What a crazy 12 months we've had. I remember the first two months of 2020; we were experiencing a candidate driven recruitment market caused by the lowest levels of unemployment the UK had known in years, with the average rate of unemployment across the country sitting at about 3%. Some regions were experiencing rates as low as 2.4% and this meant that for many skilled roles, employers were now having to compete , not just for clients but for staff too: a brave new world indeed.
In March 2020, as the reality of the Covid-19 situation started to loom, I remember that we were still consulting with employers and advising them on strategies that could help them to attract candidates to their vacancies. The sheer number of vacancies available had allowed potential candidates to become extremely choosy about the roles that they would apply for and candidates were asking difficult questions, not just about an advertised role itself but also about the employer and the reality behind the role.
Candidates wanted to know everything about a potential employer before they would agree to be put forward for a role. Frequently asked questions shifted to issues like career development opportunities and the support required to achieve them, the potential employer's growth strategy and market success and yes, as ever, the benefits offered.
Then, on the 23rd March 2020, the roof fell in. The wider economy and especially recruitment activity ceased overnight. We started the 23rd with over one hundred active vacancies and by the morning of the 25th, were working on a mere handful.
By the end of that week, our entire team had been furloughed and what had started out as a year full of opportunity, now felt like it would instead be a disaster, both for us as a business and potentially, for our team members and their families. The Recruitment Geeks remained shuttered until July 2020 and when we finally reopened, it was with a real sense of trepidation. Would there even be a business to return to? Thankfully and despite our worst fears, the last few months have seen us add new clients, continuing the growth of previous years and while it's not been plain sailing, we're glad to say that the future is looking brighter than we expected it could.
The economy is definitely a tale of two halves at the moment and we feel desperately for those who's work is in industries that are still suffering. At the same time, we count our blessings and are glad that we're still here to help businesses and candidates to find each other. It has been interesting over the last few months to see how the job market has shifted: it has given us an insight into the potential changes that are happening now and what may become the norm in the next few years. You may presume that the jobs market has shifted dramatically, with employers now firmly in the driving seat and able to take their pick from the hundreds of applications received for every vacancy but no, for many sectors this is far from the case. In fact, for some roles, the situation seems even more dramatically skewed towards candidates being in control than it did last year.
So what can we take away from the current situation and what it could mean for the future? Organisations and workers have learnt over the last 12 months that remote working is definitely possible, with many employers who'd previously dismissed it out of hand, now forced to implement remote working wholesale across their teams. This has presented many challenges for the business world but has also presented opportunities, which some forward-thinking businesses have certainly made the most of.
Here's are just three of the trends that have developed and how they may potentially impact employers over the coming years.
The Rise of Blended Working
Spotify is a company that is an extreme example of the trend of offering employees the flexibility to work from wherever they wish; even internationally. This model obviously won't work for every business or individual but still points to a future where a mix of onsite, remote and even international employees are the norm. Many organisations of all types and sizes are reviewing their office space needs now for this very reason and it points to a future where going into the office is the exception, primarily for collaborative work, while working from home will be the norm for more routine work.
We have noticed a recent trend of candidates ruling out potential job opportunities if the employer requires full time office attendance, so that particular cat is now firmly out of the bag: we don't think a full return to the old normal is ever going to happen now. Our prediction is that companies will return to their offices but teams will work in a much more blended way, with staff only attending a company site when they need to.
Travelling for a routine sales meeting may well be a thing of the past too: the pandemic has coincided with government and social pressure to reduce consumption and the last 12 months has taught us that remote meetings are straightforward and productive. The ability to have more meetings in a day, without the wasted time and cost of travel is a win-win for businesses and staff alike. Face to face meetings will still happen but nowhere near as frequently as pre 2020.
This presents challenges for businesses in all sorts of ways, not least of which is the provision of ergonomic working environments at home, but the shift also provides a real opportunity to attract and employ the best candidates available, regardless of where those individuals may be based. As an example of this, we've been working extensively with Plymouth based organisations that have taken the decision to open vacancies within their teams across the entire UK. Their thinking has been that by doing so, they can attract a wider range of candidates, with more diverse skills and experience, that can in turn help the company to grow and develop faster. The knock on effect of this is that these companies have been forced to pay salaries that are consistent with those offered in other parts of the country in order to secure staff based elsewhere. These companies have interviewed, onboarded and successfully inducted new team members without ever having met face to face. They've even found that it is entirely possible to comply with right to work legislation remotely.
