Sunday Business Post – Recruitment Section – Apr 26 2009
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Earlier this month, Dublin legal firm William Fry announced 17 redundancies, while in February, 45 jobs were lost at A&L Goodbody, another ‘big five’ legal firm.
Arthur Cox is also seeking voluntary redundancies from up to 20 secretarial and support staff. A similar number of qualified solicitors have left the company so far this year.
Legal firms around the country are implementing similar plans, according to David Byrnes, legal, tax and public practice manager with Brightwater Selection.
‘‘It is fair to say that the economic downturn has affected the entire legal recruitment market,” Byrnes said. ‘‘Unfortunately, it has affected small, medium and large legal firms, in-house legal people and the public sector as well. It is a particularly difficult time right now.”
Dave Riordan, a senior recruitment consultant with Careers Register, said jobs were on the line across the board.
‘‘A lot of legal firms are cutting numbers, and practices are scaling back their staff and not keeping on newly qualified staff,” said Riordan. ‘‘They are also offering early retirement to senior management and senior partners. Recruitment freezes are going on in many firms at the same time.”
Property and finance
For most firms facing difficulties, the collapse of the property market was a major catalyst, said Cliodhna Dineen, head of law at Griffith College Cork.
‘‘A huge amount of the work done and the fees gained by law firms in recent years would have been in property-related areas,” said Dineen. ‘‘As the property boom has gone, conveyancing work has gone with it. That has been the biggest problem for solicitors’ offices throughout the country. That is where a lot of employees have been let go or had their hours reduced.”
Unprecedented turbulence in banking and related sectors has added to the woes of legal employers nationwide.
‘‘Practices which were servicing the financial services industry have be en badly affected,” said Riordan. ‘‘Banking and funds have been the worst hit in the last six months in particular.”
Accompanying the job cuts announced by William Fry and Goodbody were further plans by both firms to reduce pay for remaining staff. Riordan said salary cuts were widespread throughout the sector as firms sought to manage costs.”
Salaries have only moved downwards,” he said. ‘‘Towards the end of last year, O’Donnell Sweeney cut salaries of senior staff by 15 per cent, and cuts of between 10 and 15 per cent have been fairly typical in other larger legal firms.
‘‘Most legal employers are cutting salaries and looking at other ways of retaining staff, and different working hours and working arrangements are being looked at.”
Too many candidates
There are many more qualified legal professionals looking for work than there are positions available, said Byrnes.
‘‘Due to the number of firms that have had to let staff go and the sheer number of people who have qualified, there are a lot more candidates than jobs at present,” he said.
Unemployed candidates have scaled back on salary demands in the hope of securing new roles.
‘‘People see that they have to be very reasonable and flexible with their salary demands,” he said. ‘‘I have seen people at senior associate or just below partner level taking €20,000 to €25,000 hits on their salary just to get a job.
‘‘These are very good people, but because of the area they have worked in, it is difficult for them to get a job if they are not flexible on salary.”
Newly qualified solicitors are particularly vulnerable in an increasingly difficult labour market.
‘‘I met a recently qualified solicitor – a fantastic candidate, but she is on €22,000 a year,” said Riordan. ‘‘About a year ago, she would be moving to €50,000 to €60,000, but as it stands, she is just being let go. That is typical for a lot of newly qualified solicitors.”
Riordan said a lot of highly qualified legal professionals were finding it difficult to secure new jobs.
‘‘A lot of solicitors have trained for years to get to where they are, and it is very frustrating for them to not actually have the tools and skills to find that next job as quickly as they would imagine a highly qualified person would,” he said.
‘‘We are advising them that it will take a bit longer to find the right role at the moment.” The decline in property-related work has impacted demand for solicitors with skills and experience in the area.
‘‘It creates huge challenges for individuals, because in most cases the legal professionals would have specialised,” said Byrnes. ‘‘For guys who went into some of the ‘big five’ or other law firms and just did property work throughout their career, it is very difficult.
They do not have to go right back to the start, but there will definitely have to be an element of retraining.”
Dineen said the majority of students completing law degrees this year did not expect to secure work with legal firms upon graduating.
