Why the industry job carousel is turning again

A recovery in market conditions is leading to a rise in job vacancies within the catering equipment sector — and companies are increasingly searching in new places to find the right candidate, writes Alexandra Waring of Cavendish Maine.

"As specialist recruiters dedicated to the foodservice equipment and supplies industry Hotelympia is an important event for us. Our own measure of success for the show is the number of vacancies we are able to take on during the two days we attend.

To put this in to perspective, in 2010 we registered around 20 vacancies at the show (of which around 15 were qualified and subsequently filled). In 2012 the number of vacancies was one.

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This year we registered around 12 vacancies, with many more clients asking us to call them in the next three to six months as they are planning ongoing expansion.

The general picture was a positive one, which we hope bodes well for the future although we appreciate the industry is not quite there yet. Some of the most frequent questions we were asked during the show were: What types of roles had we been recruiting for? Was it replacing people who had left or were we filling new positions? And, if so, at what level?

In response, the key trends that we’ve seen from a recruitment perspective are as follows:

New roles

The majority of placements made in Q4 of 2013 and Q1 2014 have been new roles. These have spanned from regional sales roles (often rebuilding teams that had been streamlined in previous years) to national account management (in some cases brand new teams to head up a newly won sector, in others dedicated NAMs to manage accounts which had shown significant growth), as well as senior-level roles, such as an MD to lead a newly restructured organisation and a head of sales to drive growth — a new level of management for the business.

New entrants

In the past six months we have seen a marked increase in vacancies from businesses that have historically specialised in areas such as retail, housewares, electronics and FMCG who have identified opportunities to grow into the foodservice market.

Their recruitment brief is for someone who knows the sector (i.e. the distribution channels and HoReCa market) but has had exposure to retail as well and can sell in more of an ‘FMCG way’.

New business

We saw a significant amount of recruitment for ‘new business’ sales professionals to respond to the growing confidence in the foodservice industry and chase the opportunities that arose as a result. These have been across the board of our clients, including manufacturers, distributors, heavy and light equipment.

One of the continued challenges is finding candidates prepared to work in an entirely new business environment with few or no accounts to manage and this, combined with other factors, has lead to a trend in firms looking for candidates from elsewhere.

New technologies

We have dealt with a handful of businesses launching new technologies. The recruitment need has been for an ‘expert’ who knows the right contacts and how to ‘get through the door’.

Sector specific

We’ve also seen trends in the sectors that our clients have seen growth in and are therefore focusing on, predominantly casual dining, contract catering and a resurgence in independents, primarily in London. They are looking for big-hitting new business sales people with proven success of wins in these sectors.

International markets

With many businesses identifying opportunities in export sales we have seen an increase in both export roles as well as businesses looking for new staff based overseas to grow sales. Key regions have been EMEA, Scandinavia and the UAE.

Fresh blood

The desire to inject fresh perspectives and enthusiasm into the catering equipment industry has been present for a number of years. It’s no secret that, like any tight-knit industry, there are a number of individuals who have been in the industry for many years.

Many are high-calibre performers with a wealth of expertise who are deservedly in high demand and able to command a high salary. However, there are also those who have become ‘comfortable’ and can be resistant to new ideas, hunting for new business or taking any training courses.

We’ve had clients asking for candidates from outside of the industry for many years and have consistently upheld a policy to network with candidates from allied sectors, who possess an understanding of this industry and the way it operates but have been more ‘classically trained’ and behave in a more ‘blue chip’ way. But we have also found historically that in spite of their outstanding approach to sales and winning business they have still lost out to candidates with more ‘expertise’ when it comes to technical specs.

It’s encouraging to see that many businesses are now willing to overlook a lack of product knowledge and offer training in order to attract fresh blood. The small equipment manufacturers and major distributors are leading the march in this area (although we also accept that they are perhaps more able to offer training and get a new recruit up and running more rapidly) and we have successfully placed candidates from backgrounds including office supplies and stationary, housewares, FMCG, pet foods and telephone directory sales.

Project sales

Recruitment for project and design houses has seen a marked increase since the beginning of this year. They have been looking for energetic, enthusiastic project sales staff who are able to win new scheme business, work effectively with design staff and oversee the installation of turnkey kitchen and restaurant schemes while being an ambassador for the business with excellent customer-facing skills.

Again, there has been a desire for a ‘fresh approach’ in this area but finding candidates from a different background with the skills and experience to hit the ground running in this scenario has proved very difficult. Last month we had two very unusual candidates that met these criteria and were each made offers from three separate companies.

It seems the challenge to introduce new skills at entry level into the design and consultancy sector continues, which leads us to ask whether companies need to readjust their expectations."

Alexandra Waring is Executive Consultant at Cavendish Maine, a Bristol-based recruitment consultancy that specialises in the commercial catering equipment sector. www.cavendishmaine.com

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