It’s been a topsy-turvy 12 months in recruitment to say the least with priorities changing, budgets cut, jobs lost, investment in tech and uncertainty like never before. Employers who have weathered the storm (or been in hibernation) are now ready to enter the fray. Please read on for useful insights as we interview Jenny Surridge, who heads up the outsourcing division of GRB from her experience speaking with hundreds of recruiters in Q1 2021 who are emerging from lockdown.

Can you give us a quick overview of the employer side of market?
The majority of the traditional, large-scale employers carried on recruiting during 2020. Surprisingly, we didn’t see the drop in roles like in previous recessions judging from the volumes they maintained. However, what we did notice was reduced hiring of placements/apprentices/school leavers which is typically their pipeline to forward fill grad roles so I imagine they will see a knock-on effect.

Usually, GRB’s peak period for contingency recruitment is June-September when companies come to market late and have just-in-time recruitment needs. Before Covid, there was still a very high calibre pool of candidates who registered with us as they had concentrated on exams and their final year studies and got to June and wanted to secure their graduate job and crack on with job searches. We therefore still saw a surge of candidates on the market who weren’t ready to consider roles earlier.

We also saw some graduate programmes delay start dates by 6-12 months meaning there may be lagging factors when they go again this year or they will just crack on to make up for lost time. Whatever they decide, my advice is they MUST factor in their process. Start at the end and work backwards so you can see the timeline and whether you can actually fit in everything such as offers/paperwork/on-boarding info, etc. All achievable, but things to consider.

…and what about the candidate side?
We have seen a considerable increase in candidate volumes due to less roles than usual being available. The ISE (Institute of Student Employers) gave out a statistic that their members on average saw a 120% increase in applications. Our experience mirrored this trend as client’s recruitment campaigns saw spikes meaning we were supporting clients with higher levels of screening support.

Because they received much higher volumes of applications on average it did create some issues with quality due to broader groups applying. So, any employers out there may wish to consider this if their criteria is broad they must have a robust screening process in place to whittle that down without having too much adverse impact on the candidate experience.

What percentage of final year students may still looking for programmes/roles at this time?
The FT reported in January 2021 that 18% of the 2020 grads had secured jobs before graduating, which compared to previous year would have typically been at 60% for this time of year prior to the pandemic. Also the National Office for Statistics reported that 12% of recent (2020) graduates were unemployed during their final months of uni/towards the end of graduation which is double the rate compared to the last three years. Also, more graduates were staying on at university to do post graduate studies as they thought “if I can’t get a job I best do something meaningful with my time quick” and therefore there will be more students than usual looking for jobs this Autumn.

Let’s turn to the trends in the level of graduate opportunities in the UK market over the last year. Any insights?
Yes, there was a clear drop in graduate roles which was a massive knock to the early talent sector. ISE reported a 20% drop in graduate vacancies but, as mentioned before, unlike previous recessions, no one totally stopped recruiting. The main reason being is they didn’t want to lose traction in the market and didn’t want to grow due to the risks involved. Naturally, smaller to medium sized organisations were even more nervous and in some sectors their priorities shifted to survival.

We have now turned a corner in Q1 2021 and are starting to see medium sized organisations want to start recruiting so we have seen a big spike of clients using our services to launch grad programmes whilst they still can for September intakes. Companies such as Post Office, Capital Group, Rathbones, GTR and many more organisations are recruiting with us at present but didn’t start until much later.

We know some sectors have fared better than others. What have you noticed?
The FT reported in March 2021 that sectors such as ecommerce, logistics and digital communications were growing and we also saw digital tech solution firms, the public sector, food retail and online retail increase along with financial services staying as they were the year before or with a slight decrease on hiring volumes.

Can you share the impact on client spend in Q1 2021 compared to Q1 2020?
It’s turned a corner for sure. For our bigger campaigns no major changes really as they were either slightly stripped back on budget or they remained the same as 2019 but they did want more for their money. However, there was a definite decrease in revenue with clients such as SMEs in sectors that were really struggling as a result of lockdown. On the plus side, we’re seeing some really positive growth already for 2022 campaigns!

Has there been any notable change in the digital inventory clients are using to attract candidates since lockdown stopped on-campus activity?
Yes. Feedback from students is starting to clearly trend that they preferred virtual activity and it allowed for more flexibility on both sides. We did see a spike in virtual campus events, attraction events and also virtual assessment centres which it seems are here to stay.

Universities aren’t looking like they will do face-to-face campus activity this year so virtual will still be happening. So far a few of my RPO clients had tried out virtual career fairs with mixed results. In some cases, there were lower attendance numbers and poor engagement so we’ll see if these problems get ironed out for the next fair season.

GRB are less reliant on candidate acquisition at career fairs as we have several other routes to the student market so we pivoted our strategy and so our pipeline of graduating students is exceptionally high. We are offering clients bespoke one-two hour virtual events with our candidates to talk to them about their employer brand and career opportunities. This new service has been very successful and gives employers a great chance to get in front of a relevant audience (we only drive relevant candidates to these) and also helps the lesser-known brands get their name out there. We predict more webinars, online events/sessions are going to happen more frequently with less on-campus targeting.

Finally, is there anything else you’ve noticed on employers’ minds at the moment?
Yes, we definitely noticed far more clients prioritising diversity recruitment. It was pleasing to see that candidate feedback on virtual events has been fab in respects to diversity. Virtual events remove barriers to social mobility, no travel expenses for on site interviews, open days, uni fairs, assessment centres, etc and has therefore made far them more accessible. Candidates from underrepresented groups are able to turn cameras off/blur backgrounds/be in the comfort of their own environment and so this removed worries about how they may be perceived in person with an employer. I’m pleased to report that we have seen an increase in underrepresented groups getting through to final stages and performing well at digital AC’s.

So, there are plenty of positives to take from this interview and although most recruiter activity isn’t at pre-covid levels, confidence is returning to the market as the vaccine rollout allows for normality to return. Hopefully we can now give graduates the careers they deserve. What have been your experiences? Please share with us.