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Recruitment Challenge

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Director, Mandy Watson, discusses why the chemical and pharmaceutical industry faces one of the toughest recruitment challenges. 

The majority of skilled and senior roles in chemical and pharmaceutical organisations require STEM (Science, Technology Engineering, and Mathematics) skills and qualifications. Frustratingly, however, all too often businesses in these sectors are struggling to recruit candidates with the necessary STEM expertise.

In 2020, The Institution of Mechanical Engineers reported that the UK’s STEM skills shortage was costing £1.5bn/year, impacting the progression of businesses in the chemical and pharmaceutical industry. Attracting and retaining STEM talent has proven to be a great expense due to recruitment struggles, existing employee upskilling and increasing salaries to retain top talent against competitors.

The UK’s chemical and pharmaceutical industry, in particular, faces tough global competition when recruiting skilled STEM personnel, as the job market is extremely candidate-driven thanks to the UK’s skills shortage. For highly skilled applicants, looking for an employer that will provide the best positions, benefits and career opportunities, candidates are willing, and often expect, to work abroad.

For chemical and pharmaceutical employers, providing employee training and upskilling is common. Talent and expertise must evolve alongside the industry. However, when recruiting for highly skilled or senior-level positions, there is no room for leniency for candidates who don’t meet the exact criteria. Even for those just shy of the requirements. 

Considering the expense of recruiting, employers will not often take risks with permanent positions. Companies are only ever confident enough to invest in exactly what they’re looking for. But the talent pool can feel quite shallow when STEM businesses need to recruit quickly.

To compound matters, with the massive amount of project, trialling and experimental work the industry does, employers are more likely to recruit personnel on temporary contracts. These kinds of contractors may be hired for repeat projects, easing certain recruitment processes as employers can be confident in their skills and ability to do the required job, increasing recruitment efficiency.

On the other hand, given how diverse different areas of the industries are, chemical and pharmaceutical companies have multiple projects and operations onstream continuously. Therefore, even if temporary recruitment saves money on long-term, permanent staff and recruitment efficiencies, it can also increase the number of recruitment processes, imposing new business costs.

Recruiting is time-consuming for employers. The chemical industry is one of the UK’s most profitable industries, worth £17bn/year to the economy, so this is valuable time that chemical companies can’t afford to waste.

As of 2020, an increasing number of chemical and pharmaceutical companies are turning to recruitment agencies to support them. If businesses want their workforce to invest in the company’s growth, then employers must invest in their recruitment processes.

Skills and qualifications are important but they’re not the only factor when recruiting for a new employer. Perhaps the same job exists at multiple companies, but you’ll never find two companies the same. 

Businesses must acknowledge their potential employees as cultural fits. Especially in the chemical and pharmaceutical industry where recruitment for skilled vacancies is so expensive, interviewers need to identify their applicants' commitment and passion. Hiring someone for a permanent role, who isn’t likely to stay with the organisation, is futile and a drain on resources.

The salary vs benefits debate is subjective to the individual, but businesses wanting top talent need to ensure employee satisfaction and retention. While the onus is to streamline the recruitment process and provide a tailored service based on that business’ unique requirements, it is crucial to assess a candidate’s soft skills and suitability for the company as well as the role. Even if they possess the right hard skills.

An employee who is good at their job, but unhappy with the company, won’t stay long-term, especially given how in-demand skilled workers are in the chemical and pharmaceutical industry. Our consultants want to know how a client operates day-to-day, their different divisions, core values and future business growth plans. Because an applicant that cares about this information, and likes what they hear, will invest and engage with the business employing them.

Retaining talent is part of the solution. Limiting employee turnover and promoting your organisation as a better place to work than your competitors, will retain and attract talent. A quality recruitment strategy or service provider will speed up the process, reduce costs and simplify decision-making.


This article features on the Chemistry & Industry website.