New Manager

‘With war for talent, employer branding is critical'

| Updated on: Jul 03, 2011
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Also an opportunity for companies to benchmark themselves in the market place: Brian Wilkinson, member of the executive board, Randstad

Brian Wilkinson, a member of the executive board of HR solutions company Randstad, was in India recently to participate in the first Randstad awards for best ‘employer brands' in India, which Microsoft won. In an interview to The New Manager, Wilkinson says that in the war for talent employer branding is going to gain importance and will determine the way young people perceive a company and will also want to work for it. It also gives a company an opportunity to benchmark itself in the market place. E. Balaji, MD & CEO of Ma Foi Randstad, the Indian affiliate, sat in on the interview and also offered a perspective on the Indian jobs market as well as the awards. Excerpts:

What is the genesis of the Randstad awards?

Brian Wilkinson: It started in Belgium 11 years ago as a local management initiative and it was born out of the idea that employers needed to make themselves more attractive to potential employees. There is a war for talent and the notion of employer branding has become more important. I think it is becoming difficult for a firm to really know on an empirical basis how well the brand is doing and, therefore, we decided it would be interesting to simply survey a cross-section of the working population and potential working population to see what they felt about what employer brand meant and which of the brands seemed to be the most attractive.

So the survey was done among job-seekers as well the employed. Would it be a good mix of both?

E. Balaji: It's more focused on people who are less than 40 in the sense that we have looked at people in the younger age set. It covers 10,000 people and it's across industries. Anybody who is in the labour market has been surveyed.

You've been running it for 11 years now. Have you taken it across to other countries?

Brian: We started it in Belgium and we have taken a decision to roll it out across five more territories. We did it in the UK for the first time and then in Australia, New Zealand and France, where we've done it for the second time.

The survey is an external perception of a company. But, how often do you find that perception and reality match?

Brian: Well, perception is reality because you only make an application to a company based upon your perception. So, actually, by recognising what your perceived strengths (and weaknesses) are, it's then addressed through your employer brand proposition. It is very important to get the right calibre. So, perception matches reality and has to be managed.

How is the international job market now? Which are the countries offering good employment opportunities? What are the specific work skills that are in demand?

Even looking at labour markets and jobs from the European perspective, you'll notice big country differences in terms of unemployment and the way labour markets function. Currently, the unemployment rate in Europe is around 9.5 per cent. However, there are major differences between countries: in The Netherlands the rate is only 4.5 per cent, in Germany around 6 per cent and the UK around 7 per cent.

Those, generally, well-functioning labour markets (that try to combine flexibility with fairness to workers) are already seeing the beginnings of a rush back to the ‘war for talent', mostly technically and IT-skilled jobs, from before the crisis hit.

On the other hand, countries such as Spain and Greece struggle with an unemployment rate of around 20 per cent! And it's even worse when you look at the youth unemployment rate in those countries: around 40 per cent. One of the reasons for the dreadful stats is the fact that these labour markets are not flexible, do not enhance transitions and only protect those who have permanent jobs. They will have to reform.

In the longer term, Europe faces a demographic challenge as can be read in Randstad's 2010 publication Bridging the Gap . In 2050 we'll have a potential shortage of around 35 million jobs in Europe. Europe is, therefore, preparing itself for that challenge by increasing labour market participation. Currently around 69 per cent, it should be, according to the European Union's 2020 strategy, at 75 per cent in 2020.

For a fresher from India who wants to fly abroad for work, is it the right time? Is India a better market with more opportunities than other foreign countries now?

According to the Ma Foi Randstad Employment Trends report released this year, 1.6 million jobs are expected to be created this year across 13 industry sectors. Healthcare, hospitality, manufacturing and media & entertainment are some of the sectors that are expected to add one lakh-plus jobs in 2011. India is now a robust market and there are plenty of opportunities available across sectors and skill sets.

Have Indian pay scales edged higher over the last two years? How do they compare to pay scales abroad now?

Post-recession, corporates have become cautious about recruitment and salary packages. The offers are no longer the same as those in the pre-recession era. And the same is true of increments. The increments have been in the range of 10 to 14 per cent across sectors and levels. The growth of salaries in the overseas market is happening at a much slower pace — zero to the low single-digit percentages.

Pay scales will vary with the country in Europe. They depend on the statutory minimum wage and/or relevant collective labour agreements. We see important differences between the East and West of Europe. For instance, the minimum rate of pay in The Netherlands (for low-skilled work) would be around €8.50 per hour and around £6 in the UK, which is about 3x as much as would be paid in Poland for the same work. As a result, quite some workers from the East of Europe temporarily migrate to the West, looking for better paid jobs. This so-called ‘intra EU mobility' based on the freedom of movement of workers of the EU in the EU is one of the benefits and main pillars of the European Union.

How do you view the job scenario in India?

Brian: What I would say is numerically far more jobs have been created here in India for Indians both in the country and for the ones coming back. A lot of immigration restriction done in the last three years is misguided.

Balaji: To add to that jobs in West Asia are not attracting talent for whatever reason. I think there is still a pull from the Western world. In Saudi Arabia there was a lot of interest among Indians to go work there. Now it is only in places such as Dubai or Abu Dhabi. Some of the charm of West Asia is coming down. The reason maybe that reintegration is a bit of challenge when they come back. Also, particularly, people around here ask what's new that you have learned there, what is it that you have got exposed to? They feel there is not a lot of cutting edge work happening. That is one of the concerns.

The salary gap has come down?

Balaji: The salary gap has come down. The cost of living has gone up in these parts. Also, rental in some parts have gone up. The charm which we saw three-four years ago has come down (for jobs in West Asia).

What are the specifics that recruiters abroad look for from Indian youngsters?

Brian: I am very sorry to say that recruiters in Europe are not looking for Indian youngsters currently. Although some labour markets are tightening, immigration is a political and highly sensitive topic nowadays. Work permits for non-EU citizens aren't easy to obtain.

That is to say, unless, it's for a highly qualified, highly paid job (for the Dutch, think of amounts of around €37,000 on a yearly basis for youngsters and €50,000 for older workers). I am convinced, however, that because of the future demographic developments, at a certain moment EU countries will have to open their borders to foreign workers competing with other countries such as the US and Asia (China, Japan) for the best! At that stage, India will become an important economic factor, a labour contributor to the European markets.

So, Brian, do you see a lot of change in the way people work today with more flexibility in terms of work-life balance? Traditionally, the way work was looked upon, the whole paradigm has changed, hasn't it?

I think flexibility is on the increase and employees are recognising it. We simply have to provide flexible working because if we don't, people will go with the pace and leave the work as it is.

With technology, it is easier for us to do that. So, there are varying degrees of flexibility in different economies.

The Dutch environment has the most flexible economy in terms of practices in the world.

I believe the CFO's role in Unilever in Germany is being handled by two women who share the work. Could that work-sharing be the way of the future?

Absolutely, the whole cost of real estate…The idea of finishing work at the turn of the clock to go home, it's an industrial age concept, isn't it? Most of the things we do are no longer location dependent.

Personally, I don't have an office. I go wherever I have to go. I am working in Balaji's office today and then if I go to Delhi, I work from the office there.

Actually, it exposes one to the interface with clients and candidates and you are more clued in to what's happening in business.

So, as somebody who grew up in the industrial age, are you very comfortable with the way of working now?

Yes, it's because it's gradual. The technology advances that are made don't come overnight. They creep up. So, one will simply adapt and change.

Published on July 03, 2011

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