Recruitment and recovery: Changing the course of the river

Written by Neil Carberry, Chief Executive Officer of the REC

About the new REC campaign, Recruitment and recovery

In journalism, the Sunday press take a particular role upon themselves. Less breathlessly newsy than the daily papers and with an audience at home and relaxing – this is where the big stories of the week get taken a little more studiously.

With that in mind and following our launch on Thursday – complete with broadcast and social media coverage, and a (virtual) visit to Number 10 – I want to set out what we are trying to achieve.

The background: three big themes that put recruiters front and centre

  1. Firstly, there can be no doubt that we are entering a profound period of economic change. I am a huge optimist for UK employment – the end of work is not nigh – but technology, consumer demand and global trading patterns meant our jobs market was already changing before the pandemic – and Covid has supercharged that. 

    To borrow the language of economics, some of the changes we have seen since last March are cyclical – we all expect restaurants to be with us in 2025 – but other are not. Some of these areas – high street retail for instance – have experienced secular decline for years, that the pandemic has only accelerated. Likewise, IT, life sciences and social care have simply increased as a growing trend.

    For companies – recruiters’ clients – that means reshaping businesses fast. Our colleagues in HR and talent acquisition are not the masters of this process - the plan comes from line managers. But the people plan has to be there to support successful delivery. There are many new problems to solve, and they are not easy. The most important piece of advice for any recruiter in the recovery is to work out what your client’s problem is now – as it probably isn’t the one they had before!
  2. The second big point of change comes from the challenges employees now face – transitioning from shrinking sectors to growing ones, retraining to meet new skills needs and effectively integrating work with family and caring. When we talk about building back better, inclusion or levelling up – these can’t just be slogans. Collectively, as employers and public authorities, we need to give people sustainable pathways to good careers. And we need to do so in a way that ensures that as the economic tide rises, all boats are lifted.
  3. When you throw in the third driver of change – a shrinking workforce driven by baby boomer retirement and replacement with a smaller generation born 2000-2010 – you quickly get a sense of the huge changes that are coming to how we work. Despite the worst recession in 200+ years, unemployment is likely to peak lower than it did after the financial crisis, just over a decade ago. The candidate-rich jobs market of 20-21 won’t be around for long.

These three factors form a recipe for a big challenge. Fast-changing businesses needing workers with the right skills, who may be in very short supply. Huge numbers of people facing transition challenges. And there’s our longstanding need to improve UK productivity.

On this last point, Be the Business, the group set up by FTSE100 business and the Government to study and address the problem, lays the challenge squarely at the door of how we develop and lead our people. So the people challenge for UK businesses is huge and they are going to have to get a lot better at meeting it.


So what about our campaign then?


When you take all of this into account, it is pretty clear to us at the REC that recruiters have a huge role to play in addressing these issues.

Getting closer to clients to help them navigate a new landscape and advising on effective onboarding to maximise both inclusion and productivity. 

Supporting candidates with skills transitions and new directions.

And providing the flexibility that is needed to keep businesses going with high quality temporary work.

Clients will need strong strategies for how they buy, grow and borrow the people they need – and do it well.


This is our moment to drive real change


The goal of many of us in recruitment has been to make sure the industry works with clients and candidates as a highly skilled professional service, not just a process delivery partner. That we compete on value, not only price. That we are bringers of solutions to complex problems.

All the factors I’ve discussed drive us to the conclusion that now is the time for us to accelerate that ambition. That is why we have launched this campaign now. As recruiters’ own organisation – but independent of different firms and professionals – the REC has a unique voice to clients and Government, that we can use to support an increasing role for the industry.

Much of what we do in this campaign will be about telling stories of the difference recruiters make. I want to thank all the businesses who partnered with us on the report launch and helped us to do that.

But a huge challenge is raising awareness. Those outside the industry need to see what might be possible – and the role recruiters can play. After all, which CEO goes to court without professional lawyers?  If people are top of your list of business concerns, you need systems that reflect that. Too often, that isn’t the case. But that can change.

Our report uses some big numbers – put together for us by economists and independently peer-reviewed by academics – but it wasn’t a measure of the industry itself. We published one of those back in December. Instead, it is a measure of what recruiters can and do affect. That is why the scale is so large.

That scale can help us get attention. If we can get clients thinking about people planning and onboarding with us, plus Government leaning on recruiters’ advice – we’ll make a better British jobs market, and a more successful recruitment industry with it. That’s when things will really start to change in ways I know they can – because I see REC members doing it with some clients already. This campaign is all about growing that good practice and changing the course of the river.

Want to join us and help make great work happen? Check out the campaign here

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