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The changing recruitment landscape: Roundtable with Mark Brewer, CEO of The SR Group, Alistair Cook, CEO of Digby Morgan & Robert Walters

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Many organisations have swapped recruitment agencies for lean in-house resourcing strategies. How has this impacted the agency market and what does the future hold in a highly competitive landscape? Mary Appleton asks three global recruitment leaders.

Responding to global demand

For Mark Brewer, CEO of The SR Group, recruiters now face two main challenges when it comes to global resourcing. First, they must manage the large volume of applications in a personal and responsive way that identifies the best talent for clients. Second, they must remain relevant – adding maximum value in a competitive timeframe regardless of the geography.

Employers want a service that is completely justifiable on the grounds of time, money and delivery, says Brewer.

“The opportunity for global recruitment businesses is to make sure we can continue to be seen as an international gateway to an untapped network of potential candidates. It’s less important where someone is based and more about what skills they actually have – especially at senior level,” he says.

While Brewer believes organisations are getting better at building global internal talent pipelines, he does not see this as a threat – since it indicates a positive mindset change on the part of employers. “The more our clients think about global talent, the more relevant we will be to their sourcing needs,” he adds.

“The percentage of companies with procurement driving recruitment is continuously rising and this is a trend that will not go away,” says Brewer. “We [recruiters] must ensure we remain a relevant part of any in-house strategy by providing a service that is quicker, more knowledgeable, more value-added and more targeted than ever before.”

For Brewer, this will come through market experience, deep specialist knowledge and employing efficient and effective high quality recruiters.

Brewer acknowledges that intelligent global businesses will continue to try to find new, creative ways to reach out to potential candidates – through leveraging big data, social media and cutting-edge web and mobile experiences. But he does not see this as problematic. “If we were a volume, mass recruiter looking to recruit hundreds of candidates for clients, we might see this as a threat,” he says.

“But in the specialist markets we work in, large-scale digital contact through big data sources actually puts off the types of candidate we deal with. They see it as low touch, mass produced and non-targeted.”

Brewer predicts that in the immediate future, recruitment demand will continue to grow as employers become more confident within a slowly strengthening economic climate. He also acknowledges that social media recruiting is here to stay.

“Recruiters are consistently using social media to source and select candidates, while candidates are using it to keep themselves in the recruiters’ minds,” he says.

To maintain competitive advantage, Brewer believes recruiters must not just focus on the transactional delivery of candidates but should also develop relevance through carefully sharing specialist data and information harvested in the process of day-to-day global activities.

When navigating the changing recruitment landscape, Brewer warns against ‘straying off’ into marginal and unproven routes to market. “A purely digital approach has mass market appeal but in the specialist, white collar markets it just isn’t high touch enough,” he says. “An intelligent blend of strategies encompassing traditional and new media can provide the best balance.

“Most importantly, recruiters need to ensure that their strategic plans are flexible and adaptable enough to evolve with a rapidly changing global market.”

Focus on career development

Encouraged by a brighter economic outlook and the need to rebuild headcount, organisations are vying to recruit sought-after professionals, says Robert Walters, the eponymous founder and CEO of Robert Walters plc. With more people looking to step into a new role, Walters feels there are opportunities to bring in high performers who can deliver on business objectives. However, he warns that management must ensure employees are given the tools and opportunities to develop their careers, since this is the key to high retention rates.

With career development high on the agenda for many professionals, Walters believes that spending time working overseas can be beneficial. “It’s an excellent opportunity to learn about foreign business cultures, not to mention the excitement of working in a new country and the chance to be part of a multinational team,” he says.

Because of this, Walters says employers have a duty to provide overseas career opportunities, especially in organisations with a network of international offices. “The risk of failing to do this is losing talented staff, particularly those from the dynamic, globally mobile demographic who are often highly sought after,” he adds.

When it comes to direct sourcing, Walters does not see this as a danger. “Direct sourcing has always been around and remains so today – it isn’t something that has just crept up on us,” he says. “What’s clear is that employers are still using recruitment consultancies because of our ‘value add’ – our understanding of the market, advice on the right candidate to fill a particular role, strong relationships with candidates and an ability to ‘sell in’ a client organisation. Many employees who sat tight during the recession are now looking to move on: an experienced consultant could be the difference between securing the best for your business and missing out.”

