War for Talent no longer just a matter of splashing the cash

War for Talent no longer just a matter of splashing the cash.

The employment market is on the rebound but jobseekers are a lot more discerning this time around, and mobile


 “Today’s younger workers will probably change jobs up to eight times during their careers”

“Today’s younger workers will probably change jobs up to eight times during their careers”


The “war for talent” is a legacy phrase from the Celtic Tiger era when companies were paying a lot of money to outdo each other to get staff. It is about time it was buried and replaced with something that more accurately reflects the current employment marketplace.

Yes, there is still very strong demand for good people and the need is acute in certain sectors. But with uncertainty about Brexit and the new incumbent in the White House, the market is measured rather than manic. What is also very different this time around is that money no longer talks.

Today’s jobseekers are a lot more discerning than those of a decade ago and are a great deal more mobile. They want jobs that add currency to their CVs, but they also want to enjoy doing them. As a result, they prefer to work for companies that reward them not just financially (that’s almost taken for granted) but also offer interesting challenges, career progression, a good working environment and take a genuine interest in employees’ wellbeing and work life balance.

“The whole trajectory of people’s careers has changed,” says Adrian McGennis, chief executive of Sigmar Recruitment Consultants. “People are spending less time in each job and may even change careers completely more than once.

“Traditionally, staying 25 years with one company was seen as a good thing. Not any more. Today’s younger workers will probably change jobs up to eight times during their careers, particularly as the level of E-lancing (finding freelance assignments online) is set to grow exponentially and this is going to change the whole nature of work.”

Realistic salaries  Also keeping the lid on the excesses of the striped fat cat era, are realistic salaries. Employers paid the price for throwing money at staff shortages before, but now they are managing to recruit while sticking to their budgets.

“Salaries are realistic and companies are making a robust effort to keep it that way. We are only seeing occasional breaks in the pattern and none of the lunacy of the past,” says Michael O’Leary whose recruitment company, HRM, celebrates 25 years in business this year.

“There has been a fundamental change in the employment landscape over the last decade,” he says. “There has been a shift in the types of jobs available, with the huge growth in the biopharma and technology sectors, but also a big change in people’s attitudes. They want to work for companies that have what some might consider ‘soft’ values – such as respect for their employees in terms of not letting work spill over too much into their personal lives, for example, and we also have candidates that simply won’t interview for companies without demonstrable CSR (corporate social responsibility) policies.”

O’Leary’s company typically recruits within the €50-€250,000 salary bracket and for mainstream jobs around one in four will be hired from  outside Ireland, while for heads of function this drops to one in two. (His company actively tracks members of the Irish diaspora.)

He says there is big demand for lawyers for property and litigation roles, for process and automation engineers, for accountancy and financial services skills and for senior level HR positions where people have good experience of organisation transformation.  

“Financial services companies have definitely started beefing up their Irish operations with Brexit looming,” says McGennis whose company’s turnover rose 26 per cent to €28 million in 2016. “Demand for talent peaked in November, the highest monthly demand in our 15-year history. This mirrors the fall in unemployment to a post-crash low of 7.2 per cent in December. The market was also boosted by record job numbers among IDA client companies (18,627 positions) over the year.

Globally mobile

“ICT hasn’t gone away either and the demand for developers in particular is definitely bigger than the supply, but that’s not a specifically Irish problem,” says McGennis. “It’s the same in London, San Francisco and Singapore to name but a few as IT professionals are globally mobile and demand across the sector is high.”

John McCullough is the long time head of KPMG executive search. “I don’t think we’re in a war for talent,” he says. “However, there is always demand as every company wants the best. Things have improved dramatically in senior executive search in the last eight to 12 months due to the pent up demand created by the recession. Uncertainty is still an element and will be for the foreseeable future, but companies that survived the downturn are generally leaner, with refined processes and products. Now they want to grow and are hiring for this and to tackle perceived weaknesses within their organisations.

“In terms of salaries, things are pretty static with small increases of maybe one or two per cent. What really matters to companies now is that new recruits are not just competent heads of function. They must also be able to see the bigger picture and be commercially savvy about what hits the bottom line for the business as a whole.”


Previously published in The Irish Times.


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