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Recruitment challenges facing the engineering sector

27 Aug 2019

Conor Bannon

Conor Bannon, Manager of Brightwater's Engineering division outlines ways in which employers can improve their staff attraction and retention methods in order to maximise operational efficiencies.

When I look out the windows of our offices on Merrion Square, cranes dominate the skyline and the words of the late Brendan Walsh ring in my ears, “ Do not judge an economy on the number of Audis or Mercedes being sold,  judge it by the number of cranes in the skyline”. Dublin is awash with cranes, the economy is at full employment and both consumer confidence and spending are up. But all is not well.

Brexit is looming with all its inherent challenges and the US President is changing policies and tactics on a whim. These are global problems that all employers will have to face but in the day to day running of operations, what are the main problems that engineering & manufacturing companies face?

Demand and supply of labour

Demand for skilled people across engineering and manufacturing greatly outweighs supply. Potential job seekers have their pick of roles and chances are they’re talking to multiple employers and using each possible offer as further leverage to increase their salary. If a potential employer is not competitive, then they are going to lose out on that candidate. Over the last 18 months, we have seen our FMCG clients forced to increase and expand their remuneration packages (basic salaries and a range of generous benefits) in order to compete with the ever-lucrative pharmaceutical sector. We’ve also seen an increase in the amount of counter-offers as employers are anxious to retain key members of staff.

Brexit has also had a dramatic effect on the supply of staff. In anticipation of a full “no deal” Brexit, many drug companies have made the quiet decision in the last year to move their operations to Ireland, whether it be the transfer of manufacturing operations, testing, batch release responsibilities or drug authorisation. While it’s good news for our economy, it does put increased pressure on employers’ abilities to attract and retain critical personnel.

Quantity over quality

Due to demand, the number of people required to help operate a business efficiently has dramatically risen and, in some cases, having a seat filled seems to be more important in the short-term than having the right person in the seat. However, this can prove to be a costly error in the long term. Some of our clients have “panic” hired, resulting in scheduling and quality compromises. Over the last few months, we’ve seen an up-swing in the amount of requests for interim hires because companies still need quality staff in order to keep their operations running smoothly, a relatively easy solution that many companies do not consider unless prompted.


Many of our pharmaceutical clients have changed their recruitment strategy and built their own in-house talent acquisition teams. However, this can present its own problems. For some hard to fill roles, line managers have found that in-house teams may not focus on them as much as they know there will be little traction on the role whereas an external recruiter will have greater resources and wider access to the market. Several of our clients also face the problem of having centres of excellence based in other global locations that do not necessarily understand or prioritise the Irish labour landscape – this short sightedness is hindering company growth and leading to poor morale with an overstretched work force. Getting interim staff on board is also a solution where the local operation needs to get critical resources on board but haven’t got the go-ahead or budget allowance from global headquarters.


The market is white hot and every business is under pressure to deliver improved efficiencies and KPIs. Recruitment eats into the line manager's valuable time when they could be prioritising other KPIs. Brightwater’s Engineering Science and Supply Chain divisions provide unique tailored solutions where both parties’ time is used efficiently to maximise returns eg. recruitment calls could be easily be scheduled for 6.45am on Thursday while a client is in the airport waiting to travel.

If you would like to discuss any recruitment issues you and your team may be experiencing, please do not hesitate to contact a member of the Brightwater ESSC team or contact Conor Bannon, Manager at [email protected] or on (01) 6621000