News  & Insights

Dear FMCG, You didn’t panic! Now turn your attention to the talent time bomb

by Mike Dickson

As COVID-19 changes our life, in a way none of us have ever experienced, globally, the importance of the FMCG sector becomes starkly obvious. Consumers in their millions are reacting to a fear of the future by panic buying, attempting to take control and protect themselves by stockpiling food, beverage and personal care products. As crazy as it is, it’s happening. However, FMCG has stood up, taken on a huge challenge and rolled up its collective sleeves to keep the supply chain moving, the retailers open and society nourished and clean.

Bloody amazing job! Thank you and please keep going!

We now enter a period of a new, strange normal where our working and personal lives will be different and blended together. Consumer and shopper behaviour will change and FMCG will adapt.  We will find new working rhythms and have the time back to think about the future, our strategy, category drivers, COGS et al.

I urge FMCG leaders to spend a little time looking back. Why? As an employer of choice FMCG companies have been on a negative slide for 10 years and this is our chance to fix it.

FMCG is no longer an employer of choice

With ubiquitous brands and strong corporate reputations FMCG companies used to top employment lists for graduates back in the 1990s and 2000s.  Not anymore! A quick glance at the 2019 Top 100 reports for graduate employment in Australia shows that only 12 FMCGs feature:

The highest is Nestle at 16th and L’Oréal at 25th. Where are the brightest and best going today and does this really matter for FMCG?

Most would pick tech giants such as Google and Apple as the obvious top choices for graduate talent but what may surprise FMCG leaders is how many mature sectors compete at the top. The global consulting firms such as Deloitte and PWC do very well but so do many State and Federal government departments. Curiously, the much-maligned banking sector is also seen as a better option than most FMCGs.

What happened to FMCG?

1.     Brand deterioration. For an industry that is the home of brand management, the employer brand of FMCG has largely been ignored. Glassdoor, the global employer review site, publishes an annual list of what makes a top employer. The leading trait is “an employer that cares about me”, followed by “a mission I can connect with” then “working with smart people”.  None of these traits are naturally aligned with tech or consulting over FMCG, but they’ve embedded them in their Employer Value Proposition (EVP) and leadership scorecards.

2.    Fewer entry-level jobs. The widest pathway into FMCG was the role of Territory Manager. So many of today’s leaders, across all functions, started out there, fast tracking their EQ and sharpening their problem solving skills.  But with many field sales teams cut dramatically in size, today’s graduates have fewer options to start an FMCG career.

What’s the business impact?

Finding it hard to recruit a National Account Manager (NAM)? You’re not alone. It’s a great example of a core FMCG role where demand has increased, supply has shrunk and price has consequently, rocketed.

Demand: Back in the day a NAM was a solid job where stock in trade was a big personality and an ability to influence. In 2020 a NAM needs to operate like a mini General Manager, to be highly numerate and tech savvy; to be an analyst who can see opportunity in category performance; to integrate stakeholders in every part of a business; and deliver a customer plan across brand, shopper, supply chain and finance. A modern NAM is in high demand and has a big impact on the business but where do they come from?

Supply: With fewer people coming through the traditional field sales pathway the supply of talent for roles such as a NAM has been cut. A shrinking talent pool means thinking creatively about recruiting from other functions or industries, but given the huge importance of the role in terms of business impact, most chose to mitigate risk and compete in the same small pool by offering bigger and bigger salaries.

Price: Extreme competition in a shrinking talent pool has meant salaries and bonuses for NAMs have increased by over 25% in the past 3 years. As a specialist FMCG sales recruiter this has not been a bad thing for me, but it’s not sustainable for the industry and it does present an opportunity to change.

What can FMCG leaders do?

It’s not just the NAM that’s going through a modern evolution. It’s happening across the organisation in head office and on site. In every role, from operations to HR through to finance, employees need to bring agility, innovation, tech smarts, analytical ability and project management as they blend their IQ and EQ to get their job done. It doesn’t suit a lot of people; in fact many of the old school FMCG cohort would not be hired today.

What did Glassdoor say?  Employees want “a mission I can connect with, an employer that cares”. What mission is more important than nourishing and cleaning society during this current crisis? When, in living memory, has FMCG ever stood up, shown such humanity and leadership in helping the world deal with a global crisis like this one?  We can fix this ticking talent time bomb and it needs to be high on the ELT agenda once we reach our new normal.

A six-point plan

Treat your EVP like your most important brand, that happens to sit in a highly innovative, changing and competitive category.

1.     Create your consumer profiles (AKA future employees). Who do you want to hire and what are they doing now?

2.     Define your product offering. You have a business that plays an integral part in society, jobs that are appealing, that have meaningful business impact and allow the development of broad skills. Rewrite your PDs and career pathways for your new consumer profiles.

3.     Communicate price. FMCG talent can accelerate earnings faster than most sectors; bring that to life during recruitment. It is still very important and sits at number 4 on the Glassdoor wish list.

4.     Put place front and centre. It’s more than a modern office with great tech, perks and flexibility (all standard). In FMCG you have real world customers you can meet, brands that you can touch, processes you can change.

5.     Promote your redefined EVP brand through an awesome recruitment experience using a blend of tech and real people to bring your brand to life. Map out the recruitment process and challenge yourself to create meaningful moments at each stage.

6.     Create your own grad program. Demand for the brightest and best to excel in these awesome, new FMCG jobs is high but you need to address long-term supply. Grad programs don’t need to be large and complex, in fact small and agile is attractive for many.

This is not a simple solution but if FMCGs don’t face up to the issue of talent supply then the quality level of employee will drop and that will push out the smart people you’ve currently got. Take this re-established importance of FMCG in society as a catalyst to relaunch your most important brand, defuse the talent time-bomb and secure the future.

Do you need help to future proof your talent acquisition quickly and help your brand stand out?  

Mike has over 20 years’ experience in sales and marketing recruitment in Australia, New Zealand and the UK and is only too happy to have a chat with any FMCG business wanting guidance in acquiring the best talent in these current times.


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