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A large chunk of consulting has long earned its corn advising others on computerising and modernising their businesses. But now, in the midst of the industry’s own digital transformation, partners are wrestling with an unfamiliar problem: how to acquire sufficient skilled staff when all the world is trying to hire millennials with digital mastery.

Management consulting, in particular, is caught in a triple bind.

Clients are crying out for advice on how to reshape their businesses to best profit from the digital revolution. That has pushed consulting firms to vastly expand their digital offering (which already accounts for 27 per cent of UK activity, according to the Management Consultancies Association).

Yet, as they race to recruit, management consultants, long used to lording it at university job fairs, are finding themselves sidelined as youngsters head for Google, Facebook and Amazon, or even unknown but exciting start-ups.

And it is not just data-crunching skills that are in short supply. As infrastructure projects pick up after a long slump, consultants are discovering that engineering has gone digital, too, and they are battling to hire engineers.

Consultant salary ranges
Basic SalaryBonusBenefitsTotal remuneration

Junior Consultant
(1-3 years — Top consultant)

£39,6958.3%
(Average bonus for those that received one)
7%
Average benefits
£45,795
(Basic+Bonus+Benefits)
Junior Consultant
(1-3 years — Digital)
£30,000-£45,000
(80%)
5-10%
(most common)
5-10%
(most common)
£43,125
(based on mid-range £37,500 + 7.5% bonus + 7.5% benefits)
Junior Consultant
(1-3 years — Infrastructure)
£30,000-£40,000
(80%)
5-10%
(most common)
5-10%
(most common)
£40,250
(based on mid-range £35,000 + 7.5% bonus + 7.5% benefits)
Manager
(5-9 years — Top consultant)
£75,3568.1%
(Average bonus for those that received one)
10.1%
Average benefits
£89,066
(Basic+Bonus+Benefits)
Manager
(5-9 years — Digital)
£55,000-£70,000
(+70% of sample)
5-10%
(most common)
10-15%
(most common)
£75,000
(based on mid-range £62,500 + 7.5% bonus + 12.5% benefits)*
Manager(5-9 years — Infrastructure)£55,000-£70,000
(70% of sample)
5-10%
(most common)
10-15%
(most common)
£75,000
(based on mid-range £62,500 + 7.5% bonus + 12.5% benefits)*
Partner
(Top consultant)
£136,96813.9%
(Average bonus for those that received one)
10.6%
Average benefits
£170,568
(Basic+Bonus+Benefits)
Partner
(Infrastructure)
£120,000-£140,000
(+60% of sample)
15-20%
(most common)
15-20%
(most common)
£175,500
(based on mid-range £130,000 + 17.5% bonus + 17.5% benefits)
Partner
(Digital)
£120,000-£125,000 (30% of sample)
£130,000-£145,000 (20% of sample)
15-20%
(most common)
15-20%
(most common)
£165,375
(based on mid-range £122,500 + 17.5% bonus + 17.5% benefits)
* Top of salary range — £70,000 leads to — £84,000 package
Source: Top-Consultant/Management Consultancies Association (Oct 2015)

Richard Stewart, managing director of Mindbench, a management consultant recruitment company, says there is a real shortage of people who can both understand and use complex data, and who also possess consulting skills. “It is difficult to find and hire those people,” he says. As a result, consulting industry leaders are devoting lots of money and effort, and all the ingenuity for which their trade is renowned, to closing a yawning gap between demand and capacity.

Part of the solution might be offered by the very technologies that clients are so desperate to understand. Peter Lumley, a digital expert from PA Consulting, says: “As a business, we now do things in hours or days that in the past took us months or quarters.

“About three weeks ago, we downloaded 2m rows of data for a client and put it into a visualisation tool that gave back insights within four hours. Just to get the server for that would have taken me three months in the past. But we put the data in the cloud and I paid $35 on my credit card. It’s a different world.”

Yet, even with cloud-enhanced efficiency, consultants need a much bigger proportion of employees with digital skills. They have set about rebalancing skillsets in five principal ways — with hiring some way down the list.

Consider Accenture, a consultancy that has long majored in technology services. Bruno Berthon, global managing director of Accenture Digital Strategy, says digital is such a big opportunity for the company that “soon half our business will be in the new technologies”.

Or Arup, the engineering consultancy that gave us the Sydney Opera House and many of the world’s most iconic bridges.

Volker Buscher, who leads Arup’s information and communication technology business in Europe, the Middle-East and Africa, explains that even engineering a bridge has become a data-intensive digital project.

“The people I am looking for, and am trying to find globally right now, are what we call digital practitioners,” he says, adding that they also need to be able to specialise in different areas and liaise with clients.

But hiring is only the first element of a triple strategy. The second task is to bolster the skills of existing technical employees. Arup is simultaneously training 3,000-4,000 employees in digital skills. Meanwhile, the company is also adapting to more collaborative working made possible by digital tools. “This will create more porous boundaries with partners,” Mr Buscher adds, explaining that the partner firms range from start-ups to major corporations.

Collaborating with start-ups is a way to gain absent or additional skills and capacity. It can also be a prelude to strategic acquisitions. Last month, EY acquired a French data-analytics specialist, Bluestone Consulting, with a view to deploying Bluestone’s expertise more widely.

Deloitte has also used acquisitions, such as that of US app boutique Übermind, to reinforce development of its Deloitte Digital arm, which now has 550 people in the UK and more than 1,000 in the US.

To help attract and retain the digital natives who provide all the coding, engineering, data crunching, analytic and digital design skills it now offers clients, Deloitte Digital is located away from the main business, with premises that offer younger joiners the bare-brick, bike and jeans, bring-your-own-device, collaborative environment they are used to.

Opinions in the consulting world are divided about the need for bean bags and scrawl-on walls, but the consensus is that firms need to develop staff who combine digital skills with business understanding and can win the confidence of clients, whether in tech companies or old-world industry.

Money matters: Experience counts

Consultancy companies are scouring the world to hire digital and infrastructure experts, but that does not mean pay is going through the roof.

Business advisory firms, in particular, have long offered some of the best packages to woo the brightest graduates from top universities.

Now, instead of simply waving fancy money under the noses of economics and history graduates or those with newly minted MBA degrees, they are casting their net further afield to include more engineers, mathematicians and IT specialists.

Graduates joining the fast-expanding digital arms of consulting firms are being paid well, but still less than novice strategy advisers, who are typically the cream of the crop.

According to UK data from a Top-Consultant/Management Consultancies Association survey last month, junior digital consultants typically earn an average of £43,125. Infrastructure peers typically earn less, with total remuneration averaging £40,250.

The Top-Consultant Salary Benchmarking Report 2015, however, shows strategy consultants continue to earn the most — those with one to three years’ experience typically achieve packages exceeding £50,000 a year. Experience rapidly adds value. Digital consultants with five to nine years under their belt have acquired business skills to complement their digital expertise.

This group can expect a package totalling £75,000 — yet that lags behind the industry average paid to consultants across the board of £89,066 for those with comparable experience. The biggest premiums are paid at partner level. Those with digital understanding out-earn rivals, taking home an average package worth £175,500, while their relatively plentiful engineering colleagues in the infrastructure realm earn below average rates.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2018. All rights reserved.