Source : The Telegraph
But in one industry, at least, the candidate is still king – mining. The sector's boom on the back of rising commodity prices has led to a massive shortage of staff, so that barely a trading update goes by without the issue being raised.
While it represents a major headache for employers trying to ramp up production or develop new projects, it signals a bonanza for workers in the sector who are enjoying soaring salaries as companies compete to attract them.
Over the past five years, the average employee at the "big four" mining giants of BHP Billiton, Rio Tinto, Anglo American and Xstrata has received an additional 211pc of his or her salary, according to Deutsche Bank analysts: "In other words, the average employee has received just over two years' additional pay on top of what would have been received had salaries remained flat on 2005 levels.
" Nowhere is the phenomenon more evident than in Australia, where the scarcity of workers to feed Asian demand for commodities has not been helped by tight restrictions on immigration. Even truck drivers are now getting paid salaries of A$150,000 to A$180,000 (£96,000 to £116,000) and they can be trained up from scratch. The more skilled professionals whose experience commands a premium – mining engineers, resource geologists – are in even tighter supply.
Living in the Outback's dusty mining towns isn't easy: a report by Rio Tinto on life in Western Australia's Pilbara region, one of the world's main sources of iron ore, identified one group of workers as the "two-year" people, those who can "generally survive one Pilbara summer and two winters before leaving the region".
But the exorbitant wages on offer have in recent years seen more than 100,000 Australians flock to the mining towns. Many work as so-called FIFOs, who "Fly In and Fly Out" for their jobs, often on 7-7-7 rosters of seven days on, seven nights on, before flying home for seven days off.
Sherona Selkirk, a 31-year-old "FIFO" truck driver at one mine in Western Australia, applied for a job earlier this year without any previous experience. After a fortnight of training, she started 12-hour shifts in a truck carrying iron ore.
"It has its good points such as the money but it's tough going and they make you work hard for it,'' she told a local newspaper. "I wouldn't say it's physically hard work – the cabin is air-conditioned and I can listen to music – but the hours are very long and there's a lot of responsibility as I'm in charge of a A$4m vehicle.
" Like many such workers, Ms Selkirk said she did not intend to stay in the job forever. But the lure is strong, with a recent survey by Australia's Commonwealth Bank showing that the blue-collar workforce in some parts of Western Australia enjoys wages 62pc higher than the national average. Such is the scale of the discrepancy between mining wages and other jobs that it is warping the local economies of these outposts. In the muggy coastal mining town of Karratha, where the rents just lag those on the Sydney waterfront, the housing shortage has forced some non-mining workers to live in cars and shipping containers.
"Their boom has been unbelievable, it's accelerated dramatically in 18 months," said Nick Eastwood, senior consultant at UK mining recruitment agency Hunter Personnel. "Salaries have increased dramatically over there, which means many, many expats are returning to Australia – leaving a void in other places, be it Africa, Kazakhstan or elsewhere.
" The labour shortage is by no means confined to Australia. Mines all around the world are fighting hard to attract the same pool of skilled industry veterans with international experience. Australia was just among the first to face the problem, as it saw investment return following the global crisis, say industry watchers.
According to Ernst & Young's mining team, the skills shortage is now the industry's second-biggest business risk after resource nationalism – moves by governments to enjoy a greater slice of mining profits – and it is a problem which is not going away.
"We believe that it [the shortage] may become a bigger risk in both developed and developing countries as we move into 2012," E&Y warned in a recent report.
In Canada, officials now project a labour shortfall of up to 90,000 workers by 2017. In Peru, the industry estimates it will need to add 30,000 positions this decade.
Part of the issue is the cyclical nature of the industry. Few clamoured to join when it was in downturn mode. Some 15 to 20 years ago, many of the majors stopped their graduate trainee schemes, which saw universities closing their mining engineering schools in turn.
So what can companies do to keep costs low? As they dig away in ever more remote regions, as existing mines come to the end of their lives, there is little sign that recruitment will get any easier or cheaper.
There is a lot of talk about the industry's move towards automation. For example, Rio Tinto's iron ore mines in the Pilbara will soon boast 150 driverless trucks, the largest fleet in the world, controlled by workers in its Perth operations centre more than 1,500km away.
But automation is not so much about cutting employee numbers as improving safety and efficiency. While you might not have someone physically in the driving seat, you still need someone to wiggle a joystick – although staff should be easier to retain in a cosmopolitan city than in the back of beyond. Many believe that, instead of relying on higher salaries to keep themselves staffed, mining companies will increasingly have to invest in in-house training schemes and work with universities to offer industry-specific courses.
Companies are also lobbying governments to relax rules on letting in foreign workers, and adapting working routines to attract staff from outside their traditional demographic, such as promoting job-share roles to bring in more working mothers. But this will all take time.
Meanwhile, the industry frets that the staff shortages will delay projects and keep pushing up costs. Bad news for the bosses but for the staff it's nice work –although tough – if you can get it.