My most recent blog about the contrasting approaches of two prospective employers prominent in my daughter’s recent search for a new job has drawn many comments; on the original blog, in person to me at the RSCA Conference last week in Hobart, and via a LinkedIn post.
The comment that perfectly encapsulated the difference between the mindset that highlights acceptance of the new labour market reality, compared to the denial of it, was posted by Hudson’s MD of Technology, Projects & Transformation (ANZ), Peter Noblet.
“We had a senior ERP consultant basically at offer stage. She was keen. Client keen. The consultant wanted to have a good honest conversation about the business. Future plans and growth. All the things you want to know as a senior person going into a role.
The MD of the business refused, believing they shouldn’t have needed to ‘sell’ the opportunity. They believed the consultant was just doing it to be sold to. And they shouldn’t have to persuade. So they lost out. Everyone lost out really. For the want of a 30 minute opportunity to further cement a strong relationship”.
The candidate in the above scenario was not asking for anything unreasonable; just another conversation with their prospective new employer to go deeper about things important to her.
The old mindset evident in this employer’s rejection of the candidate’s request is one of an employer refusing to consider any candidate other than a ‘conformist’.
A conformist is a candidate who is willing to accept a job on the client’s terms. This is not to suggest that they won’t negotiate but the negotiation will be at the margins, like a higher salary, study leave or a paid car park.
Pre-pandemic, when job vacancies in Australia were half their current level, a large majority of employers could recruit ‘conformists’ for a large majority of their roles; employers didn’t need to be very flexible very often.
Both agency and internal recruiters loved conformists because it made their job much easier. Screening and referring conformists meant they didn’t need to engage in potentially awkward negotiations on behalf of candidates who weren’t happy with the status quo offered by the employer.
Employers seeking to fill vacancies had a homogenous approach to recruitment summarised as “find me the best (not very fussy) candidates as quickly, and inexpensively, as possible.”
Life was largely predictable and profitable for recruiters recruiting conformists who, almost always, accepted whatever they were offered by these employers.
The existing ecosystem rewarded compliance – clients pay agency recruiters for complying with their approach. Agency recruiters encourage candidates to comply because it makes life easier for them.
As long as recruiters and employers could fill a vast majority of jobs with conformists they didn’t need to give too much consideration to anybody else.
Post-pandemic, with job vacancies north of 480,000 and rising, many employers are finding, to their great shock, that the pool of conformists has almost completely evaporated.
It’s now the age of the ‘individualist’.
The individualist is a candidate who won’t accept the employer’s status quo and will keep looking for a job that fulfills their specific requirements.
These requirements may vary widely covering pay, remote work, flexibility with hours and days of work, job share, amongst many other factors.
Job seekers in the pre-pandemic world always had preferences; in the post-pandemic world, these preferences have largely morphed into deal breakers.
Now that 96.4% of the active labour supply is in employment Australian employers are now forced to consider the needs of the approximately one million Australians willing to work, yet not in the labour market.
These one million Australians won’t settle for some of their preferences being addressed – they need their deal breakers to be accommodated before they change jobs or re-enter the labour market.
Employers groups lead with ‘greater migration’ as their primary solution to the problem of skills shortages – they want conformists rather than having to change their ways to accommodate individualists.
Almost to a person migrants to Australia are conformists in the labour market because they need to make start somewhere in their new country of residence. There’s almost zero likelihood that a recent migrant pushes back against the employer’s status quo job. They almost certainly need that job more than a citizen or long-term permanent resident does.
The path that the best and most courageous recruitment agencies will follow is the one that is created by the individualist.
To use a powerful metaphor offered by Nuriah Jadai on the first morning of last week’s RCSA SHAPE Conference – we need to come to the middle of the bridge.
In the pre-pandemic world, most recruiters have been on one side of the bridge alongside the employer. Both parties expected the candidate to cross the whole bridge as, for a large majority of vacancies, there was no need to meet the candidate in the middle of the bridge.
In our journey to the middle of the bridge, we are best served by bringing our clients with us. We do this with education through case studies, evidence, and stories rather than demanding that the client follow us to the middle of the bridge.
In the middle of the bridge, we encounter candidates (who were used to coming all the way to the other side). We now have the opportunity to surprise and delight them with our genuine and deep interest in their current situation as well as our respectful and probing questions to understand their desires and requirements in a new job.
We have the opportunity to reshape how the recruitment sector impacts employers and the labour market in this country.
I genuinely believe we have a critically important role to play in expanding labour market participation, which is the fastest way to bring down the vacancy rate and ease the recruitment hamster wheel that’s exhausting many Australian employers.
It won’t be easy for many recruiters.
When there’s hard evidence, via lots of cash in agencies’ bank accounts, that the current system is largely working then hard thinking, hard decisions, and difficult conversations are necessary to start the journey to the middle of the bridge.
Next week, in part 2 of this blog, I will outline, thanks to more prompts from the RCSA SHAPE conference, how recruiters can make this journey to the middle of the bridge, and share stories from agencies leading this change.