What Do We Do When Project Management Experience Runs Out?

One of the great things about the Arras People PM Census and Project Management Benchmark Report is the fact that we have such a great data repository when it comes to tracking what is really happening in the UK Project Management domain. By pulling together our 13 years of data we can really dig in to trends and look to forecast events that may have a major impact on the domain.

In this briefing report ahead of the 2017 Arras People Project Management Benchmark report we take a look at the how the latest data suggests that we may well have reached an important tipping point that will have an impact on the ability of UL PLC to deliver its future programmes and projects. (The Census is still open, you can take part here right now)

Show Me Your Experience!

In all our years being involved in the recruitment of Project Management practitioners it has been a very rare occasion when a client has not requested that candidates have the relevant experience. This demand for relevant experience has been shown again in this years census data, where we asked those involved in the recruitment of Project Management practitioners what they value most in a candidate. As per previous years “PM Experience” came out top of the pile with “Domain/Sector knowledge and Experience” coming in third.

Project Management Experience

As Project Management is an art rather than a science, the requirement to be able to show relevant experience is not really a surprise. Great Project Management practitioners have experience, can tell great stories of past triumphs and (occasionally) failures; they have the scars of battle, which they will share in the right company (thinking Spielberg’s Jaws [1976] with Robert Shaw, Richard Dreyfuss and Roy Scheider comparing their scars)


We all know that the ‘right’ experience will enable someone to ‘hit the ground running’, whist ‘getting up to speed’ etc, etc…. and in tough recessionary times when it is hard to get the authorisation to hire there is even more pressure is on to get it right. (“Nobody ever got fired for buying IBM.” Springs to mind)

This is all great stuff, and in a buyers’ market when there are lots of Project Management practitioners available, you may well get access to the ideal person with a match to your experiential requirements, if you are really lucky they may have a great personality and style to boot.

In a market that is tightening the challenge may be a little harder. It may cost you more to hire your perfect practitioner in fees and remuneration and the whole process may take a little longer than you anticipated.

Turning full circle to a sellers’ market and it just gets a whole lot more difficult. Everyone else wants your ideal candidate too, not only that but they also want the contractors and employees operating within your business! The value of experience inflates (like a Bitcoin), will you be in a position to cope?


Tipping Point?

Project management experience takes us back to a catch 22 scenario which we see expressed by many practitioners. They are not perceived to have the relevant experience (PM and/or Domain) for a role and thus never get the opportunity to gain it!

The great recession has exacerbated this situation as leaner organisations demand the ability to execute today with no budget to invest in people for tomorrow.

10 years after the start of the great recession, our data is now suggesting that the lack of investment in training and developing Project Management practitioners may have hit a tipping point as shown in the graphic below.

Project Management Census 2018


Being an experiential profession, Project Management has typically not been a career of first choice as explored in the 2017 Arras People Project Management Benchmark Report. Whilst some parties are suggesting it is, the data would back up the proposition that it is a second or later career choice for the majority of practitioners once they have accumulated experience in their chosen domain (first career).

As such, we would expect the ‘Under 34’s’ as a percentage of the total population to be the lowest figure. In this group we have typically seen new entrants and also practitioners working in support and controlling roles, some of whom later progress up the career ladder.

The ’35 to 49’ cohort we typically saw as the core group of Project Management practitioners, accounting for around 50% of the UK population with the ‘50+’ cohort accounting for roughly the other 25%.

Worrying Trend?

Looking at the data for the last 10 year, since 2008 and the impact of the financial crisis all tree groups have a distinct trend which suggests that there may be troubles ahead. The 2017 has created for the first time an intersection point where the ‘50+’ cohort have risen to the largest group accompanied by decreasing trend for both of the younger groups.

My best analogy here is a conveyor belt where you expect it to keep delivering X, whilst you are adding only Y. The math does not add up and eventually your capability will fall to the new level of throughput.

In a world where we increasingly talk about projects and the need for them to deliver organisations will need to address this skills gap and they will be faced with additional costs however they look to address it. Three scenarios immediately spring to mind;

  • The additional cost of project failures when sufficiently qualified and experienced Project Managers are not available to manage their programmes and projects.
  • The additional cost of buying in ‘scarce talent’ from the open market as they look to bolster or replace Project Managers in their organisation.
  • The additional cost of training new and retaining existing Project Managers in their organisation.

Whatever approach organisations choose to take, it looks like they are going to have some tough times ahead; whilst for the experienced Project Management Practitioners there may be some good times ahead, with the opportunity to recover the remuneration levels that have generally fallen over the last ten years.



In the latest UK Report on Jobs (Jan 2018) Kevin Green the REC Chief executive noted that

“The number of people finding jobs via recruiters is growing, even while the overall employment rate is plateauing. This suggests that more employers are turning to recruiters to help them fill vacancies as candidate availability continues to fall and recruiting good people becomes that much harder.” The worm may be about to turn!



Share: Linkedin Logo Facebook Logo Twitter Logo

Leave your thoughts