Recruitment challenges

Despite the grim picture in the broad economy, employers must expect to compete hard if they wish to lure the best candidates to their most demanding roles, argues Jenny Keefe

With Britain’s economic slowdown showing no sign of waning, employees could be forgiven for feeling gloomy about the jobs market. Unemployment rose by 60,000 for the three months to the end of June, bringing the total number of people out of work to 1.67 million, according to the Office for National Statistics. Banks and house builders in particular are shedding jobs as a consequence of the credit crunch and the slowdown in the housing market.

Despite this swelling pool of potential employees, the battle to attract the brightest and best will continue to rage, says Paul Sparrow, professor of international human resource management at Lancaster University Management School. In particular, this is likely to be the case in industries, where competition for talent is great, such as engineering and accountancy. “The outlook for recruitment really does depend on the level of talent and the availability of skills for a particular post. I suspect that organisations will get even more choosy about how they wish to change their teams, and what they will be prepared to offer to the few whose performance they believe will really make a difference,” he says.

Although pay is important to employees considering moving roles, there are other factors that employers could capitalise on. When employees were asked to pick three factors that would have an impact on any decision to move jobs for The Employee Benefits Research 2008, pay, location, career development opportunities, interesting work and employee benefits all proved to be of significant interest.

Sparrow suggests that the way to win over potential recruits may be by placing more emphasis on personalised rewards. “Money has always been important, but in a tight economic climate, recruits will be more impressed if a prospective employer adapts the employment package to the employee’s particular needs [by, for example] extending a flexible benefits mentality to offer more than just cash in a recruitment package.”

Despite the shaky economy, potential employees are becoming more picky than ever, says Jacki Geddes, recruitment and career development manager of oil and gas firm Total UK. “We notice more people carrying out quite detailed comparisons of all the benefits contained within our offer against a competing or current employer before making a decision to accept an offer. People are increasingly considering the whole benefits package, and not just the salary.”

One of the biggest challenges facing employers today is how to adapt recruitment messages to attract different generations. At one end of the spectrum is ambitious, restless generation Y, born after 1980. Then there are the baby-boomers, born between 1942 and 1965, now in the twilight of their careers. And, somewhere in the middle is generation X, the group of people born between 1966 and 1979.

Accommodating individuals All have vastly different priorities, says Professor Christine Edwards, professor of human resource management at Kingston University. “To attract and retain excellence, you have to consider individual differences in life stage and personal circumstances. For example, those at an early stage of their career may value training, development and employer brand more than high levels of pay and pension. For people with children or parents to look after, flexible working patterns, and location may be more important.”

Older workers can help employers to plug skills gaps, she adds, by, for example, filling mentoring roles or making career moves sideways. Employees coming to the end of their working lives are often keen to share their expertise and less motivated by cash.

Corporate social responsibility (CSR) is playing an increasingly important role in today’s recruitment market. Some 82% of candidates think CSR is an important issue and 57% look for employers that take CSR seriously, according to a 2007 survey of over 6,000 jobseekers by recruiter Reed.

More and more candidates are taking an interest in helping others, says Anne Egleton, chief people officer of Fish4, a network of home, car, holiday and job websites. “Potential employees look for much more than just a good basic wage. They are looking at all elements of the employer, including, for example, a company’s environmental policies.

“Through a recent survey, we found that our employees are passionate about the environment and want more community involvement, so we set up a committee within the company to improve our environmental impact as a business and do more community work,” she says.

Family-friendly options are also becoming a key component of any benefits package, with employers laying on childcare discounts and variable hours.

Matthew Parker, managing director of online recruiter StepStone Solutions, says that because of advances in technology, all employers should be able to offer homeworking. “The internet means companies can better endorse home or flexible working.”

As the internet and other new technology takes hold, savvy organisations are finding new ways to promote their organisation and the total reward package to potential recruits. “Organisations are becoming more selective and targeted with their recruitment methods. They are taking advantage of e-recruitment tools, social media networks and interactive content. Engaging with candidates in a way that they find comfortable at the start of the recruitment process helps promote employee loyalty from the offset,”says Parker.

Virgin Atlantic, for example, uses email job alerts to spark candidates’ interest. Alex Merrylees, head of resourcing, says: “Organisations cannot afford to miss out on successful hires because they’ve failed to treat candidates in the right way.”

Case study: Edexcel†

Examination board Edexcel courts potential recruits by offering a range of benefits to its 1,240 staff across the UK.

It actively promotes its approach to flexible working, which includes options for homeworking, shorter weeks and nine-day fortnights. Sandra Connington, senior HR business partner, says: “We advertise our flexible approach to work. During the interview we talk about the approaches to flexible working.” She adds that the firm is polishing up its sales pitch, to attract younger talent.

“We do attract people with young families, but not necessarily people from generation Y, as their focus is not the same. We are currently reviewing our whole approach to benefits to see how we can attract younger people to the organisation, to try to make it the in-place to work.” Aside from flexible working, perks at Edexcel include 25 to 30 days holiday, private medical insurance, and a defined contribution pension with an employer contribution of 5%. In addition, managers are free to reward staff through an incentive scheme in different ways, including “thank you” cards and cash awards.