‘‘The mood among our final year students is that most will continue studying and pursue a masters in law or other postgraduate courses in other areas,” she said. ‘‘They see that there are not that many jobs out there, so they keep studying and gaining more academic qualifications. That is the consensus around all third-level institutions at the moment.”
Byrnes said the number of candidates opting to study law had increased significantly in recent years, leading to a glut of supply in a cooling market.
‘‘The numbers going into Blackhall had increased significantly in recent years,” he said. ‘‘A lot of people are coming out qualified at a time when the market is not particularly buoyant.”
Newly qualified solicitors who cannot secure work can opt to continue their study, move into other markets or emigrate in search of work.
‘‘Further training and retraining has become the chosen avenue for many newly qualifieds, while some newly qualified solicitors are trying to offer services out of a home practice,” said Riordan. ‘‘The Law Society Gazette had an article recently on opportunities in Australia, China, the Middle East and Norway, which highlighted how far newly qualified solicitors are looking.”
Candidates with a good law degree have the benefit of a range of career options requiring similar skills.
‘‘There are so many areas that you can branch into from a law degree,” Dineen said.
‘‘Not only does the degree train you in the academic side of the law, but you also learn so many essential skills such as critical analysis, problem solving and that type of thing. Those skills are invaluable in any profession or industry, whether journalism, banking or any form of business.”
Some opportunities do exist for legal professionals with the right skills and experience.
‘‘There is more activity in in house legal roles than in practice,” Byrnes said. ‘‘This is due to simple economics, as a lot of companies now are looking to have people in-house who maybe cost less than using specialist consultants from a legal firm.
‘‘Until recently, companies were looking for the best advice and they were willing to pay for it. Now they are looking for a bit more value for money.”
Byrnes said increasing regulation and compliance in financial services and other sectors could boost demand for suitable candidates.
‘‘Over the next couple of months, we will see a renewed focus on regulation and compliance, particularly in the financial services sector.
‘‘There will be opportunities for a good number of legal professionals to focus on these areas. I see an opportunity for the Law Society to run some courses around the new financial services regulations,” he said.
Riordan said the difficulties facing companies operating in a downturn could create opportunities for legal professionals.
‘‘Insolvency and corporate recovery requires legal work,” he said. ‘‘For solicitors, the area of insolvency, unfortunately, is on the up,” he said.
Family law is another relatively busy area, according to Dineen.
‘‘Areas of law that remain consistently busy and essential include family law,” she said.
‘‘People will always be divorcing and separating, and there will always be maintenance issues and concerns in that area. That has remained consistently busy.”
Signs of recovery
Riordan said there were some early signs of a tentative recovery in the legal market.
‘‘We feel there is a bit of a bounce over the last month. Maybe it is because some firms had put recruitment on hold for a while, and could not hold out any longer.
‘‘Maybe it is because there are fantastic candidates and wonderful talent out there, and they have decided to take advantage of it. It could also be that there are fewer recruitment firms as well, but we are definitely busier and we hope it will continue into the summer.”
Sunday Business Post – New Business Section – Apr 12 2009
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The downturn in the hospitality sector has afforded an unlikely opportunity for two entrepreneurs. For Patrick Dillon and Paul O’Shea, the opportunity to set out on their own came earlier this year, with the closure in January of the Quality Resort Hotel in Killarney, Co Kerry. Dillon was general manager of the hotel, while O’Shea was financial controller.
Following the closure, the pair agreed a lease deal with owner Hepton Developments to take over the majority of rooms, reopening the facility on the Cork Road on April 9. The new hotel will continue to trade as Quality Resort Killarney, offering the same food, beverage and leisure facilities as before, according to Dillon, who is now managing director of the hotel.
Despite its recent failure, Dillon is upbeat about future prospects for the hotel. The business strategy would, he said, be to focus on the Irish market, rather than seeking to attract overseas visitors.
‘‘Our key strategy is to focus on our core market, which is the Irish family holiday market. We are going to be chasing the local market in a big way, whereas before we were part of an international brand. Our strategy is to provide similar facilities as we did previously, but giving extra value,” he said.
Dillon said that the re-opening of the hotel created 60 jobs, while up to 200 positions would come on stream in the high season.
