The Monday Interview with Barbara McGrath: The new benchmarks for recruiting

The Monday Interview with Barbara McGrath: The new benchmarks for recruiting
Barbara McGrath, managing director of recruitment firm Brightwater. Picture: Gareth Chaney Collins

There are thousands of high-end roles to fill, and more women than ever needed in leadership positions, the managing director of Brightwater Recruitment, Barbara McGrath, tells Pádraig Hoare.

It is a good time to be in recruitment, says Barbara McGrath, managing director of Brightwater.

With traditional careers enjoying a renaissance and new ones being created all the time, the firm is busy at its offices in Dublin, Cork, and Belfast. The Cork native said: “In recruitment, you have it one way or the other: you’ve either got lots of jobs and no candidates, or lots of candidates and no jobs. Right now, there are a lot of roles, as the world becomes a smaller place.

“The whole IT and technical engineering is doing very well. All of the new cybersecurity and data platforms, at the moment, we are seeing growth across the whole country. It’s not just Dublin. Cork is where we are seeing the biggest growth.”

Brexit uncertainty is on the minds of many firms, but the multinationals, who have been on a hiring spree, have largely been unaffected.

“There is trepidation out there in relation to Brexit, there is no doubt about it. I think the damage that has been done has been huge for many companies. But if you look at Cork, as a region, multinationals don’t have the same issues as an SME. They are hiring and looking to the future. When that momentum picks up, it drives everything else,” Ms McGrath said.

The nadir for the construction industry, following the economic crash of 2008, infected engineering as badly, but it is an industry on the rise again, Ms McGrath said.

“Engineering has really taken off. It was fairly decimated during the recession and so many people had to go away, whether it be Australia, New Zealand, or the Middle East. But it is a booming industry, at the moment.”

The renaissance of traditional industry and the influx of new technologies bring their own issues, such as diversity and housing.

“Diversity a word that is very much part of the recruitment process. Multinationals are now very clued into having that diverse workforce. If you look at our own industry, we are probably 60-40 in favour of women.

“From an engineering perspective, multinationals will always try to make sure there is a good mix of genders, but also other nationalities. That said, the best person for the job is always going to get it.

“We’ve had scenarios where multinationals are buying up housing units in order to facilitate a workforce that they need to bring in. I cannot say, definitively, this is happening in Cork, but I think it is absolutely on the radar.

Cybersecurity is one of the big growth areas across the country, with high demand for professionals not just in Dublin and Cork, which show the greatest growth.
Cybersecurity is one of the big growth areas across the country, with high demand for professionals not just in Dublin and Cork, which show the greatest growth.

What happens in Dublin spreads, and, with rents rising, it is inevitable. If you look at the Cork and Dublin skyline, they are littered. We’ve been dealing with companies for the last couple of years, in relation to sourcing accommodation,” she said.

But she says there are not enough women in engineering. “According to the 2018 report from Engineers Ireland, only 16% of total engineering graduates are women, whilst men outnumber women working in the sector by eight to one. It has improved only slightly since 2013, when the ratio was 9:1, but it’s just not enough to fulfil requirement.

“Just over 10% of Brightwater’s permanent placements across the various engineering disciplines in the last year have been filled by women. But the problem doesn’t stem from employers’ reluctance to hire women. On the contrary, we are consistently being asked by organisations to ensure an equal gender balance in CV submissions, where possible.

“In fact, one of Brightwater’s clients, a global player and a household name, is specifically pushing for female applicants for their engineering roles,” she said.

There are positive signs. “For the first time, the majority of those taking higher-level science and mathematics in the Junior Cert were girls. Studies do show that encouraging children into STEM subjects really needs to start as young as five. It’s heartening to see that the primary level curriculum is changing to include classes such as coding or technology classes, that just weren’t available in previous years. This shift in direction reflects a break-down of previous societal barriers to girls of this age studying STEM-related subjects.”

It is also incumbent upon firms to provide role models for young women, Ms McGrath said.

“A clear promotion path to senior level for women seems to be less-defined than that for men.

At management board level, the number of women averages out at 22%, whilst, at lower levels, women stand at almost an equal split, at 49%. This clearly shows a definite lack of in-the-pipeline female talent coming through to senior level.

“It’s not just engineering that the pipeline of female talent fails to come through at senior level. It happens in other sectors, but the numbers are so small coming through in engineering that the fall-off is more severe and the numbers stand out more starkly.

“Diversity and inclusion shouldn’t be merely a box-ticking exercise. It’s making sure that everyone in the organisation feels valued and that this sentiment comes from the top down,” she said.

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