Since March 2013 when I wrote my immensely popular blog
I have been consistently asked what are the recruitment sectors agencies should be avoiding. The first thing to say is that in my opinion, and those of most employment sector commentators, over the next 5-10 years we are entering a period of massive skill-shortages. Only last month the CIPD’s chief economist Mark Beatson indicated that the War-on-Talent was set to intensify.
In addition in recent months several reports by the IMF, the EU and Accenture support this view, which I have commented on in numerous blogs on the topic:
The demographics in many developed and developing, countries mean they will be facing declining skilled workforces and populations over the next 10-20 years. As a consequence severe skill shortages are inevitable in these economies. Recently the Telegraph highlighted this issue further in an article:
Britain’s baby boom will affect our economy more than anything Mark Carney does by Allister Heath, telegraph.co.uk June 7th 2013.
In the case of China the issue is so large that the IMF claim it will have a 140m-worker shortfall of skilled workers by 2030 which could have strategic implications for the security of the Pacific rim.
Therefore against this backdrop where demand for skilled labour will exceed supply there will always be an opportunity for enterprising recruitment agencies to plough their furrow. That said there are going to be some sectors where the opportunity for reward will be greater than others.
So having outlined my caveat here are my five sectors you should be avoiding if you wish to your agency to make the Sunday Times Fast-track 100.
1. Admin and Clerical
Since 2007 the US economy has lost 2m clerical workers and the UK 160,000 or 4.8% of the workforce. In the US clerical work accounts for 16% and in the UK 12% of all employment. (Sources: US department of labour projections; UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) Working Futures Report 2010-20 (revised August 2012))
In the UK this figure is projected to decline to 10% of the UK workforce by 2020 with the loss of 400,000 jobs.
The reasons are that as businesses grow they increasingly seek to automate processes particularly those involving data collection and data processing and also use call centre to handle customer eqnuires. So the consensus is that this number, as a percentage of overall workforces will decline in most developed or developing regions of the world.
In our blog Can you win the Talent War we considered the McKinsey Report which discussed the New Employment Structures. We pointed out that McKinsey;
… Highlight the trend over the past 30 years of where ‘transaction-based jobs’ that could be standardized or scripted have been automated or shifted to low paid workers. Now they highlight the ‘knowledge worker jobs’ such as managers, sales reps, engineers, lawyers, managers, teachers and doctors which they label ‘interaction jobs’ as being the major growth area and vital for companies and countries a like.
Clearly some recruitment of admin and clerical staff is going to continue and there will be thousands of jobs to be filled. The question for me is however with all the tools of job-boards, social media and direct/in-house recruitment teams how much will be conducted via recruitment agencies? My guess is nowhere near as much as there has been in the past.
During my research I have spoken to several admin and clerical agencies and reluctantly agree. They do pioint out however that those ones with strong long-established client relationships will survive and in some areas prosper especially where their focus is the SME market who do not have effective internal recruitment solutions. For those wishing to remain in this sector perhaps this should be your key focus.
Gone however are the days when thousands of admin workers will be supplied via agencies to FTSE 250 companies. Clearly if you are operating in this sector you might need to undertake a SWOT analysis to review your future position.
You however may violently disagree. If so please let me know. I believe debate on this issue is healthy.
2. Unskilled Industrial/Manufacturing
Again the data that exists on this comes from the US & UK employment figures. The US department of labour projections point to unskilled manufacturing jobs declining between 5-10% during the period 2010-20. In Britain the (UKCES) Working Futures Report 2010-20 (revised August 2012) provides good employment sector data and projections. For those in recruitment it represents a must read even if you don’t necessarily agree with its findings. This report itself points to a decline from 8% to 7% in the number of people employed in manufacturing.
These declines will be heaviest in old traditional industries where offshoring, productivity gains and industry decline will account for most of the reductions. In hi-tech sectors such as IT, Aerospace, Oil & Gas and electronics, much in line with our previous blog on the topic, the declines will be smaller. The overall decline in this sector is projected to be a fall of 400,000 jobs with particularly sharp declines expected for unskilled and semi skilled manual workers.
The reasons are obvious the cost of labour in the UK compared with China, Asia and the emerging African economies means that production of low value items will move abroad. Hence why UK Plc. needs to focus on hi-tech products or those where we can add-value.
In addition where these people are recruited I see an increasing role for In-house/Direct Sourcing teams who can leverage their clients brands to attract the numbers and volumes they seek.
The opportunities in this sector for recruitment agencies operating a traditional model are therefore limited. Again the SME market who do not have access to strong brands and in-house recruitment teams may offer some agencies hope.
