MERC Partners study shows consistent optimism among senior executives about career prospects

Business, Economy | Fri 28 Feb | Author – Business & Finance

A new survey conducted by Amárach Research on behalf of MERC Partners reveals increasing optimism on their own career prospects and a high level of interest in moving employment.

Ruth Curran

Ruth Curran, managing partner, MERC Partners

The survey of 472 senior executives at managing director, company director or head of function level was conducted at the end of 2013 and reveals new information on attitudes to applying for public sector jobs and directorships on State Boards.

“This is our third Executives Expectations Survey and each year we are seeing increasing signs of optimism, tinged with realism about the economy’s recovery,” according to MERC Partners new managing partner, Ruth Curran.

Over half of participants (53%) believe that their career prospects in the past year have improved while a third (32%) feel they have stayed the same.  Just 16% felt they have dis-improved. Those in the technology and not for profit sectors were most positive while those in the public sector and engineering sector were most pessimistic.

When asked about their current attitude compared to three years ago, 72% were now more open to switching to another company.  This openness to consider new career opportunities has been a consistent trend in this series of annual surveys, with 71% in 2013 and 72% in 2012 open to an external move.

Ruth Curran said: “This research confirms a resilience and optimism among many senior Irish executives as we emerge from the recession.”

Additional highlights of the study include:

  • One quarter of respondents (24%) said that skills shortages were hampering progress in their organisations (down from one third last year).
  • The most commonly mentioned areas of skills deficit were in IT, leadership and change management – the areas which these annual surveys from MERC Partners have consistently identified as most deficient in Irish business.
  • The impact of tighter financial controls was evident in the finding that almost half (49%) of respondents said their organisation had been affected by cuts in training and/or personal development.
  • Alterations to pension scheme structures (37%), unrealistic remuneration expectations among key staff (32%) and the need to go abroad to find key skilled staff (31%) were also other noteworthy features of the recession.

“We used this year’s survey to examine the attitude of senior executives to the public sector, both in terms of attitude towards management level jobs and State Board directorships. Greater mobility between the public and private sectors would contribute to the Government’s Reform agenda.”

One quarter (25%) of respondents had applied for a position in the public sector in the past three years.  A further 15% considered applying but did not. Almost six out of ten (59%) did not even consider applying.  When asked why not the top five answers were:

  • 52% – Different ethos in public sector to private sector
  • 39% – Concerns over remuneration in the public sector
  • 30% – The nature of the work was not appealing
  • 27% – Poor perception of the public sector as an employer
  • 25% – Perception that candidates from the public sector will be favoured

“These results suggest that more needs to be done to make public sector jobs more attractive to private sector executives.  Greater profiling of those who have successfully made the transition from the private to the public sectors would be one way of addressing the strong concerns identified in our survey,” suggested Ruth Curran.

“We also asked about the willingness of respondents to express an interest in an appointment to a State Board and a significant eight in ten (80%) gave a positive response.”

The top three reasons cited by those who gave a negative answer were:

  • 56% felt they were unlikely to be successful without political affiliations
  • 53% were concerned about negative publicity
  • 44% cited time demand concerns

Recent information in Parliamentary Questions suggests that some Ministers are responding positively to external expressions of interest to serve on State Boards.  Since 2011, the Minister for Transport, Tourism and Sport has appointed 66 external candidates to State Boards. The Minister for Arts, Heritage and the Gaeltacht appointed 29, the Minister for Education and Skills appointed 27 while the Minister for Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation has appointed 20 external applicants. Comparable figures from other Departments are not available or are less positive.

“State Boards need people of quality, expertise and experience.  The Government’s initiative in inviting expressions of interest has had a significant impact in some Departments but little in others.  It is clear from our survey that there is a willing reservoir of untapped senior executive talent out there.  I would suggest that the Government makes a greater effort to attract expressions of interest – a more proactive and engaged approach rather than passive advertising might yield a better result,”  Ruth Curran added.