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It’s no secret that the UK recruitment market has taken a sharp hit in 2020 following the outbreak of COVID-19.

Over the past 8 years, recruiters have grown used to navigating a candidate-driven market in which it was common to exhaust every possible creative technique to simply make contact with the most experienced candidates.

Where is the UK recruitment market now?

In the first half of this year, Total Jobs reported the number of UK businesses attempting to recruit fell from 55% in Q1 down to 25% in Q2. Meanwhile, APSCo’s data showed permanent positions were down a staggering 36% year on year in July. According to the ONS, wholesale, retail, vehicle repair, accommodation and catering were the sectors that experienced the heaviest fall in vacancies.

Consequently, we’ve suddenly found ourselves struggling to process the number of job seekers as COVID redundancies soar. In the blink of an eye, we’ve gone from a candidate-scarce market to a client-scarce market.

Where do we go from here? How do we rebuild and adapt our businesses to not only survive the crisis, but to thrive in the years to come?

Short-term planning (How to survive)

In times of economic uncertainty, every agency’s priority is survival – and rightly so. Amidst all the volatility and anticipation of a second wave, what’s certain is that all businesses must be agile in order to survive this period.

SMEs will adapt more easily to the market than high street recruiters. SMEs have the ability to cut costs, outsource processes, and refine their approach and team at a quicker pace than the high street brands.

Traditional high street recruiters must quickly downscale to overcome this period and remain profitable for their shareholders. This means reducing branches, scaling back their processes, and finding new solutions for vetting the influx of candidates.

Despite these difficulties, there are green shoots on the horizon for the recruitment industry. We’re seeing companies position themselves to welcome a wider pool of vacancies, and month on month we’re experiencing an increase in jobs, as well as an increase in revenue.Do we have any data to back this up? What impact will the end of Furlough have on jobless numbers/ spike in COVID? Brexit? – I think a little more here perhaps?

Long-term planning (How to thrive)

As we focus on surviving this period, we mustn’t lose sight of our long-term visions and continue to build on those so that we’re perfectly poised to thrive when the time comes.

Credibility is key. And so, defining our recruitment niche is absolutely critical now more than ever. Of course, as we operate in survival mode our niches will blur as we seize any opportunities that arise. But once we transition into thriving mode, a well-defined niche will be pivotal. This needs to be sculpted with foresight, taking into consideration the niche’s longevity and durability.

IT, logistics and social care have often found themselves at the top of the vacancy leaderboard throughout the pandemic, with health and social work accounting for 27.8% of all UK vacancies in Q2. LinkedIn has also highlighted AI and GDPR as two of the UK’s top emerging jobs.

Aside from a well-defined niche, the long-term plan also needs to incorporate the development of our staff. Undoubtedly there are many recruitment companies currently down-sizing their workforce to create a lean sales team. But by the same token, it’s crucial that companies are retaining and developing key leadership figures, or even appointing them, since these will be the driving force behind every business’ recovery.Can something around the rise in use/ value of NEDs – people who have the knowledge and expertise to support organisations to make the right decisions for the future of their businesses

In addition to this, recruitment businesses will need to assess their processes. This means knowing when and which processes should be outsourced to achieve maximum efficiency and profitability. It also means evolving with technology, such as incorporating the use of increasingly popular video interviewing software. At the same time, it’s equally as important to recognize where technology isn’t as effective.

Explore IMS People Possible’s Services

Technology’s role in recruitment

It’s been long suggested that, as technology evolves, Artificial Intelligence will replace the role of the recruiter. But the idea that technology will wipe out the role of the recruiter has been around since before the start of my career in 1986 and yet we’re all still standing –and flourishing.

Let’s put the advances in technology into context. Since 2008:

  • Facebook’s grown from 100 million to 2.7 billion users
  • Apple has released 19 new iphones
  • Amazon introduced ‘Alexa’ in 2014

And yet, despite the incredible advances in technology, the recruitment industry has grown an average of 27% per year since 2008.

What does that tell us? It indicates that despite the introduction of mobile phones, despite the advances in automation, and despite the emergence of AI, human interaction is and always will be irreplicable.

Agreed – technology has its place in automating and streamlining repetitive recruitment tasks. But there has yet to be one all-encompassing piece of technology that successfully replicates the art of human interaction.

The bottom line remains simple: we’re in the people business, and communicating with people cannot be done effectively with a computer.

The recruiter’s response to industry changes

How has the role of the recruiter changed in light of the pandemic?

It’s no longer the candidate we’re chasing, it’s the client who’s become the golden snitch. The need for recruiters to build long-lasting relationships with our clients has never been more pertinent.

Quite frankly, this should have always been a priority, and it’s the recruiters that have always followed this principle who’ll be the first to hop on board the life-boat. But the message is simple and timeless: capture and deliver on what’s important to your client and you will achieve a life-long relationship.

Although the recruiter’s focus has shifted from seeking candidates to seeking clients, it’s vital to reiterate the message of always having both a client and candidate customer mentality.

There will be a time when the market returns to its former candidate-driven days. And when this happens, candidates will remember how we treat them during this very testing and vulnerable time.

Final thoughts

Although we’re navigating unprecedented times, the passion for excellence sustains from when I started my recruitment career in 1986 to today. But it’s vital to remember that this excellence applies to both our clients and our candidates regardless of the market’s disposition.

As we battle with today’s situation, we mustn’t lose sight of our long-term aims. Shaping our businesses for the future is key as the time to thrive will come again, just as it did following the 2008 recession.

Planning for the future means investing in our staff, evolving with technology, refining our processes, becoming experts in our field, and building relationships that will weather the storm above all else.

The principles of running a successful recruitment business are simple and I repeat: capture and deliver on what your client wants, and you will achieve a life-long relationship.