ECONOMIC plagues rarely have the selective powers to just take out the bad eggs and leave the good guys standing. A few years ago when Ireland’s economic wheels started to come off, Collins McNicholas Recruitment and HR Services Group MD Colman Collins predicted the downturn would force a lot of shoddy recruitment companies out of the market. He was right, but it also forced out some good ones. The number of recruitment firms has roughly halved. Some reputable ones were driven out by lack of business, others by misguided investments of their good time profits into property and failed equities. Collins McNicholas has survived well and is now seeing a significant lift in high skilled vacancies on its books, notably with multinational corporations: 283 vacancies as of yesterday, which is approaching 2007levels.

However, the indigenous SME sector is struggling, with low-skilled roles at an all-time low. Colman Collins says: “There are two very contrasting worlds out there —one for multinationals and one for SMEs. We are seeing a huge increase with multinational openings. However, nowadays recruitment agencies don’t get to handle the lesser roles like admin or clerical. Companies have no problems filling those roles themselves. “There is no easy low-hanging fruit. Recruitment companies are now primarily brought in to fill key professional roles in engineering, research, medical devices and ICT, senior managers in general. In many cases, these people are not passive candidates. “These are people who are not readily available. We are having to headhunt, people we find via networks like LinkedIn, who are not actively looking to move. Recruitment agencies have had to work at their game to succeed in this changing environment.

”Collins McNicholas has had to revisit its own practices to survive. In recent years the Galway-based agency imposed a number of redundancies throughout its five regional offices. Its latest data analysis shows job openings up 58% in the first half of 2011 versus the number of job vacancies registered with the group in the first half of 2010. Demand is greatest for experienced engineers across the medical technologies and pharmaceutical sectors; experienced science professionals in the pharmaceutical and biotech sectors; and software developers in a range of ICT roles. Closer to its Galway headquarters, Collins McNicholas is also seeing demand for multilingual staff in back office and telesales roles. It is working to fill roles for the likes of medical devices start-up Alere in Galway, computer games producer EA Games (trading as BioWare), and Athlone – based market research company NPD.

Colman Collins says that the recovery in the multinational sector and in the exporting companies in the indigenous sector is one of the few bright spots in the Irish economy. The dynamism in these sectors is clearly borne out by the increase in the number of jobs which Collins McNicholas were asked to fill by new and existing client companies in 2011. The increased number of job vacancies year to date also reflects recent market commentary relating to a significant pick-up in the export sector in 2011. Thus, the remaining reputable recruitment agencies are primarily being asked to fill professional roles, which only leaves us wondering why the economic downturn Gods also chose to smote some of the good along with the bad. Colman Collins surmises: “Not all the recruitment companies that have gone have been fly-by-night operations. Some good agencies have been pulled down by properties they bought, perhaps an unwise move into owning their own premises. They have effectively been brought down by their mortgage. “Even those good ones like ourselves that have survived have had to make a few hard decisions to survive, with redundancies and wage cuts. We have now restored wage levels, and we have had to focus our attention on the roles being sought by multinationals. “There is growing activity among multinationals and their suppliers, and among some Enterprise Ireland-supported export companies, who are also getting a bit busier. SMEs, however, are still finding it very difficult. ”The contrasting fortunes of export-focused companies and those constrained by the flat domestic market really has created a sense of two very different business worlds. On the upside, the upswing among multinationals is evident in most corners of the country. For instance, Cork-based regional manager for Collins McNicholas, Sheila Hurley, remarks: “As Ireland emerges from economic global recession, increased numbers of high-quality graduates in the Biotechnology, biopharma, software and engineering fields will be sought by industry. “Highly skilled graduates will act as a magnet for attracting foreign direct investment and will also help indigenous companies innovate and compete in emerging high tech global markets.”

Colman Collins

Founder & Management Consultant

Collins McNicholas Recruitment & HR Services Group