Oakleaf Market Insight – Financial and Professional Services – October 2020

It has been over 3 months since we started to look at how the HR recruitment market has been faring this year and let’s face it, the constant change of the Covid rollercoaster is exhausting. We find ourselves still staring out at an unpredictable landscape in the months ahead.

The total number of Oakleaf mandates rose sharply in July as a whole and we continued to see that rise in August albeit in a far more staccato fashion. The financial services and professional services markets slowed across all functional areas and levels of HR and yet the broader commerce market maintained a good increase in vacancies throughout the month. September broken down saw some of the busiest weeks in new vacancy activity since pre Covid and created a huge sense of optimism and energy that people thrived on. Both the permanent and interim markets improved with interim seeing a very positive trend in the increase in day rate opportunities. Organisations remain constrained by budget control and with talent acquisition teams working lower job volumes too direct hiring is where the bulk of the activity lies.

We continue to track that activity which is why the UK HR Vacancy report below is still the best barometer to reference (source: Vacancysoft).  The latest setback, with the virus rearing its ugly head again, seems in the short term to have put the brakes on that resurgence and we will have to see how that pans out. We are of course nervous in regard to further localised or national restrictions being put in place and how this will impact organisations operations and hiring plans.

Many have inferred that the initial shock period is over and that they are endeavouring to deliver on plans and as such activity will continue to improve. We are into the last month of the furlough programme too and we are starting to see a marked increase in the number of redundancies across HR which of course puts further strain on the job market when vacancies are still only fluctuating between 35-50% of their normal levels.

Here at Oakleaf we spent September ramping up preparations to return the business towards full employment with our furloughees returning in October. We ran return to work programmes for all our teams and were really looking forward to getting back into the office in some capacity. Although we have had to take a rain check on the office usage, the energy from having everyone back has been super infectious and we look forward to updating you on the impact this has made in the months ahead.

This week we take a further look at the financial services and professional services markets with some commentary from Lauren Hewlett (Financial Services) and Sarah Alexander (Professional Services)


Financial Services Insight

The financial services market like so many other industries has faced significant impact over the past 6 months and will continue to see change, certainly over the next 12-18 months. Whilst the Financial Services HR job market experienced a mini-boom in July and early August, the City took a well-earned rest and subsequently there was a lull in new roles in August and early parts of September.

The Oakleaf Partnership FS team is now back in full force after welcoming back our furloughed staff. There is lots of energy and enthusiasm to reconnect with our network and drive success.

Since our last market update in early August, we have continued to have positive conversations with our network around how the industry is embracing their new ways of working. Most seem hopeful that the shift in how businesses drive flexible working across the industry will become a permanent fixture. Many of our small to mid-size clients’ HR teams within Asset Management and Investment/ Wealth management started to return to offices in July. The message was that they wanted to get on the front foot to engage teams and ensure that they regenerate their social culture. The large corporate companies such as the global banks and large insurance firms have, in contrast, communicated that they will not enforce a return to the office in 2020 and early 2021.

To review the job market since August, the likes of the bigger banks are still hiring within HR which remains a very positive message for the industry. These roles seem to be a range of both senior leadership and advisory support. They continue to drive internal and direct recruitment; however, many are going through vast restructures and transitioning teams to regional offices. It will be interesting to review what impact this may have across the market. We will be monitoring this over the coming months.

Similar to the trend that we reported in our last update, the majority of our mandates have been within SME businesses. Asset Management, Wealth and Real Estate Investments remain the leading sectors to partner with us for their HR hiring needs. We are also seeing an increased need for HR support level roles such as HR Assistant, HR Advisor and junior HR Business Partners, which is a great sign that HR teams are getting busier and therefore requiring additional headcount. This is a positive sign that the market is moving in the right direction as this level of role really took a hit between April andJuly. There has been an increased demand in Diversity & Inclusion, Engagement, Talent Management and Employee Relations role which follows the trajectory reported earlier in the year, that once businesses have navigated their way through the initial challenges of the pandemic, they will need to look to the future at their long term goals. This has then resulted in the need for specialist HR hires.

