Autumn recruitment update for accounting and finance and HR professionals in the Thames Valley, with lessons from 2020 so far.
Overview of Thames Valley recruitment
Nationally, the professional & 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 Thames Valley and Middlesex 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. Before COVID-19 a typical recruitment process included numerous face to face interviews, and clients were always hesitant to make an offer to a candidate if they hadn’t actually met them face to face. Unfortunately, now there is no other option and clients and candidates have had to get used to not meeting their employees face to face before accepting an offer, or even getting a feel for the culture in the offices of their potential new employees
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 FMCG companies 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.
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. We have also noticed an increase in Financial Accounting opportunities, which has always been the case for Q3 and Q4, as clients prepare for their year end accounting teams
In HR, we are seeing gradually increasing demand for HR Business Partners, HR Project Managers and HR Advisor roles.
What have companies in this industry learnt from the pandemic?
- Employees are able to work effectively from home, especially ones that work across different time zones, as they can manage their day more efficiently.
- Technology enabled the transition to home working a lot smoother than it would have done 10 years ago and has helped employees to stay engaged with real human interaction.
- Firms are now able to onboard candidates remotely without the need for a face-to-face meeting. Laptops are often couriered out to the candidates home before they start.
- Meetings can sometimes be for the sake of a meeting, with most things being resolved through a call or email.
- More focus on the mental health due to people working alone and juggling the work-life balance
What interesting actions have companies taken?
It was interesting to see some of the traditional banking clients publicly announce that they would not be returning to the office until 2021. This was expected from the big tech players, but it’s interesting to see more businesses who previously had a 5 day in the office culture move almost seamlessly to remote working.
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.
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.
They have also offered incentives to people who came back into a different role to remain operational across the board, including free meals, protective wear and use of on-site nurseries. This resulted in a huge moral boost once they were back in business.
There is also an increased focus on the wellbeing benefits they offer their employees. For example, some are holding online ‘events’ to encourage togetherness and hold on to their company culture.