Autumn recruitment update for accounting and finance and HR professionals in the South West, with lessons from 2020 so far.
Overview of South West recruitment
Nationally, the professional and mid-management recruitment market has been severely impacted by the COVID crisis, with all the major PLC Recruitment Companies reporting dramatic drops in fee income during the period, reflecting a major contraction in hiring by companies across many industry sectors. The South West region was no exception and particularly during Quarter 2 (April-June) new hiring ground almost to a halt in many companies. Some of this was related to immediate impact on business revenues. But for some companies, the hiring hiatus was more related to the impact on hiring processes and onboarding caused by the lockdown.
So, once companies had settled into lockdown rhythm and established new recruitment workflows, hiring in some of the more successful sectors and sub-sectors did resume, and we saw a steady increase in vacancy numbers, with Quarter 3 being 30-40% higher than Quarter 2, albeit from a low base.
Key financial and accounting positions continued to be recruited, along with business critical Human Resources roles. Industries such as Pharmaceuticals, IT Services and Legal were examples of stronger performers, whilst other sectors such as Hospitality, Tourism and some parts of Retail understandably struggled. Many businesses benefited from the changes in people's spending habits and others have adapted well to deliver robust financial performance, but overall the outlook has been challenging.
Many companies made use of the furlough scheme, figures showed that under the government's Job Retention Scheme, 808,900 people in the region were furloughed as of the end of June, with take-up on the South-West of 32.1%, the second highest region in England after the West Midlands. Notably, transactional HR was amongst the most affected.
As we approached the end of Q3, there was a tangible improvement in job flow as confidence in the market improved and clients started to plan for the future.
Many organisations have a generally positive outlook to hiring during the remainder of 2020.
All talk in the market during this period has understandably been focused on the impact of COVID-19, but as things evolve, the impending impact of the end of the furlough scheme, coupled with a volatile US political market and Brexit on the horizon, may mean that other external influences become more prevalent. However, whilst Brexit dominated a large part of 2019 and organisations looked to plan for all eventualities, it seems clear that many businesses have now managed to successfully address and plan for any potentially negative impacts that may arise from the UK leaving the EU.
As anticipated, the temp/contract market has been more robust during this challenging period, as organisations plan short-term and look for support with projects and driving efficiencies and innovation. But overall, against the backdrop of the crisis, the permanent market has perhaps performed slightly better than expected, with many organisations looking to take advantage of large talent pools on the market to upskill their workforce and ensure they are well placed for future growth.
Whilst budgets remain tight and forecasts challenging, talented FP&A professionals remain in high demand, as businesses start to plan and look to the future.
In HR, we are seeing gradually increasing demand for HR Business Partners and OD specialists.
What have companies in this industry learnt from the pandemic?
Accountancy & Finance
- Businesses have adapted quickly and overall productivity from employees working from home has been excellent. The move towards more flexible working patterns was already happening, but the pandemic has significantly accelerated this transition, and the market response has been overwhelmingly positive.
- Companies have had to completely rethink onboarding processes during this time, and have demonstrated how new employees can be effectively onboarded remotely. The lack of human contact for new employees has at times been challenging for some, but many businesses have developed much more efficient ways of ensuring this has not caused too many challenges.
- Many organisations have realised the importance of focusing on employee wellness during this time, as external factors start to influence productivity and motivation levels. Many companies have tried to be creative with employee interactions to ensure staff feel looked after and valued, often introducing traditional and more innovative ways of spending time together virtually.
- Companies have learnt the value of relationship capital within their organisations, as they look for ways of engaging remotely and keeping workforces motivated, without the obvious value of face-to-face interaction.
- Increase of productivity due to working from home
- HR became a key part of managing the technicalities of day-to-day operation
- SMEs adopted technology and video conferencing
- More focus on the mental health due to people working alone and juggling the work-life balance
- HR have developed an effective way of onboarding via video links and managed their recruitment process entirely via video conferencing
What interesting actions have companies taken?
Accountancy & Finance
The majority of businesses employing Accountancy & Finance professionals in the region have demonstrated an openness to remote working moving forward, from both a retention and talent attraction perspective.
Organisations that have continued to hire have benefitted from more agile recruitment processes, including remote interviews and shortening of hiring processes, plus more efficient onboarding. Those organisations that have been going through restructuring and unable to hire have often taken the opportunity to upskill current employees.
Many organisations have focused on scenario modelling for worst case scenarios to mitigate the potential impact of the pandemic, and as the market starts to improve, employers are proactively starting to look at growth opportunities and driving improvements in productivity.
Digital transformation remains high on the agenda for many South West businesses, as they look to ensure they are fit for purpose as AI and automation continue to be embedded into finance functions.
The pandemic and the lockdown has provided businesses with opportunities to look for innovative ways of supporting their staff during this time in the shape of clear communication, offering everyone one-to-one video meetings with line managers and monthly updates from senior leaders to ensure a consistent message.
Some businesses have brought people back from furlough quite quickly and deployed them into different roles within the organisation. A number of organisations have chosen to not claim the furlough money from the government and topped up their furlough staff with additional 20% to keep their 100% pay.
They have also offered incentives to people who came back into a different role to remain operational across the board. This resulted in a huge moral boost once they were back in business.