Oakleaf Market Insight – 8th September 2020


I can’t quite believe that we are in September already and normality still seems a long way off. The second week of September is as strange as the first although the drivers for that statement are slightly different.


Last week the Oakleaf team started to return to the office – a new office, a new location and much excitement. We started our return to work programmes to begin to engage our teams, both those who have worked throughout the summer and those that have been on furlough, to make sure that we are wholly prepared for the when the entire team is back and operational. Seeing everyone in person was hugely refreshing and created a real buzz and energy that we all said had been missing from our enforced wfh patterns. Central London was quiet yes, hope remained that we would see an increase in commuter activity when the schools started to return in week 2. I may be being premature with my concern as I commute in – the volume of professionals coming back to the city is frighteningly low. In fact there were almost more photographers at Waterloo yesterday taking pictures of the lack of people getting off the trains than there were commuters. You do fear for the retail and hospitality businesses that are the heart and soul of the capital. Without people back into our cities it is surely only a matter of time before the infrastructure we are so used to becomes unsustainable. While we are massive advocates of flexible working and smart working, there is also no substitute for some time together working as teams – let’s hope we see that same sentiment rise over the coming weeks and we are all able to support these organisations that need our footfall.


It is safe to say that the August flattening of the job market we predicted has come to fruition. Although the pattern is oscillating weekly the trend on new jobs coming to the market is proving to be flat over the last 6 weeks. This has been far more marked in certain industries and disciplines than in others. The city on the whole has been quite quiet across HR and Reward yet it remains busy in Payroll. Payroll as a discipline has weathered the storm incredibly well and there are opportunities at all levels across industry. The professions although quiet remain fairly constant and there are growing levels of activity across our commerce sectors in HR and Reward. We do expect activity to start to increase again through the end of September and into October. We are unable quite yet to predict the impact of the furlough release – more on that in the coming weeks I am sure.


Given the improvements seen across commerce it is apt that this week we are focusing on our commerce teams and our UK wide regional teams. Amy Morris, Partner at Oakleaf delivers some insight to the commerce space in entirety and Rebecca Lancelles provides our thoughts on the broader UK market.

C&I insight


The impact over the last few months to our C&I and Not For Profit team very much depends on what industry sector you are working within. Similar to our colleagues in other disciplines at Oakleaf we saw a slowdown of project work initially with an increased requirement for hybrid Business Partner and Change specialists who are able to flex their skill set as business needs change.


The initial ‘lock down’ impact sadly saw an almost complete closure for some of our consumer businesses whilst others went into an internal lock down to restructure their business making them fit for purpose in the new world. Our not for profit organizations, particularly charities, unfortunately saw the same with a slowdown in funding pushing them into restructure mode quickly. We are delighted to be working with some of these customers again now they have adapted and found new ways of thriving. The roles that we are seeing within these businesses are more junior to mid-level transactional roles and we are yet to see the expected bigger transformation interim requirements that may well be in the offing.


It has been an exciting period for our TMT businesses where most of our start-ups and scaling businesses sit. Funding has not been hard to achieve making the requirement for mid to senior hiring essential to the success of the organization and where most of our permanent generalist roles have sat. Technology has thrived during this period and in some way, HR has led the way for the rest of the market having already embedded strong remote working and wellbeing practices. We have successfully hosted a number of round tables on this subject and it has been great to hear the innovation that companies have taken regarding engagement, communication and mental health.


Roles in Industry and Science have been more project led with many organisations going through company-wide restructures taking advantage of talent in the market and an earlier lift out of lock down. The eyes are on the pharmaceutical world globally at the moment and HR have been a key resource to support the business both finding, retaining and engaging talent. Successful construction, transportation and manufacturing businesses have quickly reshaped their businesses to support both the fight against COVID but equally to survive commercially.


As a business our roles have remained pretty evenly split between permanent and temporary however there has been a preference in contract roles over day rates. Whilst most of our roles have been in the generalist space where we have seen projects they have been around restructures, policy amendments and diversity and inclusion.


We went into 2020 with four subdivisions, TMT, Industry and Science, Consumer and Not For Profit all tied to a vision of expansion and growth. Fortunately, we have been able to be flexible and respond quickly to the ever-changing market conditions combining our Industry and Science and Consumer businesses. We are now in a position where businesses are able to look forward again and are seeing this with more strategic roles coming to the market.


UK wide insight


As a regional business we have experienced rapid change from when lock down was announced and had to adapt at pace. Parts of the West Midlands and North West saw a slight increase in HR roles at the senior level, predominantly on a permanent basis. Despite this pattern in the Midlands and North West, we identified a quieter period and a decrease in roles across Thames Valley and the North East regions.


Many sectors, especially food manufacturing, FMCG and pharmaceuticals, saw higher volumes of mandates in comparison to the professional services and the more customer facing sectors (retail & hospitality). Clients have been more flexible on candidate location which allowed a shift to being able to work remotely and / or from another office location which suits them and where they live – a real shift in thinking!


Although it has been tough for some of our sectors and our junior HR market, there have been some positive trends:

  • Increase in specialist roles across Midlands, Thames Valley and North West.
  • Increase in candidate volumes – many individuals are looking to relocate from London to live a more country lifestyle.
  • Core HR remains in demand .
  • Increase in HR project-based roles – transformation and shared services focused.
  • Offices reopening with a more flexible working policy in place.


The reward market has been interesting during the early part of the COVID-19 pandemic – the commerce markets have been buoyant and we have seen a desire for hybrid candidates who have experience in wellbeing, diversity, inclusion and reward. Such candidates demand a certain price point in the market and salaries from clients have not reflected this over the last six months.


As summer ends, mandates we are working on span HR business partnering, payroll, talent and reward across commerce and financial services. This is a very positive sign, more clients are making their way back to the offices (in Birmingham, Bristol, Manchester and Reading albeit two days a week) hiring plans are being adapted and organisations are looking at their diversity and inclusion offering.

Do we think that there will be more emphasis on wellbeing, diversity and transformation roles in the coming months? Absolutely!


As a regional team, we have adapted how we work, how we partner in a different way with our customers and also with our colleagues internally. It has brought great change for everyone and it has been a great time to work in HR!

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