How would you describe the current UK jobs market?
In general, the market is flat at the moment. That doesn’t mean the recruitment activity isn’t there, it’s just that there aren’t a huge amount of jobs being created. A year ago, there were really positive signs and we thought there was a real dynamism returning to the market, but things have since levelled off.
In certain sectors, however – such as technology and engineering – the situation couldn’t be more different. There is a current shortage in highly skilled positions, which is a real concern for big corporations. While the public sector, hospitality and catering and financial services industries do not have enough jobs to meet demand, these corporations are worried about where the workers will come from to replace those reaching retirement age.
Look at official jobs data for the last month and it will show that 40,000 private sector jobs were created. The difficulty is, more are being lost.
What do you expect to see happen to the jobs market in the coming year?
Unlike organisations such as CIPD, we don’t believe we’ll get close to the predicted 3m unemployed figure. The public sector cannot continue to shed jobs indefinitely. We do think things will get worse before they get better, but if the Government takes action (such as tax breaks) to stimulate the market, we hope to see a real change over the next 12 months.
Our data does show that companies are exploring different recruitment options, including contract and freelance work. This move towards flexible resources suits the cautious approach favoured by many employers at the moment. Employers are naturally worried about the impact of the Agency Workers Regulations, which came into force on 1 October 2011, giving temporary agency workers the same basic rights as permanent staff after 12 weeks. Our feeling though is that, beyond a few teething problems, this should not dramatically alter business practice.
Have any trends surprised you?
I think it’s interesting that the recruitment process has got a lot slower in recent times. There may be more candidates available for the jobs on offer, but it seems employers are reluctant to move to a final decision, opting for more interviews and assessments. This often means recruiters are missing out on the top talent, bogged down by masses of CVs and drawn-out interview periods. The cost of recruitment is therefore going up at a time when businesses can least afford it.
In recent years, there has also been a real shift in how businesses are going about communicating their brand messages to potential candidates. We see a lot more HR and marketing departments working closely together to proactively target recruits.
Should those moving jobs prepare differently for the interview process?
I think employers are starting to think much more about the way they recruit, focusing on testing values and digging beneath the CV. Past experience used to be a major consideration for employers, but experience alone does not indicate whether or not a person is capable of doing the job well. Be prepared to talk about what you would do based on certain work situations – not just what you have done previously.
Are businesses looking for particular skills and expertise?
There is quite a lot of demand for project and budget management skills. Companies are looking for candidates with the ability to identify efficiencies – as well as those that are keen, committed and enthusiastic about driving a business forward.
What about the use of recruitment agencies? Are people cutting back?
Some businesses just see recruitment agencies as an additional cost that distances recruits from the company brand. I think this couldn’t be further from the truth. Agencies can act as ambassadors for your brand, filter and identify suitable candidates and give you useful feedback related to how your brand is perceived in your industry. They understand the regulations, they can streamline the process and using one means you don’t have to train people internally in the art of recruitment.
Is UK Plc bad at recruitment?
There is a lot of bad management in UK business. If we want to remain competitive, we need to get better at recruitment. That means doing the work upfront so that we employ the right people at the right time.
What advice would you give to a company looking to recruit?
You must start by being clear who you are looking for. Some companies have had the same job descriptions for years and most are no longer relevant. It’s also worth looking at all options, such as temporary support. The right person may not be a full-time employee. Next, think about how you are going to recruit that person. Weigh up the pros and cons of using an agency and think hard about the time that would need to be devoted to the exercise. Then you need to plan the process. How long do you want it to take? Who needs to be involved, and can you get dates in the diary up front?
What about managers looking for a change?
The key to making the right move is research. Look at who’s recruiting and approach agents in your industry to test the market. If you get to interview stage, prepare thoroughly by looking in detail at the job role and the employer. Every company speaks a different language and it definitely pays to use that language to help create an early connection.
How do you see the jobs market changing in the longer term?
Over the next decade I think we’ll see more flexible staffing, where companies have a core workforce and then plug in external expertise when required. I also believe we’ll all be talking less about jobs and more about projects. While this move will be partly driven by businesses, I also believe the generation coming into work want more freedom within their working life. Finally, I think we’ll see a real shift in what it means to be a leader and a manager. A working world without the restrictions of time and place, it not an easy one to manage.
Book your place
Tom Hadley, Director of Policy and Professional Services at the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), will be speaking about the future of the jobs market at the University of Surrey, School of Management, Guildford on 12 October (£10 members / £12 non-members). To secure your place, visit the CMI events page or contact Dr Brian Good on 01483 682018 or firstname.lastname@example.org