The rise and rise of personnel jobs

The relentless growth of employment legislation is fuelling demand for personnel professionals across all functions and sectors, according to a survey of the HR jobs market

The most dramatic element of the jobs picture indicated by the personnel jobs salary survey is the growth in advertising over the past five years. The general trend has been of steady year-on-year growth, although there is some variation in the growth profile across different industries. Over the past 12 months the number of personnel jobs advertised was 80 per cent higher than in 1995-6.

Clearly the number of adverts can be indicative of higher turnover and/or increased number of jobs. It could also suggest greater use of national media advertising over local methods. It is likely to be a combination of all three.

Both professional and specialist roles tend to attract national over local advertising and the general trend in personnel has seen the growth of both. It is also possible that increased recognition of equal opportunity requirements has had some impact on advertising.


Specialist need


The greatest contributor to the increase in jobs advertised over the period, however, is likely to be the increasing requirement for specialist HR expertise in companies as a result of the relentless growth of employment legislation, the growing complexity of employing people and the continuing shift from collective bargaining to individual arrangements and employment rights.

With the growth of individual rights and the increased likelihood of individuals pursuing their rights through courts and employment tribunals, the potential cost of employment issues may have become more visible to finance directors and chief executives in recent years. The visible cost of getting it wrong in terms of employment issues has been highlighted most recently, of course, in the Employment Relations Act 1999, with the fourfold increase of penalties for unfair dismissal.

Although there is some variation across different employment sectors, the general growth profile shows a recruitment bulge in 1998 which by the end of that year was back to a steady upward growth.


Function breakdown


The pattern of employment across the range of personnel functions shows interesting movement over the five-year period. More than 50 per cent of the jobs are still generalist with the specialist area of training the next biggest area of employment with about 17 per cent of jobs.

But against an overall growth of 80 per cent in jobs, training trails way behind the rest with only a 20 per cent rise, in contrast to generalist roles at 70 per cent, consultancy at almost 290 per cent and recruitment at about 250 per cent. This is surprising, given government initiatives such as Investors in People and Modern Apprenticeships and the development of knowledge management and learning organisation theory in management. It is possible that the increase in consultant appointments is at least in part a response to such schemes, which organisations are addressing using external rather than in-house expertise.

The smallest specialism identified is that of equal opportunities. Unsurprisingly, these appointments are most commonly found in the public sector where responsibility (or accountability) to the local community is more of a feature of personnel practice. The traditional specialism of industrial relations and the newer one of compensation and benefits both occupy a tiny proportion of personnel posts (3-4 per cent in the past 12 months), while recruitment is a bigger sister at 8 per cent. All have grown significantly over the past five years, with recruitment and consultancy jobs both increasing by 250 per cent.

In terms of salary levels, compensation and benefits positions attract higher salaries on average than other personnel roles. The salary level ranking for other positions tends to be generalist posts in second place, followed by recruitment, industrial relations and training specialisms. So, despite the recent rhetoric about the importance of employees as knowledge capital, employers still seem to place financial value on buying in over developing as an approach.

Ignoring the lecturer salary increase which is undoubtedly due to small numbers rather than a significant increase in average salary rates, the biggest average salary increase over the past 12 months is for director level roles at 3.4 per cent. There is also a significant increase in the number of director jobs advertised over this period, following the previous 12 months when there had been a slight reduction.

In contrast, a recruitment agency consultant’s average salary has fallen by 12.4 per cent and in all areas of consultancy, salary levels have shown significant reductions at the same time as significant growth in the number of jobs advertised. This could be as a result of an increase in the number of roles offering outsourcing of basic HR functions, and the drop in advertised HR officer jobs is congruent with this reasoning.

Likewise, the decrease in agency recruitment consultant salaries could reflect a lower relative percentage of consultants operating at the senior management search and selection level and more dealing with more routine response handling or agency temp deployment.


Sector trends


Across different industrial groups the growth in personnel jobs seems broadly to reflect the general pattern of industrial growth. Thus communications, electronics/IT, distribution, professional services and finance show particularly significant increases in the number of personnel jobs advertised over the past five years. These are also the groups where salary levels tend to be higher – and where the bulk of compensation and benefits posts are advertised.

In the public sector, charities and local government show significant growth in the number of jobs advertised. Charities, however, while they may be becoming bigger businesses, are towards the bottom of the salary league where they keep company with health authorities, housing associations and education.

The health authorities 1999 survey into pay and working time reported in Personnel Today reports that pay is a much less important factor for staff in the NHS than for those in retail and engineering sectors, a significant reason perhaps in recruiting at the significantly lower salary levels evident in the survey.

The change in government is the most obvious factor affecting employment practices over the past couple of years in the public sector, especially via the local government reorganisation. The reorganisation of county councils and district councils into a greater number of smaller unitary authorities has resulted in an increase in the number of employing bodies in some areas and it is likely that a growth in personnel posts and heads of personnel posts is an associated trend.

The health authorities showed an initial peak of recruitment in 1996, probably as a result of the second wave of trust formation. This has been followed by a steady period of growth as the changes to associated services have taken effect.

The defence industry, always a very small advertiser for personnel staff, shows a steady fall in the number of jobs advertised over the five-year period. This is in line with the overall reductions in the sector.


Regional pattern


Across the country, personnel jobs appear to be concentrated around London and the South East – 68 per cent over the past 12 months – and it is surprising to see that fewer jobs, 3 per cent, were advertised in the national media surveyed over the past 12 months in Scotland, Wales and Ireland combined than in any single English region.


Commentary by Amanda Molyneaux, personnel and systems services manager at John Moores University. This is an extract from the report on the personnel job market compiled by Salary Survey Publications for the year to March 2000. More information on 01488 72705

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