Staying Competitive in a Candidate-Driven Market: A Q&A with Simon Coton

Simon Coton

COO, NES Global Talent

Simon has been with NES Global Talent for over 20 years and in that time has built up a wealth of experience across the workforce spectrum. He has led NES operations as COO since 2008 and oversees the entire Global Recruitment function. Simon has been a key part of the executive team delivering the sale of NES to AEA investors in 2012 and securing 6 acquisitions since 2014. Under Simon’s leadership NES Global Talent has expanded its overseas operations to 48 locations and grown its turnover to over $1 billion.

Demand for OGC jobs internationally has declined in recent years – how is NES remaining competitive and at the forefront of talent management in light of this?

NES Global Talent has always focused on developing discipline-specific teams who are experts in their field and in touch with their local market. This strategy ensures that whatever the market conditions are we stay close to our candidates and ensure we continue to nurture the top talent for our clients. We have diversified our business into complementary sectors allowing candidates to transfer their skills and have also worked in close partnership with our clients to help them to streamline their operations – ensuring their business is well equipped to meet the challenges ahead as demand returns.


For the first time ever, there are more jobs than available talent to fill them. This problem is exacerbated in specialized engineering fields. How are you addressing the skills shortage?

At the end of last year, our industry-wide survey showed that skill shortages were the second highest concern amongst our clients after economic stability. 54% stated they were investing in training and development to overcome the skills gap.

To support clients in this area, we are funding our own initiatives and a good example of this is an exciting project we are working on in Alberta, Canada called the Trades Exposure Centre project, which is a collaborative partnership between NES, the school division, the Canadian indigenous communities and the government and aims to support young people into a career in oil and gas. The $4 million facility includes classroom space and hands-on workshops which provide trades training opportunities to students and apprenticeships. NES deliver the hands-on service rig training course. Our support allows students to make an informed decision about pursuing a career in the local oil industry.


There were more than 400 M&A transactions in the recruitment industry last year. Consolidation is huge – what trends are you seeing on this front, and how do you think the M&A landscape will evolve in the next five years?

As clients look to streamline their operations and make their businesses fit for the future they are looking to consolidate their preferred suppliers and to do so need partners who have a global capability and can support them across all of their project locations. Clients are rightly favoring suppliers which can deliver compliant solutions and understand the safety regulations they must meet in each location.

Smaller firms will need a larger global platform to ensure they can grow and meet the client’s requirements moving forward. This will inevitably lead to further consolidation in the marketplace.

We are in a unique position that our support teams across the world operate on an integrated technology platform and can therefore seamlessly integrate significant volumes of contractors with ease. We have made one acquisition already this year and are always looking to increase our portfolio where we feel it is a good fit for our business.


How does NES integrate new businesses from a corporate culture point of view? And how does NES navigate the intricacies of buying companies from different geographic regions?

Whilst we are frequently approached with opportunities, a business needs to be a culture fit for us to consider them. Our acquisition criterion begins with companies that share our core values of Customer Focus, Enterprise, Integrity and Responsibility, Teamwork and Drive and Personal Responsibility.  Our performance-based culture is a vital component of our success, and we strive to find compatible partners that we feel will perform at the same level. In addition, we look for companies that have successful records of innovation and service in geography, discipline and industry segments that complement our business and organic growth objectives.


What is the single most promising technology or process improvement in recruitment that excites you in this industry?

What most excites us as a business is technology that automates the more ‘routine’ elements of a recruiter’s role allowing them to move onto more value-added activities on behalf of our clients.  So, for example, the capability of AI to effectively source and screen candidates and applications will have a major impact on our business processes and will allow our recruiters to spend more time engaging directly with the shortlisted candidates, providing a more personal service. Couple this with the capability of AI and chatbots to develop more ‘engaged’ talent pools of candidates and you suddenly have an exciting proposition which will allow us to enhance our whole value proposition and spend more time on elements of the process clients and candidates truly value.


Framing the definition of global recruitment is of keen importance as new models of work and new types of workers emerge. When someone at a dinner party asks you what you do for a living, what do you say?

Personally, I find the descriptor “recruitment” a little narrow.

We are a workforce provider who looks to work as a trusted partner with our clients to deliver compliant solutions that enhance the people, clients, and communities we work with. Our services can often start with just personnel placement but frequently entail a much broader remit – providing mobility services, for example, technology consultation or managing an entire programme of staffing for an organisation to minimise their risk and maximise their efficiency.  


What is the most important leadership lesson you have ever received?

“Surround yourself with high-quality people who ultimately want your job!” – On a serious note, it’s important to ensure you set a high-performance culture and you have people on your team who are as capable and as driven as you are.