The last year saw a dramatic rise in the number of UK recruitment businesses employing a digital transformation strategy. According to Bullhorn’s 2021 Global Recruitment Insights and Data (GRID), a survey of more than 2,000 recruitment professionals, more than two-fifths (43 percent) reported having a digital transformation process in place, compared to only a quarter (25 percent) last year. Recruiters whose firms aren’t undertaking a digital transformation process say that COVID-19 has made them more likely to adopt one (23 percent), while other firms say it has ramped up their existing efforts (33 percent).
Andy Ingham, Senior Vice President Sales, EMEA & APAC at Bullhorn, says: “The industry’s digital transformation is both positive and essential. Having the right technology in place helps agencies to withstand storms by helping all areas of the business improve their operations and recruiters to deliver greater value to their clients and candidates.”
The impact of COVID-19
For the first time in 10 years, talent shortages (34 percent) were not listed in Bullhorn’s staffing trends report as the number-one challenge for staffing and recruitment agencies in the UK. This challenge has been replaced by COVID-19 related impacts on the labour market (53 percent) and hiring freezes (36 percent). These findings echo the latest statistics from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on UK unemployment. In the three months to November 2020, unemployment was estimated to be at 5 percent, an increase of 1.2 percent on the previous year and meaning that some 1.72 million people were unemployed in the UK.
When asked where the biggest impact of COVID-19 will be felt in the industry, after the unemployment rate (25 percent) and economic instability (24 percent), a tenth of recruiters said the volume of candidate requisitions from clients (11 percent) and moving to digital processes sooner (10 percent). A quarter (26 percent) say that they now plan to branch out to serve clients in sectors or industries that they haven’t before. More than a tenth (15 percent) predict a drop in the number of new competitive recruitment companies due to consolidation and business challenges.
Ingham continues: “With more candidates than there are placements, recruiters are faced with a difficult problem. It isn’t the case that more candidates make jobs easier to fill – you still need exactly the right person for the job, and indeed some industries are still facing talent shortages.
“Nevertheless, optimism and opportunity abound in the recruitment industry amidst challenges, as shown by the number of respondents planning to change tactics and pursue other industries. The agencies that have multiple functions should be best placed to upskill staff to work in other areas of the business, but smaller agencies can turn their hand at this with the right infrastructure in place.”
Remote work is here to stay
Like many other industries, the recruitment industry underwent a huge shift to remote work in 2020, and it doesn’t look like that’s going to change any time soon. Nearly a third (32 percent) said their firm will use less office space, almost all (96 percent) said that at least some of their team will work remotely in 2021, and a similar amount (90 percent) expect at least some of their team to work remotely after the COVID-19 crisis. When asked about the largest impact from COVID-19 on the industry, nearly two thirds (62 percent) said remote jobs will be more common.
Ingham says: “Recruiters are well versed in building relationships, so they are well-placed to thrive in a remote environment. Even so, retaining clients and finding new ones without shaking hands in person is challenging. While the old way of operating remains unviable, firms should consider new ways of keeping their clients’ attention by becoming their go-to resource for all news and ideas relating to recruitment and employment.”
Challenges by region
The data also shows that UK recruiters are more likely to report economic uncertainty as a key challenge (34 percent) for the year ahead, by comparison to recruiters in North America (24 percent) and EMEA (23 percent). However, UK recruiters were less likely to report a talent shortage (34 percent) by comparison to EMEA (45 percent) and North America (41 percent.)
Winning new clients (56 percent) was listed as the top priority for UK recruiters, over candidate acquisition (50 percent) and engaging candidates (31 percent).