Last year, as the full extent of the pandemic, became apparent, many economists said it would take a long time for the economy to recover. In April 2020, The Guardian reported that the EY Item Club was predicting it would take until 2023 for the economy to recover. Fast forward a year and the EY Item Club’s own website had changed its tune, telling us that they had “significantly upgraded the UK’s economic growth prospects for 2021” and that “the UK economy (will be) returning to its Q4 2019 level in Q2 2022.”
Last month’s ONS stats showed that the UK economy continues to grow, up by 4.8% in Q2, a level far stronger than many other western nations, albeit (sorry EY Item Club) it’s still 4.4% smaller than in Q4 2019. That said, one area where there is unanimity is the employment market. It is, to put it mildly, booming and consequently will be central to the continuing growth and re-calibration of the economy. Lockdown and the accompanying economic meltdown have accelerated the pace of change. Thousands of firms have pivoted online, invested in remote working tech, and found that they can not only survive but actually thrive. That’s not to say there are not challenges and at Cedar, we’ve noticed some marked changes over the last few months.
First and foremost, even before the restrictions were lifted in July, we’d seen all the key markets we operate in coming back, to a greater or lesser extent depending on the practice area. That return has now become a surge. But, as noted above, we must acknowledge that things are most definitely different now...
Flexible (aka “hybrid”) working has become the norm. Only c. 1% of the jobs on our website at present do not offer this option. After a glut of candidates came on the market early in the pandemic (as companies panicked and shed staff), the very best were quickly picked off and candidate availability has now tightened. Salaries, as has been extensively reported, are rising at record levels. Employers, desperate for staff, are struggling to hire and many are resorting to offering substantially increased pay to attract the people they need. However, as I’ll argue below, this is a one-trick pony, with no guarantee of success. Faced with pent-up demand for talent, employers are also turning to the temp market to get over short-term hurdles, but this has been muddied somewhat because some are still adopting a blanket approach to IR35. Overall, in many disciplines, recruitment has become a battlefield as employers seek to understand just what candidates want in our brave new, post-Covid (we hope!) world.
People’s motivation for working has changed due to Covid and the things candidates are asking for now are not what they wanted before the pandemic struck. Other factors have come into play and, in particular, people are looking for both flexibility and security. Also, because no one is 100% sure that Covid is entirely behind us, they want to know any potential employer’s long-term contingency plans. Those who have moved further afield have become accustomed to a different rhythm of life and increasingly ask us if a potential new employer wants to return to the status quo of daily commutes and full-on office work, or if they’ll help them to continue to enjoy their new-found way of living. Our consultants are regularly grilled in forensic detail, not just about the work involved in any vacancy but also asked a whole range of other questions around hybrid working, the online as much as the office environment, as well as a host of social and personal issues which colour a candidate’s views and ultimately help them decide whether to take a job or not.
As a result of all this, time to hire is increasing because the best candidates have an enormous variety of choice and will not rush to sign up with the first person who dangles massive pound signs in front of their eyes. Not only are the quality of the work and the (virtual) work environment key, but flexible working is non-negotiable in the vast majority of cases. Putting it bluntly, employers who won’t offer candidates the range of options (and competitive salaries) they want have less chance of making a successful hire.
What does this all mean for businesses and candidates as we move into what is traditionally one of the busiest times for recruitment, from September up to early December? Well, if ever you needed the help of Cedar, it’s now. In a buyer’s market for candidates, you need sound advice, professional guidance, and the expertise, experience, and added value that a good recruiter brings to the table.