With the ubiquitous financial crisis fuelling warnings of a recession, recruiters dare to hope that top talent will soon be easier to find. Some employers, especially investment banks, will no longer feel able to tempt high-fliers with bonuses and ‘golden handcuffs’.
But even as the economy dives and businesses lay off employees, the best people will always be in demand. Long-term demographic changes mean the underlying talent shortage will not go away, experts argue, and organisations must continue looking for clever ways to find the best candidates.
“There might be a short-term blip, but anyone who thinks the war for talent is over is very much mistaken,” declares Keith Dugdale, head of recruitment and resourcing at professional services giant KPMG. The pressure is on global organisations in particular, Dugdale says, with Russia, Asia and parts of Latin America continuing to expand rapidly, despite the financial turmoil in Western countries.
Developing existing talent and having clear succession plans in place is one solution. That’s the route adopted by the Big Lottery Fund, with the result that staff turnover fell to just 2% in the first quarter of the year.
“This new strategy has enabled staff to progress in their current role, and has created a talent pipeline to support succession planning,” says Jasvier Boyal, deputy director of HR at the lottery fund.
Another alternative is to find promising young recruits and train them in the required industry skills. Engineering consultancy Mouchel needs skilled civil and electrical engineers, surveyors and architects, and to help fill the gap it recently decided to extend its graduate training programme to technicians and school leavers.
“Our approach to talent management is to say everyone is talented it’s a question of helping people understand where they best fit,” says Rose Bevan, head of talent management and learning. The managing director of Mouchel’s highways business stream started 25 years ago as a young apprentice, and Bevan foresees this becoming more the norm as individuals work their way up to the top.
Although a degree is not essential, Mouchel will help individuals develop their education further in partnership with outside institutions. However, targeting 18 year-olds does differ significantly from graduate recruitment, in that the company must negotiate with parents as well as candidates themselves.
The shortage of science and engineering skills is also a headache for the UK nuclear industry, whose promised renaissance after a period of decline will be short-lived unless it can recruit top-class talent. Its solution has been to pool resources, with 50 key companies joining forces to launch a number of careers fairs and events, and share candidate pools.
“We think this industry-wide approach to graduate recruitment is highly innovative and a best practice solution,” says Karen Walkden, head of HR at Magnox North.
As part of its plan to double its graduate intake over the next five years, the company is now looking outside the nuclear industry for staff who can bring new thinking and more commercial approaches.
For global companies with a presence in expanding countries, the challenge is to reach large numbers of top candidates. KPMG is solving this problem by running online recruitment fairs.
In September this year it hosted a two-day event, widely advertised on the web, with visitors logging on to watch video presentations and take part in question-and-answer sessions with international managers. As many as 10,000 experienced professionals from more than 100 countries registered their CVs.
“It was a great way to advertise our interest in global talent,” says Dugdale. “We now have a fantastic pool to draw from in the next weeks and months.”
He believes virtual events will soon become the norm for employers, organised by third parties.
Graduates were the early adopters of online recruitment sites, but Dugdale is seeing more and more experienced professionals, many of them quite senior, using them as well, as internet users mature. To reach such people, he predicts organisations will provide greater levels of personalisation in the next generation of recruitment and career websites.
Social networking websites are also going to play an increasing role in recruitment. MI6 has just announced that it’s using Facebook to advertise job opportunities – a sure sign that this medium is entering the organisational mainstream.
And KPMG has recently been encouraging its student interns to chat about their experience with the company on their Facebook pages and similar sites. “Hopefully they have had a great experience, and we suggest they share that with their mates,” says Dugdale. “That profile and word of mouth is such an effective way of communicating to the student and graduate population.”
However, this approach can cut both ways, as employers have no control over the comment that appears in such forums. While they may hope that only positive things are said about them, they cannot be sure this will be the case.
Chris Roebuck, former head of talent at UBS investment bank and now a talent and leadership consultant, says: “If you go into a social networking site like Facebook and type in the name of any organisation, all kinds of comments and discussions will come up. Prospective candidates will quickly learn which are good places to work, and which to give a wide berth.”
That has massive implications for organisations in terms of recruitment, Roebuck believes. One that treats its employees fairly, even in the event of having to let them go, will be rewarded with good publicity, while a rogue line manager who mistreats staff will compromise its chances of attracting the best people.
Traditional headhunting still has a role to play, experts believe, but here too there have been developments. Instead of employing an external agency to fill a gap, forward-thinking organisations employ an experienced search consultant in-house to monitor the skills market on an ongoing basis. This is something that financial services companies in particular are interested in.
“It’s costly, and is only worth doing for high-fliers and senior management,” Roebuck says. “But it means you have someone constantly looking for talent that may be of value, rather than searching for someone to fill a role. This gives you a much better picture of what’s available.”
Another useful technique is to stay in touch with the individuals who were not offered jobs during recruitment programmes. If four candidates pass through assessment centres with flying colours, but there are only three vacancies, it makes sense to keep in touch with the one who was rejected with an eye to future opportunities.
“The organisations that will be effective in good times and bad are those that manage to maintain an emotional link with people who may be of value,” Roebuck says. “That kind of attachment is especially important to younger people,” he adds.
In difficult times, however, the knee-jerk reaction is usually to hunker down and spend as little as possible. Investing in search programmes may seem like an expensive luxury. But this does not have to be the case, especially when the internet is brought into play.
The essential thing is to keep looking for new and innovative ways of recruiting talent. As Roebuck puts it: “If I was a CEO right now, I’d be asking how I could swap my so-so managers for the best in the business. Because in a tough market, that’s how I could be sure I’d come out on top.”
What are the current major trends in recruiting talent?
John Maxted, chief executive, Digby Morgan
“A developing trend is the growth of so-called corporate talent banks. Companies are becoming increasingly astute with regard to forward planning, investing heavily in building their own talent research and succession planning programmes. In this way they can identify the truly talented as early as possible and monitor their career progression. We’ve seen large companies in both the pharmaceutical and retail banking sectors in particular developing this concept.”
Paul Hughes, director of global accounts, DDI
“More and more organisations are using formal assessment methods to explore factors critical to success such as executive behaviours and personality. Those that take this longer-term approach will reap the benefits. Now more than ever, organisations need to be getting recruitment right first time.”
Anthony Pierce, associate director, Hudson
“Clients are speaking to more recruitment agencies in an attempt to get more candidates and drive down cost. That is eroding the relationships built up over years between suppliers and clients. Treating us as suppliers rather than trusted partners will eventually reduce the level of service they get.”
Andy Baillie, business development director, Kenexa
“Employers want to be able to forecast which candidates will be high-yield employees. So ‘linkage’ – the association between employee engagement and profitability – is being extended to the recruitment process. In sectors such as retail, this is having an immediate and significant impact on the bottom line.”