This trend may potentially have the most dramatic impact on businesses and society generally. Young people won't always have to move away from their home region to find their dream role, salary inconsistencies between regions may be reduced and, once the worry about redundancy ends, people may settle back into working their contracted hours, thereby saving on average almost 10 hours a week that can be used to improve quality of life.
The Rise of the Remote Interview
There has been an understandable hesitance to organise and attend interviews face to face during the pandemic but moving forward, we can definitely see a case for first stage interviews to be remote as a rule, especially if organisations are attracting candidates from further afield. In that case, travel for a first stage interview is just not going to be viable for many people.
Final stage interviews may still occur face to face but even then, that will be down to individual preference and not as a necessity. With the government starting to move towards drivers paying for road use by the mile, there may even be a more dramatic, permanent shift towards remote interviewing.
Candidate Driven Recruitment is Here to Stay
The reality of the candidate driven recruitment market was being felt last year but with remote working and the flexibility that this affords, employers are probably going to need to be even more sensitive to the needs of their present and future teams over the coming years.
Over the last few years, some Recruitment companies and larger organisations have shifted to relying heavily on Applicant Tracking Systems (ATS) and where this goes wrong, it produces an impersonal experience, with candidates left to apply online, filling out endless forms and unable to speak to a real human if they wish.
There is always going to be a place for ATS systems but with candidates having so much choice across a much wider geographical area, potential employers will be forced to look at the value proposition they make to candidates. This will start from the first point of contact and continue throughout the selection process and into their tenure with their new employer.
For SME organisations this is a potential threat. Larger, often city-based, companies are adept at attracting strong candidates because they offer great career development opportunities, backed by strong CPD accredited training provision and great benefits. If candidates no longer need to move in order to take up attractive jobs with large employers, this means that every SME, no matter where it is based, is now competing for the same talent that larger organisations are also trying to attract. Candidates are very perceptive and if this trend progresses, then you can be sure that local employers will be compared, favourably or otherwise, to a wider range of employers based both regionally and nationally.
Every organisation is going to need to focus on the culture they present to potential employees: are they a leader, driving their sector forward and developing their teams or are they lagging behind the competition? Attracting and hiring the best candidates will be contingent on the perception of this outside the business. Don't buy this? Just check out Glassdoor and see how brutal the reviews can be when a business gets its employee experience wrong. One of the first questions asked by most candidates when discussing a role is "who is is the employer?" Once they know, candidates tend to check Glassdoor reviews before agreeing to be represented. Perception is important.
So, what is the number one step that employers, large or small, need to be taking now to prepare for the future?
For us, the most critical thing that any employer needs to focus on is their culture and how they communicate it to the outside world. The old saying that "people buy from people" is still true and if you look at your business as though it's a person. How does it feel? Is it cold, distant and unfriendly or is it open, collaborative and welcoming? Did you know that salary is not the primary reason people select one opportunity over another but is rather only one factor to be considered for most employers. As long as the salary is realistic, for most candidates, it is often trumped by how the employer is perceived, career development potential and ultimately, progression opportunities
Organisations that can predict and shift ahead of the expectations of the marketplace are always going to be more successful than those that merely react and that is just as true when dealing with the candidate marketplace. The businesses that can be proactive about taking advantage of the opportunities that are developing now will potentially reap the rewards for years to come. Will your organisation be one of them?
Neil has a proven history within Science & Technology recruitment and has been a recruiter and then business manager for over ten years.
In 2017, Neil formed The Recruitment Geeks because he'd always felt that there was a better way to operate a recruitment company; he firmly believes that focusing on a client's needs is not mutually exclusive with providing a good candidate experience.
Neil shares responsibility for leading the Science & Technology team with Mark Smallpage and has never lost his love for recruitment. He really enjoys the satisfaction of finding a candidate who is a great fit for even the most niche of roles.
Value wise, Neil firmly believes that recruitment is successful when it is carried out ethically, collaboratively and openly.