In the coming year, Walters feels that recruitment consultancies’ emphasis must be on renewed creative vigour. He points out that employers will continue to demand greater value: a well developed, global search function, evidence of working with high quality organisations and success in unearthing the market’s most talented individuals.

“Relationships are still at the heart of the hiring process and we expect to see more recognition of this as recruitment ‘churn’ picks up and shortages of key professionals emerge. Those agencies that have lasted the distance in building and maintaining relationships stand to gain the most.”

He also expects to see further demand for RPO solutions as organisations look to consolidate efficiencies without compromising on quality.

A key challenge for employers now is to understand that recruitment is a ‘two-way process’. Walters says: “You need to sell the benefits of working for your organisation, both at a day-to-day level and during the recruitment period.

Job seekers aren’t as enamoured with brands as they once were, especially when faced with more than one avenue for career progression.”

While he admits social media is a powerful tool, Walters feels it’s not a cradle-to-grave solution as a recruiting channel. “The fundamentals haven’t changed: employers need someone to engage with, a trusted source of advice and counsel that can pitch to the right people and bring them on board. Engagement is king and social media just doesn’t cut it,” he concludes.

A candidate driven market

According to Alistair Cook, CEO of Digby Morgan, one of the most significant challenges facing employers over the next few years is how they will overcome the growing shortage of quality candidates. “There are plenty of people looking for jobs but companies have become used to getting exactly what they want as quickly as they want it and for the price they want to pay for it. Things have changed,” he asserts.

Cook argues that in the current marketplace the best candidates can pick and choose, which results in good offers being rejected because strong candidates are receiving multiple offers.

For Cook, this reality is exacerbated by the lack of mobility within the UK employment market, where house prices and the cost of relocation have effectively localised candidate pools. He believes that, on some occasions, it’s easier for an individual or family to move to another country than move 200 miles within the UK.

“This is evidenced in the Middle East, where our success is intrinsically linked to the talent pipelines we have created to this region from mature economies in Europe, Australia and elsewhere.”

He acknowledges the heavy focus on cost per hire since 2007. “Procurement has risen to this challenge and has helped create a recruitment landscape of RPOs, PSLs, job boards and direct hiring models where the primary objective has been reducing prices through commoditising recruitment.

In some areas this approach has worked well but in others the recruitment market will never be the same again,” he says. While these channels work well in a market with an abundance of candidates, he argues that they fall short in a world where ‘candidate is king’.

“Business managers looking to appoint specialist professional staff are already becoming increasingly frustrated that the current arrangements no longer deliver the talent that their organisations require,” comments Cook.

He believes that when reviewing business performance, shareholders and executives are now less interested in ‘cost per hire’ but more in ‘cost of not hiring’. It is for this reason that recruitment agencies will always have a place.

“While RPOs, PSLs, job boards and direct hiring models are here to stay, people like dealing with people and that will never go out of fashion,” he says.

Mark Brewer

Mark BrewerCEO, The SR Group

Mark was one of the two founders who established The SR Group in 1987.

FAVOURITE BOOK: The Magus – John Fowles
SONG: Breathe – Pink Floyd
FILM: The Third Man
GADGET: iPhone 5
LAST HOLIDAY: Zighy Bay, Oman

Alistair Cook

Alistair CookCEO, Digby Morgan

Alistair joined Digby Morgan in 1997 and was made CEO of global operations in 2011.

FAVOURITE BOOK: The HR Work Pocket
SONG: Gravity – John Mayer
FILM: Bullit (the original 1968 version)
GADGET: The remote control on any item
LAST HOLIDAY: South of France

Robert Walters

Robert WaltersCEO, Robert Walters

Robert established his own specialist professional recruitment business in 1985. The company now has 53 offices in 24 countries.

Mary Appleton

By Mary Appleton

Changeboard

Mary is Changeboard's editor in chief.

Changeboard

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