Given the fact that the global process and chemicals industry is one of the most complex sectors on earth, perhaps it is little wonder that we are increasingly finding clients struggling to fill site management roles. Every site manager position in this industry is different, and we are talking about seeking out executives with bespoke and unusual skillsets in everything from iron and steel to resins and coatings, renewables and nutrition.

We are consistently approached by clients regarding their challenges in identifying talent for these roles, and in the next few weeks will publish our latest report on the subject, entitled Plugging the Site Leadership Gap. The report will include the findings of our survey of over 150 site leaders working in the process and chemicals industry across Europe and the Middle East, and will look at the drivers for those individuals when they do look to move, how willing they are to relocate, and the locations they are most keen on moving to.

Alongside this qualitative data, we have also interviewed some of our most senior clients in the industry, who have kindly shared some fascinating in-depth experiences and insights to shed more light on the problem.

What is abundantly clear is the fact that the industry now faces a triple whammy at site leadership level, because not only is it facing high levels of upcoming retirements, but it also finds that likely successors are unwilling to relocate for new opportunities, and that the lack of supply is pricing external candidates out of the market. We see companies so keen (or perhaps desperate) to hold on to their brightest site managers that they are offering retention bonuses and inflated share schemes to act as golden handcuffs that will keep them on board.

Part of the problem is undoubtedly generational, and caused by a failure on the part of corporations to invest in the leaders of tomorrow. Likewise, on the candidate side, the ideal external recruits are typically senior enough in their careers that they have dependents and family commitments that make them less willing to relocate for new opportunities without significant financial rewards.

And these are not easy roles to move into. Some candidates are very open to relocation, but do not speak the required destination language, which can be critical if a site is – as most are – outside of a major conurbation where English is more likely to be spoken.

The only answer is a shift in mindset, on the part of both candidate and company. We are increasingly observing the major process and chemicals businesses taking a longer-term approach to talent development, by recruiting out of universities and building up skillsets in-house, and that is an extremely positive development. At the same time, there needs to be a recognition that where this has not been done, external recruitment is going to cost money.

For candidates, more flexibility is needed if site management is the goal, because whether looking to develop internally or externally, these jobs are hard to come by if candidates have ruled out relocation.

These problems are not insurmountable, but the industry does need to take steps to address them. We are looking forward to sharing our findings, and sparking a debate about what has to be done. Please, do get in touch if you’d like to receive a copy of the report when it is published soon.

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