The UK jobs market is officially booming. Earlier this month, Bloomberg reported that UK firms are ‘struggling to fill posts’, with the Recruitment and Employment Confederation stating that ‘employment growth continues to confound expectations’.
According to the REC, the number of permanent jobs grew at the fastest rate in more than two years in July this year, while the availability of workers fell sharply. It said that helped boost a measure of starting salaries to the highest in 20 months.
So, what can UK companies do to attract talent in a market where the best candidates are being snapped up by competitors? Jessica Williams, Managing Director of London recruitment firm Sidekicks, gives her top five suggestions.
- Focus on culture
In this market – particularly amongst millenials – culture is king. We’ve seen candidates jump ship from higher paying jobs to those paying much less, simply on the basis of wanting a better work/life balance.
It’s now commonplace for the ‘extras’ to seal the deal; whether your company offers flexible working hours, a genuinely tight-knit team (not just enforced teambuilding activities!) or a day off a month to volunteer with local charities – get this spot on, and you’ll have raised the bar so high that nobody will ever want to leave. This doesn’t have to cost the earth: often, it’s the little things that people value, such as being able to wear what they want to work, or just having access to a decent coffee machine.
Getting your internal culture right is probably the single most effective tool in your arsenal when it comes to hiring the best talent: if people want to work for you, they will move mountains to make it happen.
- Diversity is critical
In 2017, a commitment to ensuring diversity within your organisation isn’t just a meaningless soundbite: it’s a minimum expectation. As Catherine Sinclair, Head of Temporary Talent at Sidekicks, says: “it’s absolutely imperative that employers show their commitment to hiring the best talent, irrespective of gender, age, disability, ethnicity or socio-economic background”.
An enormously successful scheme we have been piloting at Sidekicks involves blind CVs and ethical hiring. This measure – unique within the UK secretarial recruitment market – means that our employers are given an edited version of a candidate’s CV, and are fully briefed by us on the candidate’s skillset, their personality and their character. Any other information (such as gender) is not known by the employer until interview stage.
We have found that this has had an explosive effect in reducing instances of unconscious bias, which can be prevalent in even the most diversity-conscious companies.
Ensure, too, that you keep things fair. I am personally not a fan of quotas as, although fashionable, I strongly believe that they can often propagate the issues they purport to cure.
Take the time to understand the skillsets of your candidates and allow their personalities to take centre stage in the recruitment process – rather them reducing them to a numbered application – and the results can be transformative.
- Pay Fairly
A lot of employers understandably fall into the trap of thinking that the company that pays the highest salaries will attract the best staff. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Compensation is critical (you ought to be benchmarking your salaries annually in line with your competition, and make sure that your employee benefits are generous) but it’s not everything.
In this market, a good salary is a starting point, not the main event. Plus, if a candidate can be swayed easily by a higher offer, they won’t be a good long term bet for your company.
Focus on what else apart from a high salary you can offer – you might be pleasantly surprised by the calibre of talent you begin to attract.
- Call in the experts
It’s easy for us to say, but in a difficult market, using specialist recruiters can pay the most enormous dividends – as well as negate the huge amounts of time, money and disruption associated with unsuccessful hires.
All too often, ‘recruitment agency’ can be a dirty word, but – whatever your industry – a good recruiter is worth their weight in gold. The days of ‘paint by numbers’ recruiting are long gone: nowadays, recruiters have to work extremely hard for our fee, and we’re proud of our work.
Here at Sidekicks, for example, we actively market map the industries we work within. Want to know who is the best EA in the Energy market? No problem. Want to speak to the person assisting your closest competitor? We can arrange that. As we know our market inside out and our staff have all worked in administrative capacities in previous roles, we’re able to act in a truly consultative fashion, often saving clients an awful lot of money by, for example (as in one recent case) advising a client that one £70K hire made a lot more sense than two £55K hires.
Although in this case we made less money in the short term, a good recruiter will always value their reputation above all. If you find a recruiter who truly ‘gets’ you, your company and your ethos, they will represent you to the market in the best possible light and ensure that you reach those candidates who aren’t even actively looking yet.
- Career Progression
Often, this is the draw most overlooked by employers – but it’s critical to candidates. Employers often fall into the trap of hiring to fill a specific skills gap within an organisation, with no thought to how the role can evolve once the best talent has been found – this is a classic reason for high staff turnover.
To combat this, it’s important for employers to think of their staff as humans, not just a set of skills. In our market – administrative support – candidates will often end up leaving companies they love and roles they are good at simply because they are not being challenged: “there’s nowhere to progress’ is one of our most commonly heard reasons for leaving.
The definition of insanity is “doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results” – yet often employers are surprised when there is a high level of turnover in one role, and no attention is paid to whether there is something about the role itself that’s causing the churn.
Candidates – no matter how junior or senior, no matter how generalist or specialist their role – will always need to be challenged and have the ability to progress in their job in order to feel truly fulfilled.
It’s relatively simple to ensure this. Make relevant, rigorous, interesting internal training a core part of your HR offering. Implement a clear feedback and appraisal system. And finally, make sure that you are, wherever possible, promoting from within rather than simply hiring externally.
Follow these rules and you’ll be rewarded rapidly with a much lower turnover and, ultimately, much happier people.