Meet four CAs working in recruitment and discover how the job market has been reshaped by the pandemic
The pandemic has redrawn the relationship between employer and employee – with profound consequences for the recruitment industry. Ryan Herman meets four CAs in the sector to hear how they’re helping clients fill the record number of vacancies
The domestic job market has gone through the most extraordinary period of change over the two years since the first lockdown was introduced in March 2020. In the UK, 11.7 million people were put on furlough as a consequence of Covid-19. And in November 2020, 243,000 people joined the ranks of the UK’s unemployed, the highest monthly rise since the 2008 financial crisis. A report published in March 2021, commissioned by London councils, predicted that unemployment would reach 9.4% across the capital by the end of the year.
Although thousands of companies went bust during the pandemic – 1,400 British businesses disappeared in October 2021, the highest figure since March 2020 – the dire predictions for joblessness were way off target. By the end of the year, job vacancies in the UK had reached an all-time high at 1.2 million, while unemployment nationwide currently stands below pre-pandemic levels at 3.9%.
The recruitment industry, which relies on a constant stream of vacancies and jobseekers, was among the sectors most at risk from a prolonged period of lockdown. But rather than stagnating, the events of the pandemic encouraged many of us to rethink our relationship with work. Now, in 2022, the UK has a job market where, in some sectors, demand is outstripping supply, partly influenced by Brexit. A recent Institute of Directors Scotland survey found that 44% of directors believe they don’t have the right number of skilled people within their organisations.
Nor is this scenario specific to the UK, with some 4.55 million Americans quitting their jobs in November 2021, the highest since 2000, amid talk of the Great Resignation suddenly afflicting western economies. Employers accustomed to holding most of the aces when it comes to hiring have found the balance of power shifting towards the employee.
We spoke to four CAs working in recruitment to discover how these recent events are profoundly reshaping the jobs market – and how they are responding to some of the challenges born out of lockdown and the furlough scheme.
Andrea Green CA
Associate Director, Wilkinson and Associates
I genuinely believe we’re improving people’s lives… and we’ve got the testimonials to back that up"
I got into recruitment because I love working with people and enjoyed similar projects while at EY. At Wilkinson and Associates (W&A), I genuinely believe we’re improving people’s lives by finding them the right jobs. And we’ve got the testimonials to back that up.
Right now, there is really fierce competition for talent. It’s a great time for new and recently qualified CAs, in particular, and there are lots of opportunities out there. For example, in the previous 16 years that I’ve been with W&A, I’d never had a candidate’s work visa sponsored by a business – but now we’ve got four going through visa sponsorship processes.
A shortage of candidate availability in the finance sector has led employers to look at those from overseas. The resident labour market test was abolished last year, which has increased employers’ ability to hire from overseas. So, many of our clients have now registered with the Home Office to sponsor candidates.
Work-life balance has become extremely important. People want to spend more time with their families, cutting down on their commute and looking after their wellbeing. There is also a wider trend towards people relocating out of the cities.
I would say that, in the finance sector, we’re finding recruitment more difficult with companies where the norm is for their staff to spend more than 60% of the week in the office. People have had two years’ working at home and have been trusted to do so. There needs to be some sort of recalibration.
Work culture is more important than ever before, particularly around diversity and inclusion. We’re conscious that we need to help our clients with widening their recruitment strategies to provide flexible jobs that can also attract and retain people from less advantaged groups.
Jock Gardiner CA
Chair, TMM Recruitment/TMM Executive
Employers must be more creative about the packages they’re offering"
In spring 2020, there was a dramatic drop-off in recruitment activity and TMM had to manage the business through that challenging period. One of the skills learnt as a CA – that of good discipline in terms of cash management, planning and cost control – was put to good use during the pandemic. TMM showed great resilience throughout, and informed decision making based on solid financial projections and extensive use of local networks proved beneficial for the business.
One key attribute for CAs (just like recruiters) in the recruitment sector is that they understand the importance of good personal relationships and an extended network, with introductions facilitating a recruitment business from an operational point of view but also from a business development point of view.
TMM is based in Aberdeen – a city traditionally dependent on oil and gas, which was already presenting challenges of its own due to the current energy transition. There is a lot of retraining going on as businesses move away from fossil fuels into green and renewable energies. As a result, we’ve seen a bit of a drift in terms of older employees, either through redundancy or people moving out of north-east Scotland.
The job market has become more of an employee’s market at the moment. Consequently, employers must be more creative about the packages they’re offering to prospective candidates, such as hybrid working. Certain key specialisms have become difficult to fill because of the scarcity of candidates, including lawyers, senior technology officers and senior finance people.
I remember that we had a record month of activity just before the pandemic hit. And despite all the challenges, we are now back to those levels, which is quite phenomenal.
Mark Masson CA
Director, FD Recruit
The role of FD or CFO has developed into a much broader commercial and strategic position"
Over the past couple of years, I would say around 80% of people in employment have had a really big think about what they want from life and from work. Drilling down specifically into FDs and CFOs, a significant proportion of those who are further into their careers started to think about leaving full-time permanent jobs, and maybe going into either interim work or a portfolio career.
As a consequence, the market is changing. At the smaller end of the SME market, businesses have realised they don’t need a full-time FD and the market for part-time appointments is growing. Companies, in general, are realising that they may only need someone for a specific project or as a consultant. That’s a fairly buoyant marketplace at the moment.
At FD Recruit, we were still doing business during Covid, but it also gave us time to think about how we position ourselves better online and to become more adept at promoting ourselves. We did a lot of webinars, which helped create a marketplace for us.
One of the things that fascinates me about this industry is how the role of FD or CFO has developed into a much broader commercial and strategic position. There are many factors to consider when finding the right person, including background, skills, experience, sector and so on. Every good hiring exercise is based on getting a full and detailed picture of the company, the role and the type of person they want.
Recruiters should really be pushing companies to give them all that information. And one of the many things that the CA qualification gives you is an understanding of every aspect of a commercial enterprise from a financial point of view.
Darren Elton CA
CFO, La Fosse Associates
There is a shortage of tech skills in this country. And that means that employees can increase their asking price"
There was a lot of pre-Brexit anxiety about making investments. Once we got over that hill, businesses slowly started realising that they needed to get on with projects such as digital transformation. Then the pandemic happened, and everything stopped almost overnight.
At that moment, a lot of the attention for recruiters was focused simply on cash management. If you’re not managing your debtor book, for example, that could present a risk. But we knew businesses would have to return to growth at some point. Many would have made redundancies and would eventually need to refill those roles. Others would have halted or paused projects and would now be looking to get them back on track.
How well you set up your client relationships also became a key factor. We think it’s important to look after our candidates even if they don’t get the job, and to look after our clients even if they’re not giving us work.
At La Fosse, we focus on technology and digital transformation covering everything from C-suite to graduate development. Our job is to attract people from all locations and backgrounds. But as far as technology is concerned, there is a shortage of skills in this country. And that means that employees can increase their asking price.
To tackle this, and tech’s lack of diversity, we’ve built a training business, futureproof – a free three-month programme in web development fundamentals for the top 2% of applicants, followed by a two-year contract with leading clients, plus support and training throughout. We’re democratising access to tech careers, while also helping clients build sustainable pipelines of diverse talent – everybody wins.
I achieved my CA qualification while working at EY. The benefits are that you’re learning on the job, meeting clients, understanding the finance function and learning best practice. It gives you a rock-solid foundation for your future career and helps you develop a full understanding of how a business works.