The Global Recruiter: Hopes and Fears
COVER FEATURE – Could this be the most challenging year ahead? Are recruiters truly prepared for what’s coming?
The past year – indeed the last month – has been one of uncertainty and change. But as we face a New Year, realistically the recruitment industry and business in general is in for more of the same. Whether it be the (final) outcome of Brexit, the rise of recruitment technology platforms, AI or changes in the employment market for other reasons, recruiters have always been agile, fast moving businesses and the next 12 months will require them to prove this strength even more.
The hopes and fears raised by recruiters at this time certainly make interesting reading. For some it is a question of what is happening for their businesses at ground level. Steve Preston, managing director, Heat Recruitment is certainly hopeful that his business will continue to grow: “As a company we focus on positive thinking and small, precise steps that lead to our successes,” he says. “For our clients we hope to see proactive planning and strategic decision making. Reactive hiring and planning can easily go awry and it’s important to avoid the boom or bust style of working seen in the 90’s and early 2000’s.”
While maintaining that ‘fear’ isn’t something that he lets himself be affected by, Preston does say the company needs to guard against the dilution of their brand as they grow: “Staying on top of this is important to us, particularly on social media,” he says. “We don’t want to lose our message as we get bigger. We want to maintain the high service levels to our customers as we grow.”
Steve Rawlingson, CEO of Samuel Knight International pins his hopes around the rise in recruitment technology. “The recruitment sector needs to embrace digitalisation as a positive disruption to the current model,” he says. “It offers a plethora of opportunities and by harnessing this recruiters can leverage advancing technologies. Augmented reality platforms and virtual reality will also form a bigger part of recruitment processes, particularly within the hiring stage. As we operate and place candidates internationally, this technology is really exciting to us and in fact something we are working with and adopting right now. Interactive hiring will quickly become a necessity in global recruiting.”
On the negative side of the equality, Rawlingson highlights the possible impact of Brexit although it is clear the game is far from over: “We remain confident in the economic outlook regarding the markets we operate within however, we will be assessing the impact on the mobilisation of workers across continents, particularly when it comes to border control and the movement of labour from an international labour perspective,” he reports.
Spencer Symmons, director of CPS Group UK is also optimistic about the role of technology in recruitment: “We operate in an industry that has not always fully grasped the opportunities of transformation and innovation, so my hope is that recruitment can rise to that challenge,” says Symmons. “Artificial intelligence and automation will allow us to work smarter and more agencies need to implement these tools and processes. We’ve been exploring the potential here at CPS, but I worry the industry as a whole fears innovation and I hope that we can learn from the mistakes of previous failures – a certain global e-commerce retailer comes to mind – and adopt practices that work for candidate, client and recruiter.”
TrintonExec, partner Abe Doctor flags a possible slowdown in the marketplace but at the same time says the impact doesn’t need to be as severe as 2008. “There is no doubt that economic storm clouds abound towards 2019,” he says. “Globally, in the past five years, we’ve seen recruitment firms in the main, do well. The NY stock exchange has performed well, and so have global markets. This cycle may well be poised for a shift in fortunes, and so to this end, like all non-core services, recruitment spend on all levels might be the casualty. It’s not guaranteed but it has a strong potential.”
Some recruiters and executive search companies, says Abe, have been looking to secure longer term contracts in order to protect themselves against the possible downturn. “These longer-term contracts have been typified by lower fees, very specific KPIs and this relationship does serve both agencies and clients in the long run,” he says.
Doctor also highlights the ‘explosion’ of sub-vertical markets such as fintech, adtech, insuretech as a reason for recruiters to be cheerful. “These new breed of companies, mostly in the SME category, will present the most tremendous opportunity for agile recruiters and search firms who able to run at their pace and provide the absolute best candidates for their pressure-cooker style environments,” he says. “This SME market has access to capital unlike ever before, not least through non-traditional funding options, but the exponential rise of private equity. These companies also benefit from the democratisation of data, previously the preserve of Fortune 100 companies who could afford the big professional service firms.”
Recruiters and search companies who match this digital advancement – whether it be data points dealing with compensation, career path, experiential and attrition data, for example – will be positioned best. “Picture the scene,” says Doctor: “‘Of the 125 candidates suitable for your role we’ve identified seven that have exactly what you’re looking for, and here’s why…’”
Claire Gray and Emily Bain, co-founders of Bain and Gray believe the unstable market conditions around Brexit are likely to cause a lack of confidence for business to recruit and larger companies may freeze their head counts. “A bigger concern is redundancies,” says Claire Gray, “this floods the market with generally – but not exclusively – lower calibre candidates whilst the exceptional candidates sit tight. We fear that the candidate shortage will continue especially with skilled applicants. This makes it harder to search and put together high calibre shortlists.”
On the other hand this trend could increase temp business for recruiters as companies bring in interim cover whilst waiting for more stability and better budgets.
Speaking from the perspective of their own company, they highlight their intention to invest in their own staff. “We are planning regular inhouse training targeting specific areas of our service, to keep the consultants focussed on our core values, why we are different and why in a more competitive market, we are the right choice with the right approach,’ Gray adds. “It is easy to forget these, and start to doubt in quieter times. We are also looking at training at management level, so we can motivate and incentivise our team as individuals, everyone has different approaches to a tough market and we need to enhance everyone’s strengths to make sure they all add value for the whole team.”
A positive industry
“I hope the industry can challenge the often-negative perception of recruitment,” says Dean Harte, managing director at RedRock. “Too many people see recruiters as money-hungry middlemen, which is not the reputation the majority of the trade deserves. We work hard to find candidates for our clients, focusing on the best match rather than the quickest. We have excellent development programmes, we are a diverse and inclusive workforce and we understand the impact our work has on employees’ mental health. My hope is that firms can communicate this effectively and will do more to restore trust in recruiters.”
“Brexit has been and will remain a key consideration for organisations in 2019,” says Justin Hobday, CEO of Carmichael Fisher. “However, we do hope that common sense will prevail. There has been much scaremongering by a number of organisations stating their intention to decamp large swathes of their workforce overseas. This will invariably happen, but perhaps not to the extent that many people may have thought; many such moves still appear to be Plan B, should it be needed.”
Addressing the positives for the wider recruitment industry, Hobday advises recruiters not to get stuck in a rut: “The key for many within the executive search and wider recruitment industry for the year ahead will be to challenge their perceptions of how they do business – to be specific in their offering and the sectors they serve and move away from the idea of being UK-centric,” he says. “Clients want their search partners to look under all of the relevant stones to find the talent they need, wherever in the world those stones may be. Think less as an island and more of a global business.”
Recent Recruitment Live discussions have also brought to the surface recruiters’ hopes and fears for the year ahead. However, two main themes seem to reoccur. On the one hand recruiters are no strangers to change and challenge. Politics, compliance, technology, the rise of the inhouse recruiter, all have been touted as the end game for the industry, none of them have delivered on that scenario. On the other hand, recruiters are resilient. They do adapt, seek out new ideas, markets and more. They are keen to demonstrate the real professional value they can deliver to businesses and as that continues into the New Year there are plenty of reasons for hope.