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Oxfordshire Recruitment Market Overview for Q3 of 2021

Kate Allen, Managing Director, Allen Associates

People have emerged from lockdown with a different view of the world and this is having a direct impact on the way they approach their job search. Employers are also looking at recruitment through a different lens and many have been caught by surprise by the realities of the jobs market. When you put these two factors together, you end up with a complex and challenging recruitment market. Employers are facing the worst staff shortages for 25 years and it appears that many businesses in Oxford and across Oxfordshire have been taken completely unawares, as Kate Allen, Managing Director at Allen Associates, explains.

Staff shortages threaten economic growth

Anyone who is involved in the recruitment process, will have noticed that the jobs market in Oxford and the thriving market towns, business centres and science parks of Oxfordshire, has changed significantly, even in comparison to the pre-pandemic market.

In my previous Oxfordshire Recruitment Market Overview in May, I outlined some of the ways in which the market was changing. In particular, I talked about how businesses were starting to recruit again in a meaningful way and demand for temporary and permanent support staff was rising steadily. We were also starting to see competition return with few people out of work and even fewer looking for new job opportunities. The result of this was that job seekers were being counter offered by their current employer and many were receiving multiple job offers.

In July, as we enter the third quarter of 2021, we've seen these trends become much more marked and many employers and HR teams are facing the very real challenge of a marketplace opening up in the face of a constrained labour market.

Our assessment of the Oxfordshire recruitment market is borne out by the findings of the very latest UK Outlook on Jobs by the Recruitment & Employment Confederation (REC) and KPMG which warns that employers face the worst staff shortages since 1997 when their survey began.

What's going on?

The REC has issued a stark warning to UK employers that the availability of staff is becoming a serious issue with a significant increase in hiring, Brexit, ongoing uncertainty and the furlough scheme all playing their part.

Unlike the last major worldwide recession more than a decade ago – and contrary to what many businesses may still imagine – the global pandemic hasn't resulted in a deluge of job-seekers desperate for work, readily available for employers to pick and choose from.

While it's true that there were large numbers of people out of work in the second half of 2020, quality job applicants with the requisite skills and experience were quickly snapped up in the first quarter of 2021 when businesses started to prepare for life after lockdown and set their  pent-up plans in motion.

A BBC report reveals that employers are planning to make fewer redundancies now than at any other time since 2015, so there is no prospect of an influx of people returning to the jobs market any time soon.

We all know that some sectors of the economy, such as retail, leisure and hospitality, were particularly hard hit by the Covid-19 pandemic and that lots of people lost their livelihoods in 2020 and into 2021. Overall though - and thanks in no small part to the Government's furlough scheme - most people in the PA and Administration, Marketing, HR and Finance roles that we recruit for in Oxfordshire (and to a large degree in London as well), have retained their jobs.

This means that many staff working at all levels within these vital business support functions have spent over a year working from home, flexing their hours, adapting to new, more agile working practices, getting used to new technologies and a whole new way of operating. In most cases, they have had to juggle more and take on greater levels of responsibility.

Layered on top of this, many employees' personal circumstances have pushed them to the brink and tragically, some have had to deal with the devastation of losing loved ones . Clearly less traumatic, but nevertheless challenging, has been the relentless struggle to balance childcare and work commitments, the worry of having to look after an ill family member or support a spouse or partner who may have lost their job or business.

Whatever stresses the pandemic has brought, when you combine a brand new working model with untold personal pressures, it is little wonder that people are coming out the other side feeling differently about themselves, their jobs and their careers.

We see this reflected in many of our candidates' attitudes to the recruitment process. Those that have successfully weathered the storm have emerged stronger, confident and more resilient. They have a much clearer idea of what they want from their next role and their employers as well as what they need to feel fulfilled and happy in themselves.

What are job seekers looking for now?

Every job candidate that we interview is different but common themes are emerging. For example, the majority of our candidates want to work for employers that offer hybrid working – and many are also seeking a degree of flexibility over the hours that they work.

Candidates are still feeling cautious so job security is important to them. They want to be sure that their next employer's business is financially sound and offers exciting prospects. They are looking for evidence of stability and sustainability as well as a clear purpose that they can get behind.

In most cases, candidates that are good at their jobs know that their employers will do just about anything to keep them. They also know that businesses are willing to compete for the best applicants and will often pay above market rates.

Overall, candidates need very good reasons to venture out into the job market at this point in our economic recovery. They need to feel motivated and compelled to take that final step and commit to a new role or opportunity – and this is where employers need to step up and respond to these prerequisites.

What does this mean for business?

We are continually talking to our clients about the rapidly changing recruitment landscape and the competition they are facing from employers that are able to be quicker and more decisive than they are – as well as coming up with more irresistible job offers.

Many of our clients are taking this on board and working hard to streamline their processes, review their reward packages and showcase their brands.

Others are finding it more difficult – possibly because they are treading cautiously themselves and are worried about getting it wrong. Some are sceptical and continue to cling to a misconception that there are lots of great people out there who would be only too eager to work for them.

