08 March 2010 00:00 [Source: ICB]
Although the downturn has hit graduate recruitment, many chemical companies are still striving to win access to talent that will be vital for growth
For companies the world over, redundancies have been an unfortunate consequence of the fiscal slump. Ever at the mercy of changeable consumer markets, the chemical sector has been no exception to this.
Of those that have not had to resort to such measures, sustaining existing workforces has been the challenge and, in a bid to look after the old talent, some initiatives for attracting new talent have either been reduced in size or axed altogether.
Other companies, though, look beyond the downturn and continue to search for the best talent.
"As you know, the recession has been particularly tough for us. We've not been expanding for some time now," comments one UK-based human resources official from a European chemicals supplier. "There's been less of a focus on finding new talent and when we've had openings, we've been obliged to fill these internally where possible," he adds.
|Rex Features/Chris Eyles|
"In the UK there's no recruiting. We are in the middle of a major integration. Because of that, numbers are being cut," says Chris Wilson, a spokesman for German chemical major BASF in the UK.
There were more positive signs from German specialty group Henkel, where recruitment manager Heike Schirmer-Ditze says that "recruitment activities are rising again, especially in the scientist field." He explains that the company is making use of its usual search methods, such as job boards and that a fair number of recruits came from outside Germany.
"We appreciate a significantly rising international background of our scientific applicants, leading to an approximate non-German recruitment level of 50%," Schirmer-Ditze says.
But what emerges from conversations with HR spokespeople is that it is mainly the small and medium-sized enterprises that have been forced to put graduate recruitment schemes on hold. Meanwhile, the market leaders that, after all, account for the majority of employment in this industry, have been investing as much as ever in new talent.
BUSINESS AS USUAL
ICIS interviewed recruitment representatives at two major global chemical companies: one predominantly based in the US -silicones manufacturer Dow Corning - and one in headquartered Europe - BASF. Both companies are eager to emphasize just how much they have continued to strive for the best graduate talent, regardless of the economic circumstances they have faced.
"We managed through the tough economic climate. College recruitment continues to be one of Dow Corning's strategic objectives," says Jodi Hutchinson, a recruiting specialist at the multinational.
Hutchinson is quick to stress Dow Corning's presence on campuses, underlining the fact that this had not been reduced, even as the company had tightened its belt at times.
"Beginning in fall , we went to over 20 campuses in the US. We make sure we attend these physically, despite the costs associated with this. We may send between five and 10 folks to each event. We have not cut back and the number of schools has not changed," she explains.
The company also focuses on catching potential employees from a younger age, an initiative that has been common for some years in all sectors, but which some companies had to abandon when redundancies were being made.
"We continue to run a very successful summer internship where we target juniors the year before they graduate," Hutchinson says.
Something unrelated to the economic downturn, but which the chemical industry commonly comes up against, is competition for young talent from industries that are perceived to be more exciting or glamorous, not to mention being higher paid. Is this something Dow Corning encounters?
"We do, yes. However we are fortunate in that, because we are mainly hiring chemical engineers, we don't need to win them over to the idea of working in this sector. They have already made that career choice through their study," Hutchinson comments.
Finally, Hutchinson suggests North America is in a stronger position than some other regions, noting that the company's global recruitment strategy did vary depending on individual countries' economic circumstances.
In Germany, BASF underlined the same commitment to university links. "BASF is in close contact with faculties and working groups at universities worldwide. Direct contact between university professors and BASF experts helps to establish numerous collaborations with universities and - in addition to that - to exchange ideas about the expectations of the young talent and about the job opportunities at BASF," says Katrin Rausch, a corporate communications officer at BASF.
The company mentions the importance of job fairs, such as the European Congress of Chemical Engineering (ECCE), the 10th of which will take place in Prague in August this year. It also highlights the Massachusetts Institute of Technology European Career Fair, the last of which was held from January 29-February 1.
"We're out of recession, but growth will be slow for some time yet"
Chemical recruitment expert
"This offers a unique opportunity for young scientists and engineers to gain insight into the chemical industry and learn about R&D, engineering, technical services, strategy, marketing or production," comments Rausch.
PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE
Asked if anything had changed in the past two years, the German company did not recognize anything recession-related, preferring to direct attention more towards something it perhaps considers a looming recruitment challenge: demographic change.
"We must, in the long term, be prepared for a drop in the number of qualified employees available, particularly in Europe," Rausch says, referring to the fact that populations in developed countries are aging as a result of lower birth rates and longer life expectancies. In response to this challenge, one of BASF's answers is branding.
"BASF has established a global initiative to strategically strengthen and develop the employer brand. One of the first steps, for example, is a relaunch of BASF's global career portal, starting with the German pages," says Rausch.
The employer branding initiative supports programs like Generations@Work, a project that aims to "maintain the performance, flexibility and productivity of our employees, as the population structure at many of our sites is set to change fundamentally in the near future".
Demographic change of this sort is slow and only represents a serious challenge to big companies with extensive workforces. But the smaller players might need to start preparing too.
"We're out of recession, but growth will be slow for some time yet. The multinationals weathered the storm the best and are positioning themselves for the future," says a recruitment expert in the chemicals sector. "By the time the smaller [companies] emerge, they may have lost five years on the others. To be truly competitive, you need to invest in every area and recruitment is one of them."
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