Big talking point: Get ready for the future, now

Tom Hadley, REC Director of Policy and Campaigns, gives his take on the priorities recruiters should be focusing on in 2020. 

Talk about the future of jobs, and images spring to mind of rampant robots overtaking workplaces across the land leaving trails of disruption. The long-term implications of artificial intelligence, automation and demographic trends are hot topics for debate. There are, however, other more immediate concerns for the many recruiters who are busier than ever looking ahead at the next day, rather than the next decade!

But what can forward-thinking recruiters do to protect their business and drive growth in these uncertain times? This is the core theme of REC regional workshops over the coming year. But, based on the feedback from recent events in Bournemouth and Birmingham to name a few, and from the annual REC Future of Jobs Summit, here are some of the big ticket items that will make a difference in 2020.

Be the expert your clients need you to be

Recruitment is getting harder. Employers need to get better at it. And a big part if this ‘betterment’ process is building genuine partnerships with the right recruitment experts. With skills and staff shortages intensifying in many sectors, the need for new solutions to emerging workforce challenges and societal changes will set the tone for 2020.

At the REC’s Future of Jobs Summit in November, Denis Pennel, Managing Director at the World Employment Confederation, talked of the rise of the “on-demand” economy and the increasing need for firms to be agile. Business services need to be scaled up and down to meet demand and resources flexed accordingly. That has direct implications for workforce strategies and working patterns.

The faster things change, the more strategic recruitment professionals will be called on to help clients and candidates make sense of the evolving landscape. This is already reflected in the REC’s ‘JobsOutlook’ data, with 90% of employers citing ‘access to expertise’ as determining which recruitment partner to work with.

So how can we make the most of this in 2020? The REC’s local intelligence reports in partnership with EMSI set the ball rolling with local jobs market analysis and we will be building on this with a series of regional workshops with LinkedIn. These will focus on how recruiters can use regional jobs market data to build more strategic relationships with clients.

Get to grips with what technology means for your business

Technology is continually evolving and affecting the way recruitment works. It’s providing new tools for recruiters as well as new forms of competition. The majority of recruiters recognise the opportunities. They don’t see technology as an existential threat. Instead they realise that they need to do the best possible job for clients and for candidates to ensure that what they do is not ‘automatable’. The ongoing need for that ‘human touch’ was an upbeat message from the last Future of Jobs Summit.

But the industry is at a stage where we need to do more to share experiences about what works and what doesn’t. We need to take a view on what technology can be harnessed and what can be pushed back on. When the REC gave evidence to the All Party Parliamentary Group on AI last year, the core message from MPs and AI experts was that ‘just because you can, doesn’t mean you should’.

Ethics around AI in recruitment procedures will be a hot topic over the coming year. The REC will be feeding into this and ensuring that online platforms and recruitment apps meet the same standards as established recruiters. This was one of the main points in our manifesto for the new government and is at the heart of our ongoing dialogue with the government’s Centre for Data Ethics.

Be ahead of the game

Tech isn’t the only game in town. Political, demographic and attitudinal changes all pose challenges in the world of work too. Good recruiters will already have strategies that take these shifts into account.

On political challenges, you need to pre-empt what Brexit scenarios might mean not just for your own business, but for clients and candidates. The REC’s Brexit Hub is there to facilitate these reflections. On regulation, recruiters will gain traction and recognition by understanding what new rules mean in practice and spreading the word to clients and candidates. The increasing number of REC members hosting client (and sometimes candidate) events, shows that the ‘experts in our field’ differentiator is gaining ground.

Being ahead of the game also means spreading the word internally. A big priority for recruiters in 2020 will be to equip front-line recruiters with the skills, knowledge, awareness and confidence to have different sorts of conversations with clients. ‘Recruitment Professionals’ is more than just a tagline. It’s about redefining recruitment as an integral part of the UK’s professional services sector.

Go the extra mile

You might need to keep a close eye on costs and efficiencies, but ensuring compliance and maintaining professional standards is a given. Together we also need to go that step further and be more proactive in singing the industry’s praises as a force for good and driving productivity and economic growth.

Driving change around diversity and inclusion is a good example of this. The REC will continue to use our Inclusive Recruitment Forum to showcase best practice and to support external programmes such as the Recruitment Industry Disability Initiative (RIDI). Other ways to create change include being active in our communities, and helping to build better bridges between education and work through the REC’s 200+ Future of Jobs Ambassadors network.

It’s important to run profitable, compliant businesses, but by going the extra mile and doing the right thing, we can show how we make a difference not only to the country’s economy, but to so many people’s lives. Making great work happen, that’s what we’re all about in 2020!

The top three external factors shaping the future of work

Brexit/political stability  79%

AI and automation  60%

New regulations  56%

(source: Future of Jobs Summit, 2019)

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