot of requirements for design engineers, project engineers, people who have expertise in advances in hybrid technology. There is demand for people, for instance, who have very specific expertise in powertrain engineering. And companies want people to come in who they don’t have to train.
“There is cross-sectoral demand for skills too – we work with companies involved in wind-power projects and they like engineers with experience in oil and gas. But there’s a challenge there in that oil and gas tends to pay more. So engineers are moving to renewables for the kudos of the project in many cases – it can be a labour of love.
“Working on some of the largest wind-power projects in Europe is a nice thing to have on your CV. I might have to sacrifice £5,000 or £10,000 a year – but I get the kudos of working on a big project.
“Certain organisations are massively increasing headcount. Jaguar Land Rover doesn’t just have one recruiter – they have 20, so we’re all fishing in the same pond to some extent.
“The approach we’re taking at Kelly is to specialise in certain niches such as automotive – and we work out of the Midlands.
“We have to seek out candidates because they are thinner on the ground. The competition is also more aggressive. In terms of the candidate population, our challenge is twofold. Trying to identify good candidates that the client wants – and trying, also, to talk to the customer about whether they really need everything they are asking for.
“If you ask a client what they ‘ideally’ want they might name 10 skillsets, when in reality they need two or three. Our job is genuinely to be consultants. The word ‘consultant’ is bandied around a lot but that’s what we aim to be.
“Our niche approach is important: if we don’t know our market the customer doesn’t trust us, because we can’t demonstrate our credibility. We focus on targeting areas such as powertrain engineering, but if you look at renewables, oil and gas and automotive, we’re trying to accelerate growth there too. Oil and gas is still a buoyant market and it’s attractive commercially because good margins can be had.
“It’s nice when you see the numbers involved in offshore wind, but it could be a poisoned chalice because you have to find the engineers. I don’t think initiatives to increase supply can be said to be working yet.
“Brands that have a lot of kudos are in a favourable position. Some prestige brands find it easier to recruit – even if they are paying a lower rate.”
Chester Boothe Director, Jonathan Lee Recruitment
“The growth areas are renewables, energy and wind. We’re not seeing a contraction in the industry more generally. Our insight into that comes out of the fact that Jonathan Lee’s consultants are all from engineering backgrounds.
“We are fortunate to have a lot of repeat business from clients we’ve worked with in a whole range of industries. We have more vacancies now than we’ve had in a good five years, and that’s because our people work with engineers – we understand what they are looking for, because we were engineers ourselves. We’re not seeing that decline that’s sometimes spoken of.