Careers: manufacturing – Moving along the production line

Sales of consultancy services to the manufacturing industry are booming. According to Management Consultancy’s survey of the sector in April, the top firms saw fee growth of over 29 per cent last year to just over #370m, with increased sales in every type of consultancy service.

And a recent report by Datamonitor predicts that European manufacturers will be spending over $82bn a year on IT alone by 2002. A sizeable chunk of this will go to outsourcers, who last year accounted for 7 per cent of the overall IT spend by manufacturers.

At the systems level there is strong demand for help on the business side – in deciding how manufacturers should change to take the most advantage of systems – and in understanding and implementing systems networks.

Andrew Mansell has a long pedigree in the manufacturing sector: headhunted from General Motors, he spent 12 years with PA Consulting, becoming senior partner running the the UK manufacturing operation, before leaving to set up manufacturing strategy practice PSM Consulting with three other partners in 1994. He says: “SAP, Baan et al provide a trail of business for both their own consultancies and companies like Coopers & Lybrand, Arthur Andersen and PA.”

He thinks the trend to outsource the management of the IT infrastructure is significant. “Outsourcing contracts give firms like EDS access to a market they didn’t have 10 years ago.”

The growth has had a knock-on effect on the demand for consultancy recruits, both in the IT field and in manufacturing generally, creating opportunities for consultants with the required expertise. Lindsay Howie, recruitment manager for Ernst & Young’s manufacturing consultancy practice, says: “The market is booming. We have more business than we can handle with the headcount we have.” The practice has a major growth plan in place, recruiting both from the consulting marketplace and from the manufacturing sector. And, says Ian Tomisson, a recruitment consultant with Douglas Llambias, this is true of most of the big firms.

He says the Big Six are all probably looking for 300-400 people across the whole business over each of the next few years. “That’s the good news.

The bad news is that they are probably all looking for the same 300-400 people.”

PSM Consulting’s Mansell, whose practice works on an associate basis with 15 to 20 consultants operating in assignments, says networks are becoming increasingly important among medium and small consultancies as a way of managing resources. “Recruiting and losing staff is very expensive,” he says, “so consultancies will seek support from other firms, just as Baan and SAP look to firms like Coopers and Andersen to supply extra staff.

If you need specific technical expertise the best way is to ‘borrow’ staff, either at commercial fee rates or in some sort of swap. This reduces fixed costs and increases responsiveness to customer needs.”

Experience of implementing enterprise-wide software packages like SAP, Baan or Oracle, is much in demand, says Robert Boyd, whose company, Robert Boyd Associates, recruits exclusively in the manufacturing and enterprise resource planning markets. “There is an acute shortage of good people,” he says. “All the major ERP vendors are growing at a phenomenal rate and the millennium issue is making business better. They are desperate for staff.”

Such is the demand, he adds, that the big companies are prepared to take people on with experience of any recognised ERP package and cross-train them in their own products.

And, says Andrew Johnson, who focuses on manufacturing for IT recruitment consultants Cousins & Partners, “beneath the big solutions suppliers are a whole range of smaller operators such as Fourth Shift, all looking for applications, sales and implementation consultants.”

That consultants with manufacturing experience are in demand is obvious – recruitment ads for their services abound, with some even seeking to transplant whole teams to provide consultancy clients with ready-made manufacturing business improvement units. But what kind of experience do consultancies want?

Most of the large firms, says Tomisson, tend to specialise in a particular manufacturing process, such as Kanban, Kaizen or JIT and/or focus on a particular industry, with an offering which covers other elements of the business process such as marketing. Ernst & Young, for example, focuses on aerospace & defence, automotive, pharmaceutical and product development in industrial heavy engineering.

“Consultancies want people with experience in certain industry sectors like automotive and many of the process industries like pharmaceuticals and chemicals, plus a couple of years consulting knowledge,” says Tomisson.

Some also want experience of MRP11 systems implementation. “A Masters degree or Chartered Engineer qualification is also helpful – giving you added credibility when talking to senior managers and directors at client companies.”

He advises consultants looking to move to make sure that the consultancy in view has established a track record in the manufacturing area. “Ask to meet people in the practice group who are at a similar level. Satisfy yourself that the consultancy is committed to the area, in terms of growth, business plans and so on.”

You must also convince a potential employer that you are moving for the right reasons. “There may be initial cynicism that you can’t cut it in the consultancy you are working for,” he says. “But perhaps there is a lack of investment, direction or commitment to your area from your employer; or it doesn’t have enough of a track record and you want to go to a firm with leading-edge methodologies.”

A Big Six consultant in his early 30s with two to three years’ experience will be earning around #45K to #50K, says Tomisson, while a managing consultant with five years’ experience will probably be on about #80K. Salaries at smaller, more specialised firms would generally be about 10 to 15 per cent lower, he adds.

But a move from one of the big consultancies to a smaller niche operator is an option to be considered, says Tomisson.

Grant Richie recently moved from KPMG to Stirling-based Frontline Management Consultants. “I wanted to work in a smaller, more autonomous environment – the work was more hands-on and much more operational, dealing with a larger range of clients,” he says.

“A lot of my colleagues at KPMG were going into very tight niches, perhaps with the same client for 18 months to two years. Now I’m doing a much greater variety of smaller jobs.”

The work is not as glamorous or high-profile, he says, and it can be quite disruptive to the working day, in terms of handling three or four clients at one time, but “I wanted to do management consultancy rather than project management”. His work now ranges from business process consultancy to top team building, organisational review to assessing the economic impact of government initiatives on small and medium enterprises (SMEs).

Before Richie’s move, he took an interim directorship with a client, to oversee a turnaround strategy. When it was over KPMG offered to re-employ him but he opted for Frontline instead. Says Tomisson: a move to industry, perhaps to lead a change management project, is an option but it can be risky. “What you have to think about is what happens at the end of it.”

So whether you plan to move to another consultancy small or large or take up a job within industry, the secret is to do your homework. Adds Tomisson: “You have got to ask the right questions – and you must have good reasons for your move.”

Mary Huntington is a freelance journalist.

Related reading

HMRC banknotes