Clients are positioning themselves for growth

Hiring for Success
spoke to Simon Maimane, senior consultant in the Construction and Engineering sector at PCS, for his view on recent developments in the recruitment market.

Q: Simon, there is a lot of negative news around at the moment regarding Eskom load-shedding and slow growth in the construction and engineering sectors. What’s your take on this?

Simon: We had a pretty good year last year. This year it looks like that trend will continue or even improve, so I don’t see much evidence of a weak market. The financial results from the major construction firms were less sizzling than in years past, but you don’t see much evidence of this among the medium-sized firms, which continue to recruit at a very brisk rate. It is certainly the case that some recruitment assignments are taking longer to close, but that is something we have seen in the past. Things change very fast in the recruitment sector, which is why it is considered a leading indicator for the rest of the economy. Economists are always looking at recruitment stats as an early indicator of what is likely to happen in the rest of the economy. Once projects are announced and sealed, recruitment happens very quickly. Companies do not want to wait months to fill a post. They want the best candidate out there, and they want him or her now.

Q: Who’s hiring at the moment? Your colleague Terry Habib mentioned that small and medium-sized companies were most active in the market. Is this your experience?

Simon: Absolutely. Developing companies seem to be getting a bigger share of the construction and engineering pie. Very often these companies have excellent BEE ratings which is one of the reasons they are winning contracts. Yesterday I was with a 100% black-owned construction company that was looking for certain candidates, regardless of race. Clients are looking for very specialised skills, and they are paying well for those skills. They are operating to very tight deadlines and need recruits to fill positions within weeks, not months. In some cases, those who are funding these projects, whether the public or private sector, are demanding a say in who runs the projects on their behalf. This can make the decision-making process a little slower, but once the decision is made, things can move very fast. This also shows there is a greater level of top-down supervision of the entire process, and that can be a good thing.

Q: One gets a sense that there are a lot of candidates out there looking for relatively few positions. Is this correct?

Simon: As a general comment yes, but certain skills are in very short supply. For example, there aren’t too many road builders with five or seven years’ experience. You have to hunt around to find people with these particular skills and experience. At PCS we have accumulated a vast network of candidates with varying skill sets and experience, and that is a big advantage in placing recruits. Plus we know their work history, track record and competence levels. Our background checking is very thorough and we don’t waste our clients’ time with unsuitable candidates.

Q: Are you optimistic about 2015?

Simon: Very much so. I expect this to be a great year, despite all the negativity about Eskom load-shedding and the like. We just keep our focus on what we do best and do more of that. It helps that we develop strong relationships with our clients and get a deeper understanding of their business. We know what their needs are in advance so we can adequately prepare for that. The days of being reactive in recruitment are over. You have to be looking out for your clients