Talent needs in Coatings
An employer survey conducted jointly by the
Royal Society of Chemistry Surface Coatings Group, the British Coatings Federation and PRA World
About the survey participants:
We had responses from 50 participants. Half from organisations with more than 500 employees (see chart). Most survey participants are from R&D/Technical functions; a few from other functions including general management
We asked respondents to classify their business activities into traditional paint market categories, but many identified their businesses as coatings users, or as specialised businesses outside these market categories. This indicates the breadth of potential industries where coatings technologies are relevant and used.
The General Industrial segment was most often selected as both core market and a target for future growth, though a wide range of specialised niches were also mentioned by individual respondents.
Recruitment in Coatings:
- The most desired knowledge and skill areas looked for in new technical recruits are those needed for new product development, closely followed by those related to technical problem solving. Knowledge of coating formulation and cost reduction also rank high.
- Hiring is spread across all levels from school leaver to Phd. While this is not intended as a rigorous quantitative survey, it does indicate the breadth of opportunities that exist among the companies represented.
- When asked about the barriers to recruitment, 40% quoted a lack of key skills in recruits. Other comments mentioned practical issues of cost and location and the absence of a ‘sexy’ profile for the industry especially in its more mature segments.
- However companies appear not to be overly concerned about finding suitable talent, many saying that recruits can acquire the knowledge and skills needed if they have the right background.
Training and Development Initiatives:
- More than half of respondents’ organisations make use of in-service training programmes.
- Collaborative research activities engaging with universities, research institutes or other companies are also common.
- About a third if organisations offer apprenticeships. A similar number are sponsoring Phd level students, and a smaller number sponsor post-doctoral work. About a quarter are sponsoring a student through college or university.
- Responses suggest that this pattern is expected to continue.
- However only a quarter of sponsoring organisations said they recruited from among students they sponsored. The majority did not. This perhaps highlights both the uncertainty for companies (not being sure to have an open position at the end of the sponsorship), and the need for students to ‘own their own career’, not relying on a single company or opportunity for their future. While we had a few comments about the absence of relevant skills among technical hires, equally we have heard from students searching in vain for the opportunity to gain relevant work experience.
What do businesses want and expect from recruits?
- Companies clearly expect their technical people first and foremost to understand coatings properties and their measurement. The survey suggests, however, that these are skills that can be acquired on the job.
- On entry, top rated requirements are problem solving skills and a strong background in science, followed by qualities such as attitude, initiative and determination. Prior knowledge of coatings scored low.
- Ambition and managerial growth potential also scored low as entry qualities, as did knowledge of intellectual property and advanced formulating techniques. If the industry wants to attract good people able to create a healthy future, these qualities need to be given priority.
- This survey aimed to give some guidance to universities preparing students at different levels to meet the needs of employers in coatings. At all levels the ability to use science to produce practical solutions is the top priority. A strong background in science and quantitative skills are expected. At higher level (Phd and post doctorate) creativity, along with some more specialised skills (experimental design, intellectual property etc.) are possible indicated. However the survey did not differentiate clearly between skills needed at the different levels.
What can recruits expect?
- The wide range of future technologies of interest to the industry should make it an attractive target for talented scientists. The top trends mentioned were nano-technologies, bio-sourced materials and composites each quoted by over half of respondents, but advances in pigments, bio-active materials, UV curing, anti-corrosion as well as the ‘umbrella’ environment related issues all provide rich challenges in science and application.
- According to most respondents, technical recruits can expect further career development along the traditional technical path, with the possibility to transfer into other functions; even internationally in many organisations. Recruits can expect to stay in their first position for two to five years. This profile should make the industry attractive. However the survey does not attempt to understand how future opportunities may unfold. Recruits will need to look at the specific circumstances in the businesses they join – and businesses need to be conscious of balancing the needs of the business with need for development and growth of the people they hire.