27 September 2019

How to Compete with Corporate Giants for Talent in Chemicals

By Oliver Davies

Hefty competition from industry giants like BASF, Dow and INEOS – to name a few - is making hiring top talent challenging for small to mid-sized chemicals companies across the globe.

Attracting talent shouldn’t be an issue for these smaller companies. They’re rife with innovation, ambition and specialise in what they do. They’re exciting.

But in an industry like chemicals, this sometimes isn’t enough – especially when you consider the monstrous gulf between the smaller players and corporate giants (from <$500m to ~$100bn). Their resources don’t compare.

Causing frustration across the industry, I’ve decided to explore the issues and offer some potential search process solutions.

There are a lot of great opportunities within the business but our name and brand isn’t as well-known as some of the larger companies. Many companies in the middle of the chemicals industry seem to be facing similar problems. 

Johannes Bornmueller - Global HR Director, Synthomer

 

Be Proactive

When the competition for talent is so strong, it’s important to stay one step ahead. Be proactive in your searches to make sure you’ve got a quality talent pool ready to access when your next role becomes available.

It’s estimated that only 14% of the most qualified candidates will be actively seeking work when you’re hiring. With competition rife in the chemical industry, it’s rare you’ll be able to attract these candidates. That’s why actively engaging with passive candidates is your best bet.

At CM Industrial we make sure that we’re always engaged with our talent pools. Through collaboration with our clients and other specialists we produce industry-specific content to start conversations in our markets and interact with passionate, talented individuals. This means that they’ll be more approachable when we have suitable roles for them and they’ll be more likely to consider us as a search partner when they decide to look for a new opportunity.

 

Be Attractive

A proactive search process – or any search – is redundant without being able to offer an attractive opportunity.

Today’s chemicals companies are struggling to adapt to the expectations of the modern talent pool. Offering flexibility throughout the process can be a very appealing quality.

If this isn’t possible, at smaller companies you must emphasise that you can offer increased accessibility to upper management, a larger role in company strategy and faster progression. Such freedoms and responsibilities are not possible in a large organisation and could sway talent in your direction.

 

Be Open

Cultural fit is everything – especially with long-term hires.

Try to maximise contact between prospective candidates and company employees throughout the interview process. The more time the candidates have with future peers/managers/reports, the more informed each party will be on the cultural fit.

Most of my candidates’ post-interview feedback focuses on the feeling they got from the workplace. Often people comment on the openness of the offices, different languages being spoken and the visible happiness of employees. If you genuinely embrace a multicultural, positive working environment then showing this off to candidates could make your role more enticing.

 

Be Unbiased

Having spoken a lot about searching for and attracting talented candidates, it’s equally important to marry this with an unbiased selection process.

Diversity is an issue that the chemicals industry is facing, with male dominance at all levels and international employees significantly in the minority. For this reason, a lot of companies request ‘diverse shortlists’.

A diverse workforce brings significant value to the organisation, via engaging our talents, leveraging ideas and creativity as well as taking a broader view on our customers. Whilst we cannot change our heritage in terms of diversity, we can start taking concrete actions to influence the future.

Stefan Kuehn – Group HR Director, Archroma

While there’s an abundance of advantages that come with a diverse workforce, this is something that can’t be rushed.

The best way to achieve diversity is through an unbiased and faceless process. Shortlists should be built from candidate profiles with no identifying information, images or cultural insight, focusing exclusively on their industry experience and qualifications.

At the end of a recruitment process like this, the best candidate will be chosen regardless of age, sex or nationality. Over time, this process will naturally produce a diverse team working in an environment where everyone feels equal and opportunities are open to all.

 

Be Realistic

For smaller companies without a HR team, launching a proactive, attractive, open and unbiased search process could be an unrealistic prospect. It's too time consuming.

One viable option is to use a recruitment consultant that specialises in the chemicals industry, but there are several things to consider.

It’s absolutely essential that we differentiate ourselves from the huge companies in the market by making our brand really personal. If candidates see a personable face behind the name of the company, this results in much better buy-in from the market.

Christoph Bartels – Learning & Development Manager EMEA, Synthomer

Transparency is crucial. The search needs to be a collaboration of efforts with each party’s agenda clear from the get-go. The search partner must be open about their capabilities and communicate realistic goals. At the end of the day, recruitment consultants should be there to offer a solution, rather than just a placement. This means a thorough discussion of the problem and then a well-planned and integrated solution.

Cost is also a big factor for smaller companies. Competent search partners need to be adaptable and look at the potential for long term relationships over a short-term gain.

Of course, the most cost-effective way to ensure that your company employs top industry talent is through high retention rates. This means companies must be selective on their promotion strategies, keeping the retention of talented staff members at the forefront of their thinking. Demonstratable leadership skills and technical/financial performance must be equally valued in this consideration process.

Whether it’s with me, another search partner or through your HR team; I hope that this has proven that searching for, attracting and hiring talent is achievable for small to mid-sized chemicals companies. It’s not all about resources and big names when you have the right processes in place.

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By Oliver Davies

Oliver Davies is a Business Manager that leads his own team, specialising in a variety of markets across the sector. Oliver specialises in recruitment within the chemicals industry and is an active member within the community. He has successfully built teams for industry leaders across the globe, with proactive searches that have been supported by his impressive network.

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