Big-hitting management and sales staff could cash in this year as a “talent war” erupts in the UK channel, with compensation on the up and firms fighting to poach staff from rivals.
Specialist firm Channel Recruitment Solutions (CRS) reports that demand for middle and senior managers skyrocketed in 2012’s opening quarter, with basic salaries, on-target earnings (OTE) and benefits packages on the up. Some 136 per cent more candidates passed through CRS’ doors in Q1 2012 than in the corresponding period last year.
January and February saw the most growth, with the recruitment firm suggesting that resellers and distributors were keen to flush out budgets before fiscal year-end. March actually saw a 40 per cent annual decrease in recruitment activity.
“It seems like the talent war has arrived on UK shores,” said CRS business development manager Simon Brealy. “Against forecast, Q2 and Q3 are looking good for candidates. We have already seen the peak expected in Q1, with the following quarters looking to follow suit.”
Jonathan Lassman, managing director of VAR Network Technology Solutions (NTS), noted that the quest to find and retain top talent in the channel has intensified of late.
“It is a talent war - we have our competitors tapping up our guys on a daily basis,” he said.
The NTS boss opined that, while good salespeople will always focus more on OTE, for many in the industry “the age of high basic [salary] is here”. The VAR really values those who can drive into new clients, he explained.
“There are a lot of farmers out there; I can find someone who wants to walk into a job and be given a lot of accounts and look after them. The people who are hard to find are the hunters,” he said.
Shaune Parsons, managing director of Computerworld Wales, claimed that some sales interviewees have come in with inflated expectations of how basic salary should compare with OTE.
“There have been people who have tried it on with us. But if you can sell, you should not be worried about it,” he said. “It is all about resource; we are not going to sit here and pay someone who might be able to sell. If you can do the job, you will be rewarded.”
Dave Stevinson, sales director at distributor VIP Computers, agreed that hanging on to leading employees has become harder this year, particularly for companies based away from the tech hubs of London and Berkshire.
“The battle for talent has never been so extreme, particularly for companies based in the north of England,” he added. “There have been several issues in the past few months where we have been forced to increase packages significantly to attract and retain the right talent.
“The key shortage we find is channel sales managers with a sharp strategic mind, emotional maturity, communication skills, commercial instinct, and the ability to inspire people and deliver results.”
Margaret Duke, HR director at Avnet Technology Solutions UK, agreed that geography can play a key role in how much a candidate costs.
“We have found differences in different parts of the country; in certain areas where there is a smaller skills pool, for example, for highly technical staff, the salaries being demanded can often be higher than those advertised,” she explained. “People who are highly skilled and highly accredited are often in shortest supply.”
Martin Hellawell (pictured, left), managing director of Softcat, claimed that his staff, particularly on the sales side, are “bombarded” with offers. Approaches, particularly from recruitment firms, seem a little more frequent at the moment, he added.
“It is really frustrating when they come and say [to a member of our staff] ‘we have a job for you at a great company with £150,000 basic, 50 per cent commission’ when, actually, they do not have a great company at all, they are just getting CVs,” said Hellawell.
“It is a distraction from your day-to-day business, and it can put pressure on the cost of people.”
Predictably, cloud was a hive of recruitment activity in Q1 2012, according to CRS, with professionals being added in sales, technical and commercial roles.
Lisa Holmes, director of the technology, projects and change division at Assured Recruitment, claimed that “business transformation professionals” who can adapt to changing technical and delivery models are particularly highly prized.
“Short supply might lead to longer delays in finding the correct talent, but employers do not appear to be bowing to pressure to acquire talent at any cost, or accept less-than-perfect skill and mind sets,” she said.
Dave Ellis, director of new technology and skills at Computerlinks, agreed that finding the right people to address emerging technology markets can be a challenge.
“Computerlinks has struggled to find the right candidates for roles in a number of areas,” he added. “Specialist skills in high-growth areas of IT such as cloud computing, virtualisation and business continuity can be difficult to come by.”
With talent seemingly in high demand and short supply, perhaps the onus is on channel firms - and the vendors whose kit they sell - to develop more talent in-house. HP told CRN that, like many companies in the channel, it is seeing that talented senior sales managers are few and far between at the moment.
Other job specs picked out by the vendor giant as being particularly in demand include engineers; software developers; security, cloud and datacentre architects; infrastructure specialists; CCIE- and CCNP-qualified candidates; technical consultants; and graduates with IT-related degrees.
Kevin Matthews (pictured, right), UK and Ireland ESSN channel manager at HP, explained that his firm has launched the Optimal Skills training and MDF programme to ensure that partners have a deep enough pool of sales and pre-sales skills.
“Many partners initially look to get the bare minimum to meet their accreditation requirements - which often means they do not have deep enough skills in the long term,” he added.
Recruitment on a high
For the rest of the year, recruiters predict a continued high level of recruitment activity. Paul Hunsdon, resourcing director at tech-focused recruiter Metaskil, characterised Q1 as “steady, rather than frantic”. But the year’s second quarter has already shown signs that recruitment budgets are being freed up as projects get under way.
“With the economy showing small signs of growth, this may encourage more companies to kick off projects that have been delayed or mothballed in recent times,” he said. “Most projects will use leading-edge technology, therefore the demand on certain niche skills will only increase.”
Hunsdon predicted that high-quality candidates with in-demand niche skills may hold the balance of power for the rest of the year. But more generalist staff could find their position weakened, he said.
“For the more traditional IT skills it is definitely a buyer’s market already, with contract rates being squeezed and employers being tough in their selection process,” he said. “However, niche skills are favouring the candidate and I can see it remaining that way, certainly in the short to medium term.”
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