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Can the recruitment industry make the world of work a better place?

Can the recruitment industry make the world of work a better place?

Director of Policy & Professional Services at the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC), Tom Hadley, explains where the profession should position itself within a market affected by rapid change, a talent shortage and the threat of automation… 

Jobs transform lives. This ethos, which the REC built itself around, works in tandem with the £32billion contribution the recruitment industry makes to the domestic economy - underlining the importance of recruitment done well.

With record unemployment, as well as reports that recruiters helped almost one million people find a new permanent job in 2016/17, there’s plenty for the industry to be proud of. However, there have been significant setbacks to Britain’s buoyant labour market: the obvious one, Brexit; and subsequent uncertainty over the status of EU workers and whether inflation is stifling salary growth; as well as questions regarding the quality of work on offer.

However, the REC is supporting the Government to spearhead changes for the better – with the help of over 3,500 recruitment businesses. Advocating for a better post-Brexit immigration policy, the trade body hope to educate the incoming workforce and improve the world of work so the future for Britain’s labour market is bright.

What we put in place post-Brexit is really important for
temporary work


When I made my way to meet Tom, walking across Southwark bridge to the REC’s offices, dodging bustling workers, tourists and those just meandering, it’s evident that the city thrives on its multi-culturalism. And, as Tom points out, Britain’s economy does too. “There’s a huge number of EU nationals in the jobs market employed in either temporary or contract work, in warehouses, in the care sector, and even freelancers,” he explains. “What we put in place post-Brexit is really important for temporary work. There’s a need for flexible staff as social change drives a 24/7 economy. Otherwise, it can put businesses at risk.”

“There’s no doubt recruitment is going to get harder, all we can do is get better at it”

Post-Brexit hiring is a topic the REC has been particularly vocal about, especially in regard to the effect a myopic immigration policy could have on the jobs market. With a staunch reaction to leaked Home Office documents, which proposed that free movement would end in March 2019 - with low-skilled workers feeling the brunt of the policy - there is now optimism that politicians might start to recognise the need for flexibility. Hopefully, this can quell fears UK employers have voiced about a future migration system, with UK employers concerned about their access to talent once Britain leaves the EU, finds a Migration Advisory Committee report.


Tom explains: “Two years ago, we spoke to Ministers and Government departments when there was a focus on attracting the ‘brightest and the best’. Yet, what we garnered from our data and conversations with our members is that we will suffer hugely if we don’t focus on bringing in a range of workers, not necessarily just those that are highly-skilled,” he explains. “There’s always a need for a supply of good, temporary workers and it’s important to maintain access to that. Employers are beginning to realise that recruitment isn’t easy, and we can’t expect our recruiters to magic people out of thin air. It’s become a top three strategic boardroom issue, which is a good thing as it can start to be solved.”

Why ‘good work’ is important for recruitment

Yet the problem of attracting workers to the UK post-Brexit, is complex, convoluted and cross-sector. Recent figures from the ONS show net EU migration to the UK - the difference between arrivals and departures - was 90,000 in the year to September, the lowest for five years. Tom adds that a secondary debate stemming from post-Brexit recruiting, is the question of why aren’t there enough UK nationals willing to work in these roles? "What we need to think about, is promoting careers in sectors where there is a high demand and help UK nationals develop the skills they need to access those jobs,” he elucidates. “In parallel, we need to have a balanced and evidenced based immigration strategy.”

Whilst pay is an important deciding factor to encourage more UK workers into specialist industries reliant on overseas talent, Tom says it’s more than just a communication or monetary exercise. He points out the need to inform UK nationals about how they can build careers in sectors that perhaps they’re not that keen to get into but have great opportunities. “For example, hospitality is one area where staff are leaving just as quickly as they’re entering,” Tom explains. “The way of work isn’t conducive to employee wellbeing, there’s no flexibility, management isn’t great, etc. We’re keen to look at how we can use Matthew Taylor’s good work agenda to make environments better for staff, especially in sectors that are finding it difficult to recruit and retain. It’s all well and good inviting people in for jobs, but the reality needs to fit what we’re selling.”

A second point he raises is, if certain industries do rely on overseas talent, how do we promote the UK as a good place to come and live and work? “There’s no doubt recruitment is going to get harder, all we can do is get better at it,” he says.

Making sense of the future workplace

Fortunately, employers are beginning to recognise the challenges, and subsequently, are being more flexible in their requirements. “They’re realising that recruiters aren’t going to be able to find the ‘finished product’. But what they are asking for is to is find someone with the right attitude that they can train on the job.”

This focus on the right attitude, is something that the REC is keen to filter into education. “When we speak to young people looking for work, they’re a little apprehensive about the pace of change,” Tom explains. “However, recruiters understand what skills and attitudes are needed to succeed in the future workplace, so there’s a real opportunity to help inspire young people, teach that can-do attitude and boost the growth mindset.” Trade bodies can also be the broker who makes this happen. “If we could galvanise all these members there’s massive scalability to be proactive with education,” he continues.


Automation: It’s no silver bullet

Educating the future workforce will also help to debunk myths surrounding automation. With McKinsey Global Institute’s report stating 20% of current jobs in the UK will be automated by 2030, Tom reassures that it’s no silver bullet. “Whilst automation may seem an easy answer to the talent dearth, there are several sectors where it’s hard to incorporate it,” he explains. “For example, in agriculture, specifically horticulture, those roles can’t be automated. Fruit-picking is a delicate process and it requires people.” Whilst there is bound to be a hollowing out of the jobs market, for example, in back office roles, employers that can pre-empt these changes can prepare. “I think the opportunity for our members is to make sense of the impact of technology on work and the new skills it will require. Having specialists who understand the jobs market, are tech savvy and know what candidates are looking for, is important,” Tom concludes.

Furthermore, the industry can also lead the way when it comes to using technology creatively. One example is REC member Manpower who recently won a Recruitment Industry Disability Initiative (RIDI) award for placing jobseekers with hearing difficulties into work in call centres. The opportunity to bring an underrepresented group into a workplace typically not conducive to those with poor hearing, was made possible both through technology as well as a charity-sector partnership. “This is just one example showing that the opportunity is there for our members to position themselves as consultants on the future workplace,” Tom explains.

And that’s exactly where good recruitment agencies are positioning themselves. According to feedback from REC members, the old ‘we need a new staff member’ conversations are being replaced by consultative communications that span from succession planning, engaging passive candidates to workforce demographics. “I hope more employers take recruitment as a discipline and not just if they’re using agents but as a whole and invest in it,” Tom adds. “A measure of good recruitment shouldn’t be how cheap it was. Whether it’s using good external third parties or ensuring those in-house are properly trained, it should be viewed as something that’s worth the time. There’s a cost of not getting it right.” And it will be the proactive, forward-thinking and adaptable recruiters that Hadley believes can lead change; improving the world of work, perceptions of the industry and defining the future.