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Oxfordshire Recruitment Market Overview for Q4 of 2022

Kate Allen, Executive Chair and Marketing Director, Allen Associates

Retention as important as recruitment

Recruitment is as challenging as ever for employers but economic uncertainty, turmoil in the financial markets and widespread price hikes are fuelling anxiety and adding another layer of complexity.

Employers are still keen to push forward with their growth strategies and fill their vacancies but at the same time, there are signs that they are starting to become more cautious and a confusing picture is emerging.

The latest REC and KPMG UK Report on Jobs, compiled by S&G Global, reveals a slowdown in recruitment activity at the end of the third quarter of 2022. While demand for permanent and temporary staff remained high, ongoing candidate shortages and the weaker economic climate contributed to a slowdown in the number of people placed in permanent and temporary roles.

As we enter the fourth quarter, this slowdown is expected to continue although hiring intent is expected to remain strong. Employers still want and need to fill their vacancies but the shortage of skilled candidates is expected to subdue the market, particularly in the most challenged sectors such as retail, hospitality and automotive.

As a result, the CIPD’s Labour Market Outlook predicts that we will see a new level of commitment from employers to building loyalty and engagement among staff, with retention becoming as important as recruitment to try to alleviate staff shortages.

How are these national recruitment trends reflected in Oxfordshire?

The good news is that Oxford is a ‘hot spot’ for recruitment, having been identified as one of just seven High Growth Cities in the UK, characterised by their robust labour markets. This applies to both the quantity and quality of the jobs available as well as the ability of these cities to attract workers from their surrounding areas.

Roles that require specialist skills will always be harder to fill, which is an ongoing challenge for many Oxfordshire-based companies in the biotech, pharma and other knowledge-intensive sectors.

At Allen Associates, we have been fortunate to see a continuing rise in the number of successful permanent and temporary placements made within Oxfordshire-based companies of all sizes, educational institutions and charitable organisations, with our figures for the third quarter of 2022 significantly up on the same period last year.

From our point of view, this is still a fast-moving market and great candidates are quickly snapped up by Oxfordshire-based employers looking to push forward.

We are not currently seeing any signs of a decline in hiring intentions. Employers still want to recruit good people. Employees still want to work for organisations that share their values and pay well. However, economic instability and recessionary fears are starting to drive changes in both parties’ behaviours and expectations.

How is uncertainty impacting recruitment?

While we are fortunate to continue to attract new vacancies and quality candidates in this final quarter of 2022, we are noticing a shift in behaviours as employers and jobseekers start to react to the negativity and uncertainty in the world around them. However, their reactions appear to be contradictory and this is contributing to the confusing picture described earlier.

Candidates will only move for the right role in the right company for the right rewards. The ability to work flexibly and to improve on their current salaries and benefits packages are still key drivers that most jobseekers are unwilling to compromise on.

Candidates in entry level positions are often the hardest group to attract as the salaries on offer seldom meet their financial aspirations or needs.

Employers are cautious too, which means they are holding out for candidates that match all the criteria on their wish lists.  They also don’t want to pay a penny more than they feel they have to and would prefer their recruits to be based in the office or workplace for at least some of the week.

And herein lies the conundrum. Job vacancies in Oxfordshire are likely to remain plentiful in the near future, but as employers and potential candidates become more risk averse, they will have to meet each other halfway. According to the CIPD, employers in particular will have to compromise, by putting upskilling, flexible working and higher wages at the heart of their recruitment strategies.

What could employers do differently to attract the candidates they want?

Oxfordshire has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the UK. This, combined with the high numbers of people who didn’t return to the workforce after the COVID lockdowns and mounting concerns over job security, means that employers are going to have to dig even deeper to attract the people they want and need.

When looking at the roles that we recruit for at Allen Associates in PA, Administration, HR, Marketing and Finance, there is still more that employers can do to win over their first choice of candidate.

1. Salaries

Benchmark salaries regularly to make sure they are competitive

This is never an easy message to convey, especially during these uncertain times when employers may be as cost conscious as the people they are trying to recruit. You don’t need to be extravagant – but you do need to be competitive! Regularly review your salaries against others in your sector and find ways to make the necessary adjustments.

Don’t try to negotiate down

This is not the time to try to negotiate a salary reduction. It leaves candidates with a bad feeling and will almost always see them walking away from the role. In fact, it is now more common for employers to upwardly adjust salaries to secure the candidates they want.

2. Review your benefits

This is an opportunity to make sure that benefits are still relevant and if possible, geared towards supporting people through the cost of living crisis. Dewberry Insurance explores the options in detail and suggests practical ways that employers can make a real difference.

3. Offer flexible working

Employers are increasingly keen for their staff to return to the office, even more so in uncertain times when team work, productivity, collaboration and mutual support are so important. However, most candidates expect to be able to work from home one or two days a week so hybrid working and a degree of flexibility are still essential to attract and compete successfully.

4. Invest in training and development

Today’s candidates are looking to develop their skills, gain qualifications and progress their careers with the right employer. It’s important to demonstrate that you are committed to the long-term development of your people and are willing to invest in their future.

5. Make sure your recruitment processes are fit for purpose

Recruitment in Oxfordshire is still very fast paced and employers need to be able to keep up. Make sure your processes are simple and streamlined. You could, for example, conduct first and second interviews on the same day – or after ‘normal’ working hours. Reduce the size of your interviewing panel to avoid unnecessary delays and do away with laborious application forms and tests unless they are absolutely essential. Presentations may be appropriate for senior managers and directors but should not be required for entry level positions.

Find an alternative solution to contract work

It is more difficult than ever to find people to fill contract roles, such as maternity cover, as very few will give up a secure, permanent job for a contract role unless there is a very strong incentive or strategic reason to do so.

A better solution may be found in the temporary market where there is a wealth of talent to choose from. Temps offer immediate support, bringing skills, experience and fresh perspectives to their employers. Many of our temps do such a good job that they go on to be offered fixed-term contracts or permanent roles within the organisation.

The temp-contract or temp-perm approach gives employers access to a wider pool of people and the flexibility to try new candidates before they commit themselves.

Retention should be given equal, if not more weight, than recruitment

The CIPD’s Labour Market Outlook reveals that 47% of employers have hard to fill vacancies and will need to look for more solutions internally. By improving retention rates, employers will help to offset some of the recruitment challenges they may be experiencing. In particular:

  • Upskill employees: There has been an underinvestment in training over the last few years but now is the time to address this.
  • Develop and promote from within: This builds morale, engagement and pride – and may offset some of the current recruitment issues.
  • Conduct an in-depth review of your employee value proposition: Are you a good company to work for and do you give people enough reasons to stay?
  • Review your benefits: Are they still relevant, attractive and competitive – and is everyone aware of them?
  • Be open-minded about reward: Salary is still the number one motivator but there are lots of other ways you can help offset the cost of living.

If you’d like to discuss the Oxfordshire recruitment market or any of the issues raised in this blog, please contact Kate Allen, Managing Director of Allen Associates.

Further insights