The insider: Looking after Number One
Steve Huxham, chairman of the Recruitment Society, tells Hayley Birch why it's wise to keep your CV updated before you need a new job
With the economy tentatively on the road to recovery, unemployment in the UK remains high and the jobs market is a daunting place for those looking for work. Meanwhile, employers looking to fill vacancies for some skilled jobs are still struggling to find people with the right experience. Working for both job seekers and employers, the recruitment services sector offers support from both sides. So does the chemical industry get any special treatment?
As chairman of the Recruitment Society, Steve Huxham is a man who knows the recruitment industry inside out. He's no scientist. But he does see science as 'one of a variety of special cases' due to the specialist skills required.
He also recognises the need to play to our strengths in times of economic instability - and the importance of looking after the scientific workforce. 'We have to look within the UK and say, "What are we good at?" And science, in whatever form, whether it's chemistry, pharmaceuticals or biotechnology, is a pretty obvious case where we do have a world-leading advantage,' says Huxham.
According to Huxham, though, the mismatch of talent required to skills available is a perennial one. The past couple of years have seen a push by industry leaders and the sector skills council for science, engineering and manufacturing technologies (Semta) in the UK to address skills shortages in the chemical industry. Part of the recruitment industry's role is helping employers to be realistic about the size of the talent pool.
According to Huxham, too many employers rely on decade-old jobs specs and neglect to make use of the more innovative recruitment solutions on offer, such as referral schemes and headhunt services. And though fears of a brain drain may have been quashed following more lenient than anticipated cuts to the science budget, he says employers need to be alert to any coordinated effort by other countries to act as 'talent magnets' for British researchers.
'It will be our younger chemists, who are just a couple of years out of education, with a couple of years' work experience under their belts, but have the social mobility to be able to go and live in other countries. And I think that could be a danger,' Huxham says. He suggests organisations think about setting up alumni networks to maintain contact with home-grown talent.
In the UK, even those with exceptional skills may find themselves unexpectedly back in the jobs market. Huxham points to pharmaceuticals giant Pfizer's decision to close its Sandwich, UK, research and development facility in February this year. The announcement left 2400 people jobless and while some may have decades of experience, they may still struggle to find work locally - and the sluggish housing market makes relocation an unattractive option.
So what support is available for the out of work chemist? In terms of formal networks, says Huxham, not a lot. But he does think professional memberships should afford scientists some form of support in terms of career advice. 'Those 2400 people who worked down at Pfizer, I suspect, rather sadly, that there's more than a few of them sitting there thinking,
"Oh my goodness, it's five, 10 years since I last wrote my CV. Where do I start?",' says Huxham.
'That's a great case study. It says: you live in an uncertain world and you as a chemist need to be in charge of your own career, not waiting for events to happen around you. At the end of the day, the message that has to be passed back to an individual chemist is the same one as for any other professional - that you can't rely on other people.'
Hayley Birch is a science writer based in Bristol, UK
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The only professional Membership body in the UK that brings together all those involved in any way or capacity with Resourcing through their work.
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