How to attract and retain staff in a competitive jobs market

Posted on 21 March 2023

It’s never been a tougher time to recruit good quality chemicals industry candidates. A recent study of human resources professionals revealed that 92% felt that the UK is experiencing a labour shortage and that this is resulting in significant revenue losses[i]. A further study by the Engineering Construction Industry Training Board (ECITB) revealed the chemical sector was one of the hardest hit by the pandemic, with headcounts close to halving between 2019 and 2022[ii]. With a competitive jobs market and candidates at a premium, the chemicals industry is now competing with a host of other sectors that also value the analytical skills, versatility, and problem-solving abilities of chemistry industry professionals and graduates. Yet some of our best businesses are bucking the brain drain trend. So, what are the key strategies the best businesses in our industry are using to recruit and retain staff?

As a specialist chemicals industry recruiter, an early recruitment lesson for me was that candidates with a final salary pension are unlikely to switch employer. The twin lures of a higher salary or engaging role are generally trumped by a ‘golden handcuffs’ final salary pension. Lab technicians, sales professionals, regulation specialists, and chemists are retained in a business by the promise of a large pension pot. From a recruitment perspective, final salary pension businesses often have little to no shortage of willing candidates. While harder to find in the private sector, final sector schemes remain a big draw for chemicals industry professionals tempted into the public sector, many of which never return.

While final salary pensions have often proved too costly for many private businesses, an above-average pension offering is still proving a major draw. A recent example at Merritt Recruitment concerns a candidate headhunted for a chemical distributor who moved for the same salary tempted by a fabulous pension scheme, achievable bonuses, and lots of company benefits. While it’s rare to see such a like-for-like change candidates are looking for more than ‘free fruit’ such as extra vacation days and holiday purchase schemes when considering a move. 

Candidates, particularly those in the important Gen Z and Millennial age ranges of 18 to 41, are not just interested in a headline ‘salary’ but how their career can progress and how it aligns with their lifestyle goals. Mentoring schemes, academic courses, and in-house training are all attractive, as is the prospect of being trained in the latest innovations and analytical techniques such as liquid TEM and AFM-IR. During the interview process, candidates may have their career path mapped and succession planning may include training in new areas such as digital marketing, project management, and/or people management.

Lifestyle goals and ethics are also playing a much bigger role than ever before in career choices. As part of the interview process with client businesses, we increasingly delve into how their technology will impact society more widely in terms of tackling climate change, reducing waste, and increasing inclusion and upward mobility. Major environmental ranking schemes like EcoVadis can help set businesses apart. We now have a number of businesses ranked on the EcoVadis scale, including a gold medal winner, and this is absolutely front and centre of their recruitment promotion. The governance, environmental, and family-conscious inclusivity of businesses can make that all-important difference when candidates are comparing potential employers.

Employers can sometimes be restricted by salary bandings – a solution is to offer guaranteed bonuses and extra cash via a car allowance. Many years ago, company cars were all about the engine size and leather interiors but with a heavier tax liability and fuel costs, increasingly electric and hybrid cars are now preferred. It's worth remembering that while some candidates prefer the hassle-free benefit of a company car, due to tax impacts and lifestyle choices many are opting for a car allowance.

Now more than ever, chemicals businesses need to do more to attract and retain staff. Above-average pensions schemes, career progression and gyms, swimming pools, on or near-site childcare provision, cycling schemes, hybrid working, and free counselling are all being used to secure the best talent. Candidates are no longer just considering the role in front of them, but also, the type of business they are set to work for. How the company’s practices impact on climate change? What is the approach to innovation, research and development? How are existing staff looked after and supported? In a fast-moving world where a whole host of businesses and public sector companies are seeking the analytical, creative and innovative skills held by so many chemical business professionals and graduates, we need to do all we can to attract and retain staff.

Dr Laura Merritt is an experienced recruiter and qualified chemist. Her PhD specialised in UV curing, photochemistry and polymer chemistry. Dr Merritt is the founder of Merritt Recruitment, a council member of the Oil & Colour Chemists’ Association, secretary of the Royal Society of Chemistry - Coatings Group and managing director of Surfex.

To connect with Laura on LinkedIn visit:

[i] 92% HR professionals think UK job market experiencing labour shortage – Business Leader,lost%20between%2016%2D20%25

[ii] The ECITB’s Workforce Census

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