Brexit has delivered widespread uncertainty but if one thing is certain, it’s an interesting time for FMCG recruitment, writes Scott Williams
The burden on manufacturers to keep costs down whilst maintaining margins means that businesses need to innovate and adopt new technologies to stay competitive. Brexit uncertainty, however, is piling pressure on new product development departments. In the future, we may see the need to innovate being compromised to make quick cost savings. Recently, I’ve witnessed senior, permanent positions within new product development departments being replaced by interim roles. It’s a very unusual situation and seems to have emerged as food processing and manufacturing businesses wait until Brexit uncertainty is resolved. The FMCG sector is certainly familiar with the benefits of using interim managers and sits within the top four industries using interim executives according to the Institute of Interim Management’s 2018 annual survey. However, this move looks to be a defence strategy. From the candidate’s perspective, we are being approached by people who have never previously worked on an interim basis but who can see the benefits of going down that route for six months or more, during the Brexit transition.
Businesses are acting with caution until Brexit negotiations are finalised and there’s clarity on the new legal landscape for consumer goods. It is difficult to plan for the future – and that is especially true for businesses in FMCG where the supply chains for major food and drinks manufacturers, consumer goods companies and supermarkets are tightly interwoven with the EU. Hiring experts on a short-term project basis suits businesses because it gives them more flexibility and reduced risk while allowing them to benefit from the skills and experience of the individuals. Many companies fear the cost of taking on interim managers and it is true that day rates are higher for experienced interims. Experience shows us, however, that the actual cost of direct employment adds around two thirds on top of basic pay so comparing day rates with basic salary is not a fair measure. In fact, paying the right rate for the right individual can mean that projects are delivered in shorter time frames and more efficiently, ultimately saving the business money.
While many candidates are currently looking at the interim opportunities that are out there, it’s not for everyone. Expectations on interim managers are high and they need to be capable of making real impact on the business with almost immediate effect. On the other hand, there are individuals who are perhaps ready for their next career move but due to the economic uncertainty, have decided to batten down the hatches and stay put.
It’s no secret that UK manufacturers have been stockpiling while they await the outcome of the latest Brexit negotiations. A survey by the Food and Drink Federation has found that 68 percent of businesses have increased their stock holdings in case of a no-deal Brexit, while 78 percent of companies have deployed staff to work on preparations for a disorderly exit. While shelf-life considerations mean it’s sometimes harder for a food manufacturer to take emergency stocking measures, many businesses have nevertheless ramped up production to unprecedented levels. This has inevitably led to new positions becoming available in production – though the opposite may be true further down the line; output levels will be reduced whilst stocks are cleared and at that point there will inevitably be an effect on staffing. Even in the best of scenarios, it could take months for things to return to normal and it is this sort of upheaval and unusual practice which can sometimes lead to cashflow problems for businesses, particularly SMEs. Fortunately, regardless of what happens, people will still have to shop for food, the sector will survive and recruitment will continue. We’ve seen some outstanding candidates – who left FMCG to move into the automotive industry when that sector was thriving – come back now that the economy is faltering. It all points to being a fantastic period for FMCG businesses who are actively hiring, to bring in top talent – whether it’s on a permanent or interim basis.