Tim Golding, Founder and Managing Director at Peak Recruitment, a regional recruitment specialist for the ASEAN food and agriculture sector, speaks to Far Eastern Agriculture about recruiting talent in Asia for food and agriculture industries
How competitive is the ASEAN candidate market in terms of skill levels required for major industries?
Tim Golding: Extremely so. The highly specialised nature of the roles across niche categories, whether that be a breeding specialist for a certain crop in Indonesia or a Vietnamese-speaking technical manager for a certain species of fish, mean that the competition is huge and the race for talent frantic. Location and language challenges further frustrate the searches, with the majority of local talent not being noticed due to a lack of required English from multinational companies. Then we haven’t mentioned candidates being the right cultural fit or character, or with the right adaptability and flexibility – let’s put it this way, long gone are the days of lengthy shortlists!
What has been the challenge for Peak Recruitment after the concerns brought by COVID in the job market?
Tim Golding: It has without question been attracting talent. Not only have global travel restrictions had their obvious impact on cross-border recruitment, but at a human level, people are placing much more precedent on the home and the family; there is certainly a much greater reticence to move to foreign climes. This has also meant that domestic candidates are being inundated with offers, driving up salaries considerably, particularly with those specialised roles. Companies are now having to exhibit flexibility like never before, think laterally and examine other options.
How has technology driven recruitment in industries such as F&B and agriculture?
Tim Golding: Much like many other sectors, it has revolutionised the way recruitment is being done, especially with new video interviewing technologies, online testing and so on. With the added convenience of not having to be at a physical interview, timelines can be shortened, and life has become much easier for candidates. That has however resulted in higher attrition and a generally more volatile candidate market.
The flexibility that has resulted from the pandemic, and indeed, the work-from-home or hybrid policies that have been adopted by countless companies have further opened things up in terms of the talent pool and where they work, particularly for commercial, supply chain, admin and support or technical roles; production teams have seen little difference however with the need to keep facilities running, animals fed, seeds sown and the rest.
What are your recommendations for food and agriculture businesses in Asia in the current climate?
Tim Golding: 1) Confirm your requirements before going to market – Before looking for that Golden Goose candidate, remember it’s a niche search. Could you hire internally, diversify someone’s role, or train someone up? Be confident you need to conduct this search, as cancelling vacancies halfway through your process will damage your brand.
2) What can you offer a candidate that differentiates you? Competitive salary – of course, but think benefits also. How flexible is the working environment? What measures are in place to support health and wellbeing? Is there an excellent working culture and clear career path with long-term incentives? Remember that there are multiple competitors seeking that same candidate, and if you can’t think of how you differentiate, the likelihood is that something needs addressing.
3) Discuss package expectations right at the outset, after the first interview. Lay everything on the table. Yes, we want to hear reasons other than financial for candidates moving on, but let’s be honest, that’s one of the most important factors in most cases and shouldn’t be a point of negativity, and candidates in these fields know their worth. If there is a budget and it doesn’t match expectations, save everyone’s time and nip it in the bud during the opening phase.
4) Have a short, snappy process. Three stages of interviews are all you need and get that feedback returned as soon as you can. Utilise referencing and personality testing.
5) Be open-minded and realistic about eventualities. If the search doesn’t prove fruitful, again, can you look internally, promote, upskill or otherwise? There are often personalities within organisations that can adapt, are willing to retrain and develop and would become all the more valuable to your organisation.