In the wake of eighteen difficult months for the recruitment industry, the beginning of the summer saw the market pick up.

Improving business confidence led to a steadily increasing flow of proactive businesses looking for new and permanent recruits.

Due in part to the changing circumstances and priorities for many people, we saw an immediate flurry of market movement, encouraging the positive momentum to endure; so much so that recruitment activity in June was reported to be at an all-time high.

Now, as the final restrictions of the pandemic are removed, there is little sign this newly found aspiration to grow will slow down any time soon, despite candidate availability declining sharply in each of the last four months to reach an all-time low.

Right now, this is the only thing holding businesses back and, as recruiters, we are seeing some worrying signs ahead as the battle for the best talent heats up.

So, what is the answer?

Unfortunately, there is no quick fix to a familiar situation. What is clear, however, is that if we want to ensure the economy continues to grow, businesses, the government, and education providers need to be willing to reassess their plans and get behind the creation of a culture that supports training, reskilling, and upskilling of furloughed and prospective workers.

To put this high on the agenda – especially in the long term – better communication between industry and academia is fundamental. The Government, universities and colleges must co-operate with businesses to identify key areas where skilled workers are in short supply.

Positive steps have been made in this regard, with initiatives like Quickstart helping to build bridges, but this alone is not enough. We must take a collective approach if we want to ensure the status quo between candidates and vacancies is healthily balanced.

From the perspective of an employer

Flexibility is going to be important in the coming months and, as we adapted to home working, it is not inconceivable that we could adjust our mindset to see the recruitment of someone who has 75% of the skills you need as a good idea. In many cases, it may even be quicker to train people in the final 25% than to hold out for the perfect person.

Bringing in recruits straight from school, college, or university is another option. While it may not address your needs today, developing the right skill sets within your business will pay off, particularly if you encourage diversity in their experience by rotating people throughout different business departments.

For example, in an accountancy practice, rather than a graduate spending three years training in only audit or tax, why not offer them a programme of six-month secondments across all disciplines so, by the end of their training, they have had a much better exposure of the business and, probably, developed a clearer idea of what it is they enjoy.

In tight job markets, working with recruiters to position your business as a brand of choice is also important. I would say this but, with social media, people have access to many different channels of communication and the way your company is portrayed and how an opportunity is sold to them is crucial.

To be successful, you need to demonstrate what it is that makes you stand out, and that also goes for pre-planning ways to get your company culture across when the interview is via a video link.

The final word

If you take one piece of advice from this article to help with an upcoming piece of recruitment, please make it to act fast.

Taking positive and swift action is the key right now because I can assure you that talented people will get job offers quickly.

If you find the right person be prepared to act as, if they are truly at the top of their game, it won’t be long before one of your competitors snaps them up if you don’t

Permanent recruitment is rising at a record rate according to the latest KPMG and Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) survey.

As pandemic restrictions ease and more industries reopen, there is a mounting belief that the economy will bounce back quickly and that means optimistic businesses are shifting their mindset from consolidation and preservation to target growth.

The survey – compiled from the responses of around 400 UK recruitment agencies, of which I am one – showed that, in May and June, demand for new workers increased at the fastest rate in 23 years.

Record demand

The upturn followed an increase in April, at which time we were unsure if employers were simply recruiting to catch up from the previous 12 months of low activity or we could see new momentum building in the market.

Two months on and the improvement shows no signs of slowing down with, rather pleasingly, the North of England leading the way nationally and boasting the steepest increase in permanent appointments in IT, Computing, and the Hospitality sector. The accountancy market is also one of the busiest I have seen in the last twenty years.

Low availability

Here comes the ‘but’. While demand for good people is at an all-time high, their availability is at an all-time low. Mapped over the same timeframe, the number of workers looking for a new job dropped at the quickest rate for four years. Seeing the same pattern across a myriad of industries, the decline is linked to the furlough of staff, fewer EU candidates, and, of course, uncertainty following the pandemic.

Increased starting salaries

In a candidate-driven market, mixed with a refreshing air of private-sector business confidence, supply is outstripping demand and that means starting salaries are inevitably on the up.

In the North East, for now, they are just about holding up, but we have seen some outrageous salaries offered elsewhere in the country. Taking a London-based job but working from home (anywhere in the UK) can lead to astronomical increases for some, although I believe many national companies are working to address how they regionalise salaries when they have a remote workforce.

The challenge for recruitment

The challenge as a recruiter and an employer is to keep up with demand and always attract the right talent. Staff availability has declined immeasurably, and in part, because those willing to risk moving in the pandemic have already done so earlier in the year.

Positively in our region, I know there are a lot of people who are what I would call ‘window shopping’ right now. They are waiting in the wings and keeping an eye out for something special that grabs their attention.

There is no doubt that the flexibility to work from home and attend the office on their terms is playing a big part in decision making. As is having the flexibility to shape their hours so they can continue with the lifestyle they have built throughout COVID.

How can recruitment help?

By no means the hero, but the recruitment industry has continued to play a role in helping to keep vital services running smoothly throughout the pandemic. Now, it is playing a part in helping displaced workers find new jobs, and supporting companies as they adapt working patterns and prepare for the easing of restrictions.

This is why I couldn’t agree more with the deputy CEO of the REC, Kate Shoesmith’s, assessment of how businesses, recruiters and government need to work together to address the skills gap before it slows down our recovery.

The trends are worrying and we need to urgently address the skills gap together, supporting people to train, reskill and upskill so they can progress their careers and move into new roles.