We acknowledge that for some employers, it just works out regardless. However, for the vast majority who have not got their ducks in a row, recruitment is turning out to be an unnecessarily long and drawn out process with numerous frustrations along the way.

The most common recruitment pitfalls to avoid

The most common frustration for businesses is not being able to secure their first choice of job applicant.

There are many reasons business lose out. Here are six:

  1. A lengthy, multiple-stage interview process: This is a major turn off for job applicants. Some employers are still insisting on four or five stage interviews and by that point, the best candidates have lost interest and gone elsewhere.
  2. Making candidates jump through hoops: In an effort to be thorough, some employers go overboard when it comes to their assessment criteria. Candidates with multiple interview opportunities are  not interested in completing lengthy tasks, filling out endless forms, giving in-depth presentations or attending numerous meetings.  While candidates understand that there is a process to be gone through, there is only so much time and effort they are willing to invest because they know they have other options.
  3. Inflexibility: Given what most businesses have gone through over the last 18 months, it is surprising to find that some are still unwilling to meet candidates half way when it comes to working hours and place of work. Many candidates have become accustomed to working independently, juggling busy workloads and home life. They aren't necessarily ready to give it all up particularly when the reasons for this approach are not clear.
  4. Unrealistic salaries: There is significant upward pressure on salaries as employers fight harder to retain their people and businesses compete with each other to win the race. Candidates have a good understanding of the market and what they can achieve. This has taken many businesses by surprise. It is often only towards the end of the process that they establish that salary expectations are not aligned and negotiations break down. We are not saying that a deal can't still be done, but it's important to be realistic and go into the process knowing that there is unlikely to be much wriggle room.
  5. Boring benefits: The benefits and perks on offer may be perceived as 'boring', 'old school' and of little interest. While benefits may not be the be-all and end-all, they will be a contributing factor, particularly in a competitive market where sometimes it's the little things that make the biggest difference.
  6. Forgetting to promote your business: Business don't always 'sell' themselves well. It's easy to forget that the interview process should be a two-way thing. Today's candidates expect employers to promote their business, talk positively and enthusiastically about the role, get excited about the future, and make their workplace sound truly desirable!

What needs to change?

  • Get the process right

Revisit your recruitment processes – again! Make them as quick and straight forward as you can. This does not mean compromising on quality or being less rigorous in your approach. Instead, it's often about really strong recruitment advertising, great internal and external communication, providing absolute clarity over what will happen and when, who needs to be involved and managing expectations on both sides. A good recruitment agency can help with all of this – and more. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice and support to make the hiring experience as positive and effective as it can be for everyone involved.

  • Be flexible

Discuss this internally and agree which areas you can flex on and which you can't. Understand what people applying for your vacancy are likely to expect. Explore different scenarios and work out how you can accommodate their potential needs within the parameters of your particular business. It is well worth discussing this with your recruitment agency and job applicants at an early stage.

  • Make sure your salary expectations are realistic

The market is changing so rapidly that you really do need up-to-the-minute salary information to stay one step ahead of the game. A recruitment agency will give you a realistic salary bracket to work with. Again, it's worth being up front about salary rather than broaching it towards the end of the process. Consider publishing the salary or pay bracket in your recruitment ads and don't be afraid to include it in early discussions with candidates.

  • Find new and exciting benefits

Challenge yourself to think creatively about your benefits package. What can you offer that is different or exciting – while still being relevant in today's climate and to your ideal candidate? In situations where candidates are faced with two very similar job offers, a great perk can sometimes be the deciding factor.

  • Showcase your business

Make sure your interviewing panel talks to your marketing team in advance and gets advice on how best to promote your business to job applicants. You may have a showcase video that you want to present. You may want to invite someone from your HR team in to talk about your company values and culture. You may want to ask someone in a similar role to chat briefly about what it is like to work for your organisation. The idea is to talk enthusiastically and positively about your business – your ambitions, your successes, your people, your working environment, your values. It's all about painting a picture of what it is like to work for you. You want candidates to be sold on the idea early on in the process and get to a point where you stand out in their minds as their first choice of employer.

If you're struggling to recruit the best people for your support roles and are missing out on your preferred candidates due to more attractive counter-offers, you are not alone. Other businesses are grappling with the same issues.

Fortunately, there are concrete steps that your business can take to give it the edge. The team at Allen Associates is here to help. We have an excellent understanding of the jobs market in Oxford, across Oxfordshire (and in London) and are always pleased to share our insights with you. We are also happy to advise on salaries, benefits and recruitment processes and would be delighted to play a central role in helping you to fill your vacancy – and this includes positioning you as an employer of choice!

As one of Oxfordshire's longest-established, independent recruitment agencies, we are proud to have built a reputation for quality and excellence. We have a substantial database of pre-interviewed candidates for roles at all levels with PA and Administration, Marketing, HR and Finance that we would love to introduce you to. Please reach out to me or one of my team for advice and support at any time.

About the Author

Kate Allen is the founder and Managing Director of Oxfordshire and London-based recruitment agency Allen Associates and can be contacted at

Read Kate's bio and meet the rest of the team, here.

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