Country must continue to attract the international talent pool businesses require, writes recruitment specialist Louise Gibson
THERE was a perceptible air of angst and anticipation at this year’s Scotland Food and Drink conference.
Bankers, lawyers, accountants and industry advisors gathered with business leaders at the event in September to discuss how to support the food and drinks industry achieve a market value of £16.5 billion by 2017, an increase of 32% on its current level of £12.5 billion.
Few of the speakers wanted to be drawn into the referendum debate publicly, but it’s fair to say the sigh of relief since the ‘No’ vote has been audible.
There are many reasons why the industry was cautious about separating from the UK – not least the currency risk, uncertainty over EU trading agreements and loss of the UK’s international embassy network which does so much to support our two biggest exports: whisky and salmon.
Also, with the vast majority of Scotland’s food and drink companies selling into the major multiple grocers, all of which are headquartered outside Scotland, the success of these trading relationships is critical to the buoyancy of the sector. The eleventh hour warnings from the multiples on the risk of increased cost of trading after independence may well have swayed many voters.
The prospects for strong growth are good: a Bank of Scotland survey on the sector’s potential found that two thirds of companies expect to increase their headcount, and the possibility of a further 10,000 new jobs in the sector over the next five years.
But, I wonder what impact the independence debate will have had on our ability to attract international talent to Scotland? Could the debate over independence have portrayed Scotland as a less attractive place for non-Scots to develop their careers?
As passions ran high from politicians and activists through the debate, I heard comments from candidates that Scotland had begun to appear an unwelcoming place for newcomers looking to relocate north of the border. This gives me great cause for concern.
As a head hunter specialising in recruitment into food and drink companies, the vast majority of the candidates I have placed for clients in recent years have not been found in Scotland. As well as moving many English candidates, we have recently relocated people from the US, Europe and Australia on behalf of Scottish clients.
There is a high calibre of talent in Scotland, but the truth is that our local market is still largely made up of SMEs, with fewer than 20 companies in the sector with sales in excess of £100m, compared to 200 in the UK as a whole.
The majority of our clients are seeking candidates who have experience in leading blue chip FMCG companies and often choose to bring in someone with wider UK or international experience, seeking to learn lessons from their global experience in the process.
Not only is there a limited number of individuals with broad international experience in the Scottish market, the introduction of fresh blood, diverse experience and alternate perspectives is critical for growing businesses, seeking to compete on a bigger stage.
Those of us already living here need to continue to make Scotland an attractive place for people from all backgrounds to come and work. This also means welcoming the contribution of those who choose to relocate here for a career move.
We must hope that our recent very high profile squabbling has not marked our card with the international talent pool we need to attract.
I for one am optimistic about the future and have, in recent weeks, sensed an energised, revitalised direction amongst our clients.
This, I hope, will soon be converted into increased investment, a fresh injection of capital expenditure and the development of new jobs, markets and long term opportunities for all Scotland’s business community.
• Louise Gibson is FMCG practice lead at executive search firm Livingston James.