‘‘We had an open day for staff, and advertised online and on the Fás website. A lot of people have been handing CVs in at the front door,” he said.
Under new management, Dillon said the hotel would contribute more than €3 million to the regional economy this year alone.
‘‘This will generate more than €2 million in wages, and another €1 million to mostly local suppliers. Then there is the knock-on effect for bars, restaurants and other businesses around Killarney,” he said.
While Quality Hotel previously operated with a mix of hotel rooms, holiday homes and apartments, Dillon said the new business would operate on a more streamlined basis.
‘‘We are opening with 199 bedrooms, so it is a materially different business to what was there previously,” he said.
O’Shea is finance director of the new operation. He said the move to agree a deal with the hotel’s owners, Hepton Developments, following the collapse of the existing operator Carvanna Properties, was swift and decisive.
‘‘We knew other prospective operators were making proposals, so we said, ‘why not ourselves?’,” he said. ‘‘We believed that we knew the business better than anybody else, we had the figures and we started putting a business plan together. We approached the landlord with what we thought was a viable rent compared to what was being paid before, taking into account that we were not taking some of the rooms.”
Dillon and O’Shea have formed a new management company, Laethanta Saoire, to run the hotel. Dillon owns 75 per cent of the new company, with O’Shea owning the remaining 25 per cent. ‘‘We had to put in a certain amount of money ourselves. The banks were fairly supportive, as we had a realistic business plan. We were not looking for a large loan to redecorate, it was mainly working capital,” he said.
The new company is targeting 40,000 room nights this year. It plans to utilise its database of previous customers to drum up repeat business. ‘‘Forty-five per cent of our customers were repeat customers.
We will be doing a very large mail-shot to all of our past guests, along with general advertising.
‘‘The key message is that we are open again and ready to welcome people back.” Dillon said the hotel would compete on the basis of value for money, rather than offering below-cost room rates. ‘‘We do not want to create a business that is not sustainable. There are a lot of hotels out there, particularly in Dublin, slashing rates,” he said.
‘‘This is great in the short term, but will their businesses survive? A core part of our strategy is giving extra value to our customers so that they return.” Dillon, who has been in the business for 20 years, advised entrepreneurs in the hospitality and tourism sector in Ireland to keep costs down and prices realistic.
‘‘It is a difficult time for all businesses, and the key thing is trying to manage costs. You need to spend every penny you have very wisely. You need to have a realistic business plan and know your market. There is no point doing something one year that cannot be sustained after that. It is about being sensible,” he said.
Dillon said he expected the number of overseas visitors to Ireland to fall this year. He said this would be balanced out by the projected increase in cash strapped Irish holiday-makers opting for locations at home. ‘‘The forecasts are that the overseas market will be back by 8-9 per cent this year. The indications are that the home holiday market will be stronger this year, and that will be great for us,” he said.
Sunday Business Post – Recruitment Section – Apr 05 2009
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This year’s National Recruitment Federation (NRF) annual conference takes place against the backdrop of troubled times for an industry halved in just two years. NRF president Frank Collins said the event – billed as ‘Facing the future with ease – education, enterprise & enthusiasm’ – would promote a positive outlook among recruiters who remain active in the Irish market.
‘‘As an industry, we are suffering, but we would rather dwell on the positives,” said Collins. ‘‘There are small signs of growth in the industry, and we felt that we need to position ourselves for the inevitable turnaround and to lift people’s spirits. There are still a lot of good things happening out there – a lot of good things that we can do.”
The one-day conference takes place on Thursday, April 23 at Citywest Hotel in Saggart, Co Dublin.
Chaired by career management expert Rowan Manahan of Fortify Services, the event will also feature speeches from Minister for Labour Affairs Billy Kelleher, Alan Haugh of the National Employment Rights Association (Nera) and Ann-Marie Muntz of the world employers’ body Euro CIETT.
Lucy Gaffney, chair of Communicorp and formerly director and chief operations officer of Esat Telecom, will talk about managing a company through the ups and downs of the economic cycle.
Management consultant Bill Braining will outline his 13-point ‘Tin hat strategy’ for business growth, while Tempy Cummins, of Vision 2 Reality, will advise agency owners on motivating and encouraging staff through a difficult period.
