What skills are needed in the FMCG sector?

jobs skillsIf you don’t have one of the skill sets considered “hot” in the FMCG sector today, it’s time to upgrade – otherwise, recruitment agents warn, you may not survive the next decade in the industry or may not be able to advance your salary.

Salaries in the FMCG sector have been steady, says Hays regional director for facilities management Austin Blackburne. “They have increased over the past five years, but not year on year.”

There has also been a mixed bag of FMCG pay outcomes. Some areas have enjoyed big spikes; others are not growing beyond inflation, says Mark Jones, national director for sales, marketing, communications and digital at Randstad.

In general, salaries are often not rising unless people move jobs, he says. “People aren’t enjoying salary increases in their current roles. However, if they have a good skill set in an area that’s in hot demand, they could probably find themselves a new role with a bigger salary at another company.”

So what’s hot and what’s not when it comes to skills in FMCG? Technology skills are definitely hot, and those who have them are benefitting when it comes to pay. Jones says these skills include digital marketing, e-commerce, market automation and digital implementation.

Insights valued

There is also a gap in the market for people able to gain insights from data, and who can use this information to drive smart joint business plans or strategies, says Six Degrees executive director Mike Dickson. Benefitting from this gap are national account executives or category analysts, as well as certain junior roles involved in processing work.

“But there’s a caveat,” says Dickson. “If you don’t have those skills – for example, if you are a manager who doesn’t fully understand category or is not exposed to insights or doesn’t understand how to take various data sources and make them into commercial insights – you will find yourself marginalised and will find it harder to be relevant in the market.”

Blackburne says food and packaging technologists are currently in high demand because they can help companies grow their market share or cut costs. “In fact, any candidate who can create efficiencies and help deal with the industry’s slimming margins are in demand right now.”

“That’s why we are seeing strong demand and upward pressure on the salaries of strong and experienced national account managers or people who can drive sales growth, says Jones.

Technology skills

Similarly, Dickson says the FMCG industry has made big investments in capital equipment and systems to boost efficiencies “so there’s also an appetite for project and technology skills to implement these projects”.

 “With plants being automated, there’s a need for operational leaders who have the education background and the technology skills to transition a business from more manual to more automated processes. If you can do that, you will be in absolute demand just now,” he says.

Much depends, however, in which part of the FMCG market you work. For example, Blackburne has seen FMCG positions across the board do better in the more buoyant wine, beverage and baby-formula areas than, say, dairy and cheese.

As FMCG companies try to reduce their dependence on the grocery side and diversify into areas such as food service and quick-service restaurants, Dickson believes demand will grow for skills in these new areas. But, he says, there has been a net outflow of marketing talent as marketing strategy “is being devised less in Australia and set more at a regional or global level” by the internationals.

While there is a hunger for some FMCG roles, other jobs are in jeopardy because of increasing automation, a trend expected to continue into the future.

“In the next 10 years, anything that can be automated to save time and money will be,” says Jones, who advises those affected to upskill and move with the times because the FMCG sector is always going need people.

“A lot of FMCG focusses on food and day-to-day products that everyone needs,” he says. “That’s not going to change. We are all going to need to eat and have personal-care products – all FMCG sectors will still be very relevant. And what is not going to be made in Australia is probably already not made here anyway.”

Next boom

Blackburne says that with Australia poised to become the food basket for the growing Asian middle class, FMCG is the place to be. “It’s probably going to enjoy the next boom, just as mining did in the past. But you would want to be at the thinking, technology end of this market, rather than the bottom end.”

He expects robots to continue replacing low-skill roles such as mixing, packing, wrapping, driving forklifts and palletising as FMCG companies strive to lower their overheads. “Low-level blue-collar roles will cease to exist, and anyone who doesn’t embrace the technological changes will be left behind. These people should be looking to upskill themselves to run the plant and equipment rather than just working on the actual line.”

Some roles will evolve, however. For example, says Dickson, the maintenance management role once needed more of a trade background and involved fixing specific problems. “In the future it’s going to be more about design and reliability strategies – more about preventative maintenance, which involves different skill sets and education.”

Jones believes skills such as digital marketing, e-commerce and the ability to interact with technology and people socially will filter down into every role in the future. “Everyone, from a delivery driver upward, will need to know how to use technology better,” he says.

Dickson agrees. “Whatever role you are in, you will need to be highly analytical and able to understand the data coming at you.”

But, says Jones, “If you are in a client-facing role of sorts, I don’t think there is not too much to worry about. Anyone who needs to talk to people face to face is going to be very hard to replace.”

This article was written by Zilla Efrat and originally published in Inside FMCG’s April print  magazine.

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