The talent landscape of 2019 will bring some challenging choices, that’s obvious

It can be something of a challenge stumbling our way into the new year. Few of us emerge from the festive period likely to be mistaken for being bright eyed and bushy tailed. Instead, we’ve travelled, we’ve eaten, we’ve imbibed and then we’ve done something very similar all over again. Clothes, mysteriously no longer fit. Lap tops are nowhere to be seen. Alarm clocks, all of a sudden, are going off at unfeasibly early hours and we face returning to a chilly, grey, January reality. No, but seriously, happy new year.  

But as we try to remember the location of work shoes, the station and our offices, we tend to return in the new year faced with choices.

Individually, those choices tend typically to be around calorific intake, alcoholic consumption and paying for, in all likelihood, an annual gym membership for one month’s use. Do we opt for Dry January or Veganuary or, my particular favourite, a January spent booking a holiday to warmer climes?

And organisations face making some equally significant choices too.

How does talent acquisition respond to the current labour market squeeze? With the British Chamber of Commerce reporting recently that no fewer than 81% of its members were reporting recruitment difficulties – the joint highest monthly figure ever reported – and Universities UK reporting that by 2030, the UK will have a talent deficit of between 600,000 and 1.2m workers across business, finance and IT, we might assume that recruitment professionals would be perfectly justified in upping resourcing budgets accordingly.

But is it ever as simple as that?

On March 29th this year, we are likely to encounter an utterly unique event in UK economic, political and employment history, as we leave the EU. Despite today’s apparent benign economic metrics, it is increasingly likely that Brexit, of whatever hardness, will bring with it a softer, less positive business sentiment – or something worse, much worse. In the much more eloquent words of Diane Coyle, Professor of Public Policy at Cambridge, ‘The outlook is anything from lacklustre to catastrophic’.

All of a sudden, raising talent acquisition spending doesn’t seem such a sharp choice.

In making such a choice, do employers have to go for the obvious option, or does thinking laterally, bravely or counter-intuitively bring benefits?

Try as you might, I’d imagine it’s been hard to avoid the Greggs’ vegan sausage roll story over the last few days.

The high street has been anything but a comfortable environment of late – the struggles of players such as House of Fraser, Maplin, Game, Homebase and Patisserie Valerie bring this cruelly into focus. Even Greggs itself has had to warn the markets on its business performance in 2018. So how should it respond? By appealing to the consumers who have always been loyal? By improving its already legendary steak bake? Or by making a non-obvious choice?

At the beginning of this year it revealed, to quite some fanfare, its vegan sausage roll.

It’s debateable which environment has seen the greater activity – the Twittersphere or buying customers. Piers Morgan inevitably got in on the act, frothing away about such PC nonsense – only to be put in his place, in all likelihood temporarily, by Greggs’ PR people, who tweeted: ‘Ah, hello Piers, we’ve been expecting you’.

End result – significant amounts of positive PR sentiment for Greggs and the consumption of an awful lot of said vegan sausage rolls.

What about the Army? Their recruitment challenges over the last few years have been well documented and equally well criticised. And today’s Times shone further light on the challenges the Army faces – with a fifth of active soldiers unable to be sent overseas for health reasons.

Given their predicament – and armed forces recruitment has always been a challenge during periods of high employment – they had little choice other than to make a bold statement. Their new campaign, aimed at addressing years of resourcing under-achievement, broke very recently and provoked all manner of reaction. The messaging sought to turn target audience stereotypes on their heads – Snowflake, Me Me Me Millennial, etc – in an homage to Kitchener’s First World War ‘Your country needs you’ platform.

As always, the ultimate judgement will be based on recruited numbers, however, the Army has come up with a non-obvious choice – just like Greggs. Initial reaction appears mixed at best, with the soldier portrayed in the Snowflake version apparently all set to resign as a result of how his image has been used.

When we analyse, however, the UK employment landscape, it feels as if the obvious choice will no longer be enough. Recruiting organisations in perhaps the most challenging resourcing landscape any of us has known have to consider their own vegan sausage roll moment.

According to the FIRM’s Annual Membership Survey, regardless of the shadow of Brexit, 60% of its members are anticipating an increase in recruitment activity this year. And 51% of such members are forecasting having to deal with over 500 vacancies this year – in 2016/17, that figure was just 37%.

As talent acquisition gets back down to business in 2019 it will be confronted by no shortage of choices. Brexit will certainly influence such choices. But, in acquiring the talent that their organisations crave, I hope they are on the look-out for choices which might not be obvious and that their recruitment infrastructure allows them to make such choices.

Neil Harrison believes employer brands should be informed by authenticity. It's awfully hard to arrive at such authenticity without having a topical understanding of what your employer brand is challenged with, what it has to offer, how it's perceived and what it's up against.

Neil has been lucky enough to work alongside exceptional brands such as Sainsbury's, Transport for London, Pizza Hut, HS2, The AA, BA, Heathrow, Virgin Media, the University of Sheffield, Telefonica, Santander, Unilever, Prosafe and Subsea7.

Today, he works with both clients direct and via agencies and RPOs. Such work is increasingly used to drive both diversity and internal engagement initiatives. The ability of an organisation not only to retain but to get the most out of its people has never been so important. We are also doing some interesting work in the exit journey of potentially departing employees.

Neil is a key member of the DANGERFIELD team.