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  Two events have really set pulses racing in the world of Management Consultancy this last week.
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More on these events in just a moment. However the common theme to emerge from both is that Partners and Recruitment Directors are unanimous in declaring a corner has been turned. The consulting sector is entering another period of sustained revenue growth and recruitment activity.

Not the frenzy of the dot-com boom, it was stressed, but a more sustainable rebound befitting the mature industry that consultancy has now become.

Talking to Partners attending the Management Consultancies Association annual reception last Thursday, there was an air of positivity and enthusiasm about these consulting big-hitters that was quite simply absent a year earlier. They acknowledge there are still challenges to overcome in the sector – the increasing sophistication of clients’ buying procedures; the value for money drive amongst public sector clients; talent shortages within key growth areas. But these seemed minor issues compared with the Partners’ renewed belief in the growth opportunities now emerging within consulting.

That there is no one “Big Idea” or “Management Issue” for firms to leverage means consulting growth should be more manageable and consistent. Without a Y2K bug or Introduction of the Euro issue to address, firms must now really work to understand the business challenges of their clients. The “one approach fits all” model of commodity consulting has had its heyday in the late 1990s and can now be consigned to the history books. Emerging in its place is a client focus on choosing experience, deep expertise and adaptability in their consulting partners.

What hasn’t changed at all since the late 1990s is the inevitability of a “War for Talent” between the firms as soon as the market takes a turn for the better. Gathered at’s sell-out careers event last week were Recruitment Directors and Consultants from Accenture, A.T.Kearney, Booz Allen Hamilton, The Boston Consulting Group and IBM Business Consulting. Without exception these firms stressed that the market is picking up – and that retention issues mean they are having to accelerate recruitment initiatives even faster than the rebound in consulting might suggest.

Stephen Whitehouse of The Boston Consulting Group set the tone for the event, telling the 250 audience of candidates:

"We believe that the market is extremely buoyant – we're seeing that both with our existing clients and new clients that we have actively been targeting… It is extremely buoyant and we are aggressively recruiting both at the consultant level… at the associate level… and at the industry level as well"

Accenture’s Antonia Johnston was also in buoyant mood, having celebrated just the day before the milestone of Accenture now employing 100,000 staff globally. No let-up in recruitment is expected and Antonia told the audience that "over the next 12 months we are looking to hire 2,500 people in the UK".

"Talking about business consulting specifically, we are going to try and bring on 1300 people. Of these 600 to 750 will be at the University graduate level" she added.

Conditions at IBM Business Consulting were not dissimilar, with Tracey Upton describing the business as "fantastically buoyant" and stressing that the company is now "hiring at all levels… from Associate to Partner"

Steve Bevan of A.T.Kearney confirmed that a recruitment drive has been underway at his firm for the last year and saw no imminent change in the firm’s ongoing recruitment needs.

"We've recruited about 50 consultants in the UK in the last 12 months…we're anticipating a similar level of recruitment next year and that translates across Europe to about 200 hires." he told the audience.

Booz Allen Hamilton’s Angelika Sonnenschein commented on the increasing need to hire additional consulting staff and said "we are looking to hire 40 consultants over the next 3-4 months and then over the next year I would expect an increase of about 200 staff"

These comments from the sell-out Careers Event bring us back full circle to the MCA reception. Addressing Partners from the leading firms that night, recruitment specialist Jerry Wright of Prism warned of the talent shortages that are likely to plague firms in the coming year –representing one of the biggest threats to achieving growth targets.

Jerry stressed that at the time of the dot-com boom, consulting firms were forced to relax their recruitment criteria and engage staff that were only a “70% fit” with what they were really looking for. During the downturn firms have raised the bar and refused to take on anyone who’s less than a “95% fit”. But times are now changing again and Jerry reports firms are gradually drifting away from the 95% ideal of recent years, as talent shortages grow again.

So there you have it. Two events – but one common message: the race to recruit does indeed seem to be back at the top of everyone’s agenda.

Related link: Get full audio recordings from the Careers Event Q&A; session with Accenture, A.T.Kearney, Booz Allen Hamilton, The Boston Consulting Group and IBM Business Consulting
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