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The new normal – hype or happening?

Published on: 15 Dec 2022

The end of the calendar year is traditionally a time of reflections for everyone. And as we get older the first reflection is usually ‘where did the year go?’

A first year without lockdown since the start of the pandemic, 2022 has been a ‘post-Covid’, post-Brexit year – and it has been about living in the new normal, whatever that is.

Most organisations are in the office (some of the time), at conferences, networking events, meeting up, and socialising (again, some of the time) but predominantly most of the time still on Teams. And whatever your view of this new normal, it is our reality. For employers, the challenges and opportunities this has created for attracting, selecting, onboarding, developing, and retaining staff in this new world have rightly been top of the to-do list.

What has been happening in the world of talent acquisition?

We all know the headlines. Less people seeking work than there are jobs, agile working a must for candidates, speedy recruitment programmes – and hourly rates in supermarkets paying more than for roles in nursing.

Employers have never had to work so hard, or be more creative, flexible and supportive. It’s been a timely reminder of the value of increased diversity and inclusion, social mobility, succession planning, upskilling, reskilling, early career intakes, professional development, and organisational and job redesign.

Executive recruitment – the bonfire of resignations

Pre, during and post-Covid we have seen extremely high levels of executive retirements and resignations – leading to high levels of vacancies, depleted talent pools, and a reduced number of people transitioning from executive to non-executive and interim. People have simply stopped work, travelled the world, or made time for family and friends – and who can blame them.

In the interim space there has been a noticeable increase in demand for senior corporate service support interims. Requests for senior HR/OD, legal, communications and finance interim managers have been markedly higher than previous years and show no signs of slowing in 2023. Toni Hall, director, executive interim said: ‘There has been more demand than available interims which is adding pressure on rates. When there is such high demand for the same interim support, having a speedy interim recruitment process is advisable.’

And Mizan Rouf, senior consultant, CIPFA Penna said: ‘We have seen a surge in demand at finance director and deputy (s151) level – which we expect to continue as councils are put under pressure to close accounts and develop innovative savings strategies. We are also experiencing demand for highly skilled technical accountants with social care experience.’

Ben Cox, director, executive search, reflected on one specific profession, saying: ‘We have seen huge demand for directors of law and governance, so much so that one wouldn’t be blamed for thinking MO stands for ‘moving on’ rather than monitoring officer. In fact, there have been more vacancies in 2022 than in the previous three years combined. This demand when combined with very well-documented governance failures across local government recently, means there is no quick fix, and we will be working with partners to address this in 2023.’

Health and social care demand never dimmed throughout the height of Covid, but in 2022 we saw a new emerging agenda. Dawar Hashmi, director, executive search, shared his insights into this, saying that: ‘The current big agenda for local government in terms of social care and health is the continuous work on integration with health. Central government doesn’t yet appear to recognise the complexities of these structures and the general view is that integrated care systems (ICSs) still fail to work in true partnership with local government, as the focus is from an NHS lens. Social care professionals with strong interest in whole system solutions will have some interesting opportunities to consider in 2023 in this space.’

High brand – high tech – high touch. How attraction and communications have changed

‘Candidates were in the driving seat in 2022 – leading to major adoption of programmatic in the digital employer marketing sector as employers worked hard to target passive and diverse candidates. Traditional job boards such as Reed, CareerBuilder and Indeed moved to a pay performance model while CV-Library acquired Brilliant Jobs to strengthen their programmatic capabilities. With return on investment at the heart of recruitment campaigns, brand innovation and cross channel strategies become more important than ever,’ said Nabil Verdickt, head of performance media.

Tristan Moakes, strategy director, added: ‘In the world of digital employer marketing, it has been another turbulent year. Facebook (or Meta) has had a bad 2022. It has been forced to cut its workforce as popularity with users has shifted into decline. In its place, rather than another single all-conquering platform there are now many more digital places emerging to reach passive talent, such as Reddit or TikTok.’

Matt Johnson, creative director, is clear that demand for talent has put pressure on employers to up their brand game. ‘As the world reassesses its view of work, it is crucial to be attentive to what potential (and current) employees want – and more creative in how you communicate with them. So it has been heartening this year to see local government invest in their employer branding – defining their message-to-market, using data to drive campaigns, and exploring the possibilities of film, animation, and social content.’

Sonia Tanda, business development director, urged employers to streamline recruitment as candidates expected swifter outcomes and high touch personal engagement, commenting that ‘long application forms and time taken to respond to candidates are not cutting it as candidates are being secured by another employer at a much faster pace’.

Our future leaders – the squeezed middle

Jon Dilling and Gemma Matin, our sourcing leads, said: ‘Demand and difficulty in recruiting middle management and specialist professionals has increased significantly. Be it finance, legal, property, digital, procurement, HR or housing, if you’re not sourcing and providing speedy recruitment with high touch support you probably aren’t recruiting.’

The private sector is out paying the public; glass, class and black ceilings with an ageing workforce mean there is more to do to retain and develop its future leaders.

Equality, diversity and inclusion – a beacon of hope

Since George Floyd’s murder there has been a palpable and positive diversity and inclusion focus. Julie Towers, Managing Director, said: ‘The recognition in the sector to make our workplaces fairer and more equal is high and rightly dominates conversations with clients. As a market leader in public sector recruitment, we take our responsibility in this space very seriously. We are proud we are changing what senior leadership looks like – this year to date 55% of our senior appointments have been female, 25% people of colour, 4.5% have a disability and 4.5% have declared themselves as LGBTQ+. We continue to live our values, demand more of our clients and grow our already diverse team.’

Every cloud?

With talk of Austerity 2.0, and tech giants reporting significant redundancies, you could assume the above issues may fast disappear. We think not. While volume of demand may decline, the specialist professional talent pools are not going to be replenished quickly, particularly if employers do not invest in entry level hires and professional development. To be continued in 2023…