Collins said the conference would help recruiters to improve service levels in a tight market. His presentation at the event will introduce the NRF’s new education strategy, which includes the launch later this year of a continuous professional development certificate.
‘‘We need, as a body, to ensure we give a certain standard of service, and we want to have a qualification that all recruiters should have,” Collins said. ‘‘Most of the people within the industry are professionals in their own sectors – they are accountants or engineers, qualified in the area they are recruiting in. This gives them the extra background they need to know in terms of the recruitment side. There has been a demand for this for quite a while, but it has taken time for us to get a course written and off the ground.”
Leveraging new technology can help recruiters to maximise available resources, said Collins.
‘‘Damien Mulley of Mulley Communications will be giving a live demonstration of the latest technologies in social networking. We will see how sites like LinkedIn and Facebook can be used in a firm’s day-to-day activities to help them recruit the right candidates,” he said.
Collins said he expected a high turnout from the NRF’s 120 member agencies at the event. He said non-members were also welcome.
‘‘This is the first year we have opened up the conference to all recruitment professionals,” said Collins. ‘‘There are a lot of people who recruit people who do not necessarily work for a recruitment agency. We want to spread the word to as many people as possible who are involved in recruitment activities.”
The last two years have, he added, been ‘‘traumatic’’ for the recruitment sector in Ireland, with the number of people employed by recruitment agencies falling significantly from a peak of just over 12,000 in 2007.
‘‘We are probably somewhere around 7,000 or 8,000 now,” Collins said. ‘‘We did a survey in autumn 2008,which found that 2,000 people had lost their jobs in the recruitment industry in the previous twelve months. I would have little doubt that another 2,000 have lost their jobs since then.”
The number of recruitment agencies operating in Ireland has also dropped sharply, Collins said.
‘‘Atone stage, there were 450 agencies here,” he said. ‘‘The number is now probably somewhere between 350 and 400.
Some agencies have shut down, particularly multinational agencies that had opened offices in Dublin. Other agencies are closing regional branches, which were costly to run. Some purely specialist sectional agencies went out of business when demand dried up.”
There has been some consolidation in the market, Collins said. ‘‘There are not necessarily more mergers and acquisitions than previously, but there are more agencies now looking in an opportunistic way to get agencies on the cheap, whereas before it was more about expanding into new sectors,” he said.
Collins said that a lack of confidence in the Irish economy was just as detrimental to the recruitment sector as the lack of new positions to fill.
‘‘Currently, there are more people losing jobs than there are getting jobs. That means there are less jobs for us to be filling,” he said.
‘‘There is also a knock-on effect, as people are not confident and are not moving jobs.
They are looking for stability and do not want to take a risk, especially as they will not be covered for redundancy if they are less than two years in the new job. If everyone stays where they are, there is no recruitment happening.”
Collins said that the latest live register figures – which showed the national rate of unemployment had increased last month to 11 per cent -were bad news for Irish recruiters, but he also pointed to the fact that 30,000 people came off the live register in January and February this year.
‘‘There are jobs out there, there are people getting jobs every day of the week. There is a lot of despair around, and a lot of misinformation, but there are opportunities out there,” he said.
‘‘Last week alone, NRF members placed over 400 people into permanent jobs, and filled 550 temporary roles. Other people started jobs that they found in other ways. We are not deluded, but it is important to acknowledge that there are some jobs available.
‘‘Construction and financial services have been hit badly, but certain parts of the services sector, particularly international traded services, are doing quite well.
‘‘Pharmaceutical is also doing quite well, and there are still retail and marketing jobs going. The healthcare sector and catering are not doing too badly either.”
Collins said the recruitment sector acted as an early warning system for the economy. There is some evidence of positive trends in the industry.
‘‘We lead economies by six to eighteen months. We saw the downturn in Ireland well before others, and we will see the upturn too,” Collins said.
‘‘A number of our members say they are starting to see some small pick-up. January and February were dead, but they are starting to see some movement now. With a bit of luck, it might accelerate a bit towards the end of the year.”
For more information on the NRF Annual Conference 2009, phone 01–8161754, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org. The cost of entry for non-members is €75