3. Customer Contact and Call Centres
- Off-shore of customer contact centres
- In-house/Direct Sourcing Teams
- Switch to Online and Mobile App purchasing
The combination of these three will see volumes of recruits via recruitment agencies continue to decline. There has been a reversal by some employers of the strategy of offshoring their customer contact centres due to customers complaints and service issues but this trend is being more than offset by the greater use of technology which are creating contactless purchasing systems.
In addition as with the other two areas Direct/In-house Sourcing teams are having great success in attracting staff and filling the needs of their business. They are in many cases more than managing to cope with the level of applicant attraction required to maintain and increase employee numbers.
4. Public & Third Sector
The final sector I have highlighted to avoid will not surprise anyone in the UK. There has been much written in recent years about the decline of the UK public services from their peak in 2008, virtually all of it by interested parties on various sides of the political spectrum.
Once again the UKCES Report points to a total 2% reduction in the number of people employed across this sector falling from 27% to 25% by 2020. This reduction is actually masked in my opinion by the switch of roles from the public to the third sector as local authorities and NHS trusts reallocate the provision of some of their services into social enterprises.
For example the Office of Budget responsibility forecast in February this year that central and local government employment would fall by 900,000 between 201011 and 2017/18 as a result of government cuts.
This figure has been challenged by many commentators, who claim the reductions could be even greater, as much as 1.2 million. Clearly some of these jobs will switch to the third sector but it is unlikely that we will see more than 400,000 new third sector roles created and some claim it will be as little as 150,000.
Whatever your political views on this it is unlikely to be an area of growth for recruitment agencies in the way that it has been in recent years.
You will by now have noticed that there are some common themes emerging. With the exception of the public services one or more of the following appear to contributing factors in all of the remaining cases.
- Offshoring of roles and business functions
- Supply of unskilled or semi-skilled workers
- Technological advancements
- Direct/In-house Resourcing of staff
Only one of these is new, namely the rise of Direct/In-house Recruiters. As a young adult of the 1980s I can bare witness that we have seen all this before. The only change here is the jobs being off-shored today are the ones we were saw replacing the old declining industries of the 1980s era such as coal mining, clothing manufacture and steel working. You only have to visit parts of Lancashire and South Yorkshire to see the plethora of call centres and customer service centres that populate the old mining and cotton mill towns. Some even operating on former sites.
Technology and alternative sources of cheap labour have always meant that job functions will shift round the globe where a predominance of unskilled or semi-skilled labour is required for the production, manufacture or delivery of a service or product.
No country is immune to this. Germany saw the switch of its manufacturing eastwards after the collapse of the Berlin wall firstly into the former East German regions and then into Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic. India which was the recipient of so many of the UK jobs in the 1990s is now seeing many of these transferred further eastwards or even into Africa.
The only way a country can retain its employment is to become experts at leading edge technology industries. Where design and development is a key factor but this too may shift elsewhere with university education globally changing.
As recruitment consultancies we are, to all-intense and purposes, ‘traders of skills’. We must not lose sight of this. We only exist because of the inefficiencies of the supply side of the economy. That is where:
- Nations fail to direct their investment in skills and training in workers to satisfy their future businesses needs.
- Where employers fail to invest sufficient in their workers over a period of time to satisfy their future organisations needs and hence have to pay fees to appropriate staff from other employers.
- Where employers do not have the skills, resources or mechanisms to identify, attract and retain their workforce needs
Is there a better solution?
As a parent of four children with ages from 12 to 22 you can imagine we have plenty of barbecue discussions with friends around the whole issue of youth employment. As a former advisor to Liverpool John Moore’s University on employability I have debated this subject many times.
I do question whether the time has come for Government, the Further Education Sector and UK Employers, perhaps the CBI, to attempt to address this fundamental issue for the long-term sustainability of the UK economy. Shouldn’t there be a degree of connection between the number of degree spaces for subjects and the projected UK demand for a skill area. Why if industry, commerce and education are crying out for maths, science and engineering graduates are we using scare resources to educate large numbers of people in subjects for which the volumes of meaningful employment does not exist.
In addition it seems ludicrous for tens of thousands of students to be accumulating up to £50,000 worth of debt each to acquire a degree in a subject for which there is no likelihood of them all getting a job. Aren’t we are deluding these young people that they will ‘get a job’? It could be argued we are ‘mis-selling university degrees, now there’s a thought!
The rapidity with which the economy and employment shifts means that the laws of supply and demand which should ultimately rebalance this inequality may not ever have time to take effect.
In the meantime we could be destroying a whole generation of young people and ultimately ourselves as a society by failing to remedy this issue.
In the meantime it is clear that whilst supply side inefficiencies exist there will always be opportunities for entrepreneurial recruitment agencies that are experts in their niches but it does beg the question; Are the days of the generalist high-street recruitment agencies numbered?
That however is another blog.
As always these are my thoughts and I’d be delighted to hear your views too.