The role of HR within the market has almost certainly been positively exposed and the pandemic has meant that now more than ever before, it is important to see HR firmly in a seat at the table. The Financial Services team will be hosting monthly round tables to discuss such topics with HR leaders across our network, if you would be interested to attend, please do reach out to laurenhewlett@oakleafpartnership.com


Professional Services Insight

Before writing this, I sat down to review and reflect on our last Professional Services market update, published on the 6th August. Somehow those two months have flown despite the encouraging step up in market activity in late July tailing off into the anticipated late August slow down and feeling like a step backwards, which was tough when our energies and ambitions, like everyone’s, are so focused on moving forwards. However, this drag happened because many customers (and colleagues) finally took some annual leave, having cautiously not taken any since March, and the break was well needed by all.

It felt like the HR world collectively sat tight until schools opened, re-charged, and by mid-September, the number of mandates we were working on had bounced back to, and remained consistent at, a post-Covid high. In the broader professional services HR market, the number of directly advertised opportunities grew by 150% compared to the two months prior and I’m delighted to say that in the last couple of weeks we are on the up again with job flow picking up at a speed we haven’t seen since February. Whilst a momentary pause was felt when the ‘work from home if you can’ instruction came back into play, the general momentum kept up.

To give a bit more colour:

  • There is differentiation across the market in terms of sector, but more poignantly in terms of each firm’s individual journey through 2020. For example, across the Big 4, there are numerous permanent and FTC opportunities available at the junior to mid-level and also some very visible exec HR hires, typically in core HR / ER. Behind the scenes in some, not others, there are also large scale restructures, redundancies and contracts not being renewed. Similar transformations are happening across the property sector, but in some firms were already underway and the existing footprint of each business, whether across retail and / or commercial, is the main distinguishing factor in their current fortunes.  Change programmes are, in some cases, creating interim work, but overall understandably causing concern amongst the interim community and the talent acquisition communities first and foremost. Legal and consultancy clients have been freed from the restraints of recruitment freezes and continue to hire in encouraging numbers.
  • I wrote last time that specialists needn’t be despondent and we have already seen an uptick in learning & talent roles – 12 in the last two months, which is nearly double that from April – August. Renewed focus around remote management, wellbeing and employee engagement as well as digitisation of learning account for this.
  • The wave of D&I roles keeps on rolling, with many firms appointing a specialist for the first time and also many strategic, senior level roles coming to market.
  • Candidate experience is probably even more in focus than when I last mentioned it. Clients have come to us struggling with the weight of applications to direct adverts, with their in house resourcing teams needing support to really define as well as select the right skills mix from the wider pool available as well as ensure that they provide a good application experience.
  • Top class talent is still hot property! With the increase in roles, most job seekers are now in multiple processes, or naturally have more than one application out. Promisingly, we have seen several instances of multiple offers, proving that strong candidates really can navigate the competitiveness of the current market. To help with getting to this stage, Oakleaf have been making the expertise of our network available to all via our Talent Talks series, outlined in our previous market update. The initial video with Eunice Clements-Tweedie, Head of Talent Acquisition at Lego on ‘Standing out from the crowd’ was a great start.
  • There are still excellent opportunities available for those starting their HR careers. We have seen multiple roles where no, or very little, HR experience was needed. Ambition, attitude and energy are the order of the day with candidates who have perhaps undertaken internships or relevant work experience prior to graduation making a flying start within HR teams at top tier organisations.

Of course it remains to be seen what impact the creeping numbers of the second wave and the changes to the furlough scheme will have. No doubt the ongoing stressor that is C-19 will challenge us and our professional services network for some time to come. But as unrelenting as the backdrop seems, having sat back and reflected, I’m confident in saying there will be lots to feel positive about in the run up to Christmas.

Oakleaf Talent Talks update:

We have been privileged to have had the opportunity to interview three very inspiring individuals for our Oakleaf Talent Talks series so far, with several more planned.

Please do refer to our Oakleaf Partnership LinkedIn page or click on the