As we’re all only too aware, the intention is for Britain to exit the European Union on the 29th March, 2019.
Concern over what Brexit will mean for the office support jobs market – particularly for PAs and EAs – has meant an increasing number of candidates are contacting us looking for guidance.
At Sidekicks, we’re right at the beating heart of the London jobs market, meaning that we often see key trends emerging before they become felt on a wider basis. I’m going to talk you through the strongest of those trends, and what they will mean for your job and career both pre and post Brexit.
The key message here is that there are some extremely positive noises happening right now in the support recruitment market. Despite the often gloomy approach of the news channels, there are some wonderfully beneficial indicators if you’re willing to peek below the waterline.
1. Employer confidence
One of the key phrases you might hear repeated a lot is ‘employer confidence’. What does this mean, and what does it tell us?
Employer confidence is not a ‘feeling’- it’s a vital, concrete, ongoing metric which we use as a benchmark for understanding what the jobs market is going to do in the period ahead.
Put simply, employer confidence is an extremely effective barometer of how willing companies are to hire in the immediate future.
Keeping on top of official employer confidence data – cross-checked with the up-to-the-second market information we’re constantly picking up from talking to our own employers – allows us to build a really accurate picture of what the short term future holds in terms of jobs availability.
What does it mean for me, right now?
Official data released by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC) tells us something that we already know: if you were looking for a new role between October and December 2018, you might have noticed that competition for the best roles increased markedly.
Whilst remaining positive, the REC reported in January 2019 that employers’ confidence in making hiring and investment decisions declined by a notable 5 percentage points: the lowest level recorded since February 2018.
However: this is not bad news for you! Despite a fall in confidence in making hiring decisions, forecasted demand for permanent employees in the short-term and medium term increased by 7 and 14 percentage points, respectively, year-on-year.
Put simply, this means that companies are still hiring – they are simply much more aware of the need to hire right. Employers can’t afford to make bad hiring decisions right now. This means that, at the nitty gritty end, we should expect two things:
Processes might take slightly longer this quarter. Please don’t worry if processes seem slower this quarter. We’re expecting a big fall in the number of (already increasingly rare) one stage interview processes and a big jump in the number of two or even three stage processes.
This is nothing but a good thing for you, as it means that you’re able to really assess the fit and make sure it’s right long term.
If an employer is working with an agency such as Sidekicks, they will have come to us because they understand that good agencies will screen candidates for motivation as well as aptitude and personality. We would never put anyone forward for a role unless we feel they are 100% committed, and this mitigation of risk is a factor that will help you through the process.
On a practical note, however, I’d suggest that if you are thinking of changing jobs, you let us know as soon as possible, so that we have plenty of time to help find you the right thing.
Also – be flexible. It’s critical that your recruiter is able to control the interview process as much as possible, as getting a process to move forward smoothly is often a key factor in a successful outcome.
Please help your recruiter do this by being flexible with interview availability: we know it’s hard when juggling life and work, but even a willingness to do a before or after work meeting might make the difference between you being offered the job – or not.
2. A Tight Labour Market
Another phrase that you might hear being bandied about a lot is how ‘tight’ the labour market is. In plain English, this means that there are more jobs available than workers to fill them.
Labour market tightness is a key trend that is currently being heavily felt in the office support market, and we expect this squeeze to increase over the next twelve months.
Increased tightness is partly driven by the fact that UK unemployment fell to 4% in the 3 months to November 2018 (Source: OFT) — the lowest level we have seen since 1975.
It’s also driven by necessity: a whopping eight in ten (79%) UK employers highlighted that they had either no surplus workforce capacity (37%) or such a small amount that they would need to take on additional staff if demand increased (43%).
In addition, employers’ concern about the availability of both permanent and temporary workers increased significantly year-on-year – from 44% to 53% for permanent staff, and from 36% to 47% for temporary workers.
Put simply, we’re looking at a market where employers are going to increasingly feel the pressure of balancing a need to hire, with a deep concern that good candidates are hard to find.
What does this mean for the London PA jobs market?
Employers across London crave certainty at this point. The message to business from government has been inconsistent and muddled, and the entire country is feeling the pain of economic uncertainty.
The key micro trend that we’ve seen emerge with a bang in the London PA jobs market is that there is a big drive amongst employers to do everything possible to reduce operational uncertainty and shore up processes pre-Brexit.
In real terms, this means less of a reliance on temporary candidates to ‘plug a gap’ – and much more motivation to hire the resources a business needs on a permanent basis, securing that talent for the long term.
Many candidates, however, are reluctant to move roles until they have seen what’s happened with Brexit. This means that there are big rewards for the brave.
Wage growth – finally.
It’s been a long time coming, but UK wage growth is currently at 2.5% annually (source: OFT) and we’re seeing wages rising at their fastest level for ten years.
According to the Recruitment & Employment Confederation’s Jobs Outlook Report of January 2019, more than half (55%) of employers reported increasing pay/earnings in the year to October–December, in line with the 57% who reported doing so a year earlier.
It’s however worth noting that in the South, 65% had increased pay over the last year (versus 56% last year) whilst just 47% of Northern organisations had done so (versus 63% last year).
A change of focus for junior candidates
You’ll be relieved to know that I won’t ask you to sit through a whole separate article for you on how the role of the junior candidate has changed in the past five years (for our purposes, I’m defining junior candidate as first or second jobbers, school leavers or graduates earning up to £30K in a range of office support roles, across all industries).
What I will tell you — in the context of piecing together our brave new post Brexit market — is that every single indicator we have is showing that the trend amongst employers for junior candidates to wear many hats is going to continue at pace.
It’s more than just the fact that much of what made up the traditional remit of Office Junior or Administrator jobs has now disappeared with the introduction of modern technology in the workplace. Obviously, things like printing, photocopying and typing correspondence are on the decline, whilst things like social media management and virtual office support are on the up.
Largely gone are the days when a company had a ‘siloed’ workforce: by this I mean people with narrow, designated roles, such as ‘typist’ or ‘telephonist’.
You will absolutely know this already, but nowadays operational support is swiftly moving away from being a job title based role (e.g. — a Receptionist sits on Reception, takes calls and meets and greets visitors) to a more rounded, skills based role (a Receptionist might now be based at a Reception desk, but in addition to meeting and greeting clients they will be arranging Skype/Zoom calls, working with virtual office providers, looking after the company Instagram feed, etc.)
To put it visually, the typical operational support function has shifted:
In simple terms, this means that employers are asking junior candidates to wear more hats.
With more hats comes more responsibility, more of a challenge – and a higher salary for those candidates who can demonstrate a flexible, can-do attitude, willingness to learn, and eagerness to get stuck in to anything that needs doing.
So: if you are looking for the best possible first or second admin job, you’ll need to be portraying yourself as a real all-rounder.
More senior level jobs
A second key trend we have clocked is a rise in the number of senior level (£50K +) Personal Assistant, Executive Assistant and Business Assistant roles.
Why? Put simply, in times of economic uncertainty one of the traditional (and, in my opinion, best) ways to de-risk a business – particularly an SME – is to ensure flawless operational support: as we know, the backbone of any company, whatever the industry.
At a basic level, HR departments are much more motivated to ensure that superb PAs are in place, as we know that effective 1:1 support is one of the key drivers of dramatic increases in the productivity of senior management.
In plain English, then: we can expect to see more senior level PA and EA jobs, and these will pay more – but there will be heaviest competition for the very best candidates.
In the brave new post Brexit recruitment market, quality is queen: if you are an experienced candidate wanting to land a top job, I’d suggest running a branding exercise for yourself (ask your recruiter to help you).
This means refreshing your CV, making sure that your LinkedIn is on point, doing an audit of everything that is available on you online – the rewards are there, but it’s critical that you position yourself to receive them.
Recap – our predictions
Takeaways! What should I do now?
Ultimately, the message is positive, and there is absolutely no reason why — if you are an administrative professional in London — 2019 can’t be a landmark year for your career. It’s all about how you look at it, and now that you are armed with the facts you can face the jobs market with a sense of excitement and anticipation of the rewards to come.
If you would like to speak to someone about the opportunities in the jobs market both pre and post Brexit, please don’t hesitate to contact the Sidekicks team at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 020 7292 8740.
About the Author
Jessica Marchant is Founding Partner at Sidekicks, the leading London operations search firm.
She is a Corporate Director of the The Recruitment & Employment Confederation, the professional body for the recruitment industry.
She is the Founder of Work To Recover – the mental health support nonprofit dedicated to facilitating people back into meaningful, fulfilling employment, and the author of job seeking manual ‘How To Get A Job’.