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Cambridge Businesses Face Major Recruitment Challenges Caused By The Pandemic

Accountancy, Covid, Furlough...

Cambridge Businesses Face Major Recruitment Challenges Caused By The Pandemic

I recently conducted extensive phone research with 45 Cambridgeshire-based businesses across a wide range of industries. My goal - to find out what issues they have faced while recruiting and onboarding during the pandemic.

This has highlighted major recruitment challenges that companies have been grappling with - as well as changes to the jobs market that companies will need to adapt to longer term too.

Perhaps the biggest surprise was the revelation that a large number of employers did not see Zoom interviews as part of their new normal once the economy has fully opened up again. Nearly a quarter dislike Zoom interviews and it was a recurring theme that they are no substitute for face-to-face interviews.

So what are the key points to have emerged that you should be aware of? Let’s dive in...

Remote recruiting isn't working for everyone

The remote video meeting platform Zoom has been one of the success stories of the COVID-19 pandemic and some employers praised its use in remote working. However, almost a quarter of the Cambridgeshire companies I spoke to were less than impressed with its role as a recruitment tool.

Among the criticisms of remote video interviewing were:

● Limited information from eye contact and body language

● Reduced personal touch

● Some interviewees unfairly impacted by poor internet connection

● No chance for potential hires to sample company culture

● Technical issues

One conversation with a hiring decision maker revealed that the impression they had of candidates often changed significantly following a second round face-to-face interview. "There's no substitute for sitting across a desk from someone, seeing their body language."

It wasn’t all downside though. Employers highlighted that video interviewing means that job interviews are typically shorter now - and there's not the logistical issue of booking meeting rooms. What that means in practice is that companies are able to see more 1st round candidates because of the time saved through remote interviewing, which improves diversity hiring and reduces the likelihood of good candidates being screened out prior to the interviewing stage.

Remote onboarding is a challenge

It’s not just recruiting without meeting people that’s proving a challenge. Several employers also voiced concerns about remote onboarding, with new employees finding it difficult to learn and integrate with teams and employers less able to support them. Without face-to-face time in the early weeks of joining, there’s a risk that new hires can feel like outsiders. Extroverts are less likely to suffer than introverts was another interesting point that was made.

In the Finance positions we specialise in, there was a particular discomfort that became apparent in some of the calls - namely trusting people an employer has never met with having access to financial information and accounts. This suggests there may be some pent up demand to make Finance hires as lockdown measures unwind and companies are able to meet potential hires and new hires again.

Remote hiring has broadened the talent pool and made companies reassess their operations

One big change the pandemic has had on hiring has been in reducing geographical limitations. As one person commented to me, "the pandemic has jumped us forward 5 years". It's highlighted that offices aren't always needed, that staff can be based geographically in areas besides Cambridgeshire. Indeed it's even encouraged companies to take a fresh look at outsourcing some of their business functions.

How enduring this change proves to be will be fascinating to watch. If companies prove to be willing to employ people who are either fully remote or only hybrid / partial office workers, that has two major implications.

For central Cambridge roles, it's a great improvement for local candidates to have work from home and / or hybrid working as an option. The horrendous commute and park & ride element of working in a city centre job is made much more tolerable for local candidates if it becomes less of a daily requirement. So a company’s appeal as an employer of local candidates is enhanced.

But also the available talent pool could be far more geographically dispersed, with companies hiring team members in locations further afield. Considering new hires based in places with lower costs of living and fewer employers competing for those staff could be a long-term game changer.

The jury is out on this one though. To what extent will companies want a return to office life as restrictions are lifted? The answer may mean that this is a short-term blip in hiring dynamics, or a longer-term structural change. Time will tell.

Recruitment agencies that furloughed staff have let down employers in need of support

A number of the companies I interviewed criticised the lack of support they had received from recruitment agencies during the pandemic. They felt that too many recruitment agency staff were furloughed, so by the time they were fully resourced and able to provide recruiting support, it was too late because employers had had to resort to direct hiring.

That has both impacted some recruitment agencies’ prospects of winning future business but also left employers swamped with poor quality applications. Around 13% of businesses told me that while there were no shortages of candidates for jobs, the overall quality tended to be poor, with two mainstream job boards named as particular culprits for providing low calibre candidates.

Furlough was also blamed for creating a shortage of quality candidates, with many people not considering a career move all the while they were on furlough. Plus candidates have been more wary of moving jobs during the pandemic, scared of trading the security of their current situation for the uncertainty of joining a new employer.

It should be said that filling contract roles has proven easier than permanent hires. People have been more willing to take a contract job in recent months, where pre-pandemic it was a struggle to get the right people to accept such roles. Hopefully as restrictions are eased and furlough is wound down we’ll see permanent hires become easier to make too.

Brexit, online recruitment platforms and other issues

Interestingly, only one employer brought up the issue of the UK's withdrawal from the EU. They highlighted the complexity of sponsoring people from overseas and the need to pay for costly lawyers to resolve issues. Their experience has been that many highly skilled workers are struggling to obtain visas. Brexit very much took a back seat to the challenges raised by the pandemic though, at least amongst the companies I interviewed.

Other issues that were raised by some of the employers I interviewed included:

● Confusion over where to advertise and which recruitment platforms to use is causing employers to resume working with recruitment agencies

● There’s the expectation of a backlog of vacancies to fill due to businesses holding back on recruitment while claiming furlough payments and / or not wishing to recruit during lockdown.

As we all look forward to the resumption of more normal trading conditions, it will be fascinating to see how recruitment evolves. The pandemic has revealed some of the upsides technology can deliver, but it has also reminded us of the value of human contact and the personal touch. Should you need any support in the coming months, feel free to reach out to the team at Cavill Robinson and we’d be delighted to help.

About the Author:

Jeanette Robinson FREC (Hon)

Jeanette Robinson and her company, Cavill Robinson Financial Recruitment have been recruiting finance staff for a wide range of companies and institutions in the East Anglian area for nearly thirty years.

Jeanette started her business career training to be an accountant with Coopers and Lybrand (Now PWC) in London before moving into finance recruitment. She worked in the London marketplace for six years before moving to Huntingdon and setting up her own business in Cambridge in 1992. She still works hands on in the business and is passionate about providing a high standard of service to those companies which use her services. Call her on 07710 133034 for both advice and help on any finance recruitment matters you may have.