Want the good news or the bad news? Irish unemployment is at its lowest rate since the heady days of 2006, but this means companies are finding it more difficult to find the right people for the right roles.
And money doesn’t always talk. No shortage of job opportunities means prospective employees are now less inclined to focus on their payslip, and instead consider other factors, such as their potential for growth and learning within an organisation, or whether they approve of the company’s fundamental ethos.
Miriam O’Keeffe, programmes director at the American Chamber of Commerce Ireland, admits employees in certain sectors in Ireland can be spoiled for choice.
“By all accounts, employees like the range of opportunities that are available, moving from small indigenous companies to large multinationals or vice versa, picking up skills, knowledge and expertise along the way.”
O’Keeffe says the quality of the labour market in Ireland can lead to something of a vicious circle; “companies are expanding because of the talent that is available and thus need more and more”.
“On one side there is this rhetoric that we can’t get people, and on the other hand there is the view that we are getting great people, but we need more of them,” she says.
Companies are being “quite strategic” when it comes to recruiting and retaining staff, going beyond the most qualified candidate, O’Keeffe says.
“There is a huge amount of work going into learning and development and upskilling. Companies are now recognising that if you’ve got somebody really great, you can develop them even further, and if they have a sense of progress, they are more likely to stay within that company.”
Organisations are also offering “quality of life” benefits such as flexible and remote working, she adds.
The sheer pace of the digital transformation across certain sectors coupled with the paucity of available talent means the impact of skills shortages in this area is beginning to be acutely felt by Irish businesses. PwC recently commissioned a new report that highlighted the acute need for digital upskilling in Irish financial services firms and determined that the biggest barrier to digital innovation is the lack of skilled teams.
Dervla McCormack, FS partner, People & Organisation with the firm, says that although this latest research focused on financial services, the results can be interpreted in a wider context.
“There is a talent war on at the moment, particularly in Ireland,” McCormack admits. “From an Irish perspective, CEOs acknowledged that it has become more difficult to hire people in general – 75 per cent of CEOs in Ireland said that vs 62 per cent globally.”
Skills deficits in growing areas such as data analytics and digital technology are contributing to higher people costs but some companies simply can’t find the right people. Ger McDonough, partner, People & Organisation, PwC, explains that employers are now trying to bridge that gap by offering retraining, upskilling and “generally investing in individuals”.
“There is always the need to seek out new talent, but if this can be merged with holding on to some of the talent you already have and bringing them along with you, it means businesses have a greater chance of success,” he says, adding “you can’t protect jobs, you can only protect people.”
This is closely followed by looking for hires from competitors as well as looking for new hires straight from education. The reality is that companies now have to sell themselves, he explains.
“People are attracted into organisations if their core beliefs and their values align with those of the company, whether it’s about contributing to society, or whether it’s about the sustainability policy from an organisation.”
McDonough adds that people are enthused by the possibilities of the “gig economy” and the opportunity to “spin out”, doing something new and innovative; larger organisations are now giving employees the chance to do that in-house.
“They are trying to capitalise on that by giving employees that opportunity – you still have the comfort zone of an organisation, but you can be an intrapreneur instead of an entrepreneur.”
Getting the balance right will help businesses succeed against their contemporaries in terms of winning talent.
“That’s now becoming more important than the traditional way, which was just to pay people a couple of per cent more. It’s about the whole environment and the autonomy that you provide individuals,” says McDonough.
This also holds true in terms of retaining talent, adds McCormack, who says organisations need to think strategically about how they will evolve their workforce. “The company that stands still will lose people, it’s up to organisations to show their employees that there is an exciting future they can be part of.”
One organisation battling for the best and brightest talent is ARTeSYN Biosolutions. Founded in LA and with more than 30 years of experience in providing single-use solutions to the biotechnology and cell and gene therapy markets, in the past weeks it announced a significant expansion of their manufacturing operations in Waterford city. This will see the company begin to recruit 50 new roles over the coming years, including production, engineering, quality, supply chain and associated staff.
As the company is rapidly expanding its Irish operations, head of operations Jonathan Downey admits the recruitment and onboarding of talent is the biggest challenge the company is facing over the coming months as the Irish economy is approaching full employment.
“With so many multinational companies having significant operations in Ireland, we are all vying for a somewhat limited talent pool, and we therefore need to think differently about our methods for the attraction of talent. The use of traditional avenues for attracting talent is just not enough anymore and we increasingly need to get the companies profile out there to our targeted talent.”
Social media is now used extensively to communicate open positions and Downey says they often hire candidates based on what they can bring to the company, rather than how they fit a prescribed job spec.
“The Irish workforce has become very adaptable and companies need to alter their hiring strategies to meet this dynamism,” he says.