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The real reason it’s impossible to hire anyone right now

In 2020, tech recruiter Sophie Power was one of the few people hiring, and had a big pool of candidates applying for roles. A year later, she’s dealing with the exact opposite problem: although there are roles, there are no candidates to fill them.

“Tech candidates are quitting because their companies aren’t embracing flexible work properly,” Power explains. “They’re being asked to go back into the office either full-time or a few days a week, and because other companies didn’t treat them well during the pandemic and things are picking up again, they’re leaving”. But unfortunately, most of the other companies that are hiring aren’t offering the flexibility they are looking for.

Although hiring has increased by 13 per cent from July to September, and the number of employers looking to hire is the highest it’s been in eight years, hiring professionals and HR managers are struggling to fill roles. In fact, as many as three quarters of employers can’t get the right people to join their companies, according to global workforce solutions group ManpowerGroup. Some recruitment experts say this is the toughest environment they’ve ever experienced for attracting talent. The Great Resignation has seen millions leave their jobs in the spring and summer months, but other people are not rushing to replace them.

A survey of jobseekers on tech jobs portal Otta found that 18 per cent of office workers want jobs that are fully remote, while 25 per cent prefer fully office-based. However the vast majority (56 per cent) are open to both, or are looking for a flexible arrangement. But as of yet, there’s no consensus among recruiters on exactly what a flexible offering should entail. According to Power, the three companies she worked for during the pandemic had a different definition of remote working – making it difficult for candidates to know whether the job met their expectations before applying.

Heejung Chung, a reader in sociology and social policy at the University of Kent, believes the reprioritisation from workers was inevitable. “They no longer see flexible working as a gift afforded to the privileged – it should be for everyone. They’ve experienced it and they want it,” she explains. “People would even sacrifice some income to be partly remote, and if companies can’t see why workers would do that, they will see a lot of talent slipping away”.

Software developers remain the most difficult to fill, as has been the case for a long while. Sixty-one per cent of HR professionals said finding qualified developers would be their biggest recruitment challenge of 2021, and over half were looking to hire over 50 people to do those jobs. The increased presence of high-paying Silicon Valley tech firms in the UK is making tech recruitment for smaller firms even more of a headache.

Theo Margolius, co-founder and COO of Otta, says the range of roles that fast-growth companies and startups are attempting to employ is much broader than before, with sales, high-quality product managers and designers in high demand. “High-quality recruiters are also now the most tricky candidates to hire – even more so than engineers – which says something about the state of the market right now,” Margolius says. According to the summer 2021 Labour Market Outlook ​​from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 39 per cent of employers say they have ‘hard-to-fill’ vacancies, and among the highest are in information and communications sectors.

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This may be because more candidates are scrutinising the way companies treated employees during the pandemic, and are not liking what they are finding out. Companies’ track record of redundancies, flexible working, diversity or their attitudes towards the office have become the litmus test for sizing up potential employers.

“Most companies still aren’t open about the salary ranges for the roles they recruit for, and this is something candidates really want to see so they can make informed decisions,” says Margolius. Indeed, job search engine Adzuna found that almost four in ten UK vacancies – over 366,000 roles – are advertised without salary information.

Thanks to remote interviews and the sheer number of jobs advertised, candidates are finding that being picky just isn’t as time-consuming or awkward as it was pre-pandemic. It’s a feeding frenzy for anyone wanting to make the leap, even if they already have jobs.

​​Bristol-based UX designer Johanna* is two months into her role at a communications agency and is still being bombarded with requests from recruiters on LinkedIn. “Although I’m happy where I am, I’m still in my probation period and so if somewhere catches my eye, I might go for it,” she says. “I would never have entertained that as a thing when I was in an office the whole time. Now, I just block out my calendar when I have a call with another company.”

Meanwhile, increasingly desperate recruiters are dealing with the backlog caused by hiring freezes in 2020. “We’re chasing our tail by hiring for people we needed months ago,” says Dave Kane, director of operations and finance at fintech firm CoGo, which has 12 open roles across its UK and New Zealand offices. Kane manages recruitment by himself, and feels as if he’s in a constant hiring cycle getting developers as quickly as he can.

He sees the company’s long-standing flexible and remote working culture, unlimited sick pay for both employees and dependants, and pay transparency, has set it up well to ride this hump of high-supply, and low demand. “We were ready for these new working patterns,” Kane says. “To hire for the tricky roles, there’s no real tactic other than to wait for the right person and ensure we're putting the roles up in different places, like agencies repping underrepresented candidates. We're happy to be patient and bring in the right people when they’re there.”

Faced with endless empty roles, 44 per cent of companies have tried to upskill their existing staff to fill the positions. And companies such as Google, Amazon and the Bank of England have done a U-turn on their plans to enforce office-based working, in an attempt to retain staff on the brink of quitting.

With winter Covid-19 regulations featuring the possibility of more home working, it’s unlikely that a blueprint of the holy grail – flexible working – will take any sort of meaningful shape before the end of the year. Naeema Pasha, director of Henley Careers and Professional Development, believes businesses should be focusing on skilling (and reskilling). “They also need to move fast to ensure they can offer not only decent wages, but flexible work arrangements to retain staff – as well as more autonomy,” she says. “If nothing else, the pandemic and lockdown working has shown that the era of micromanagement is waning and employee self-reliance is growing.”

*Name has been changed to protect anonymity

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This article was originally published by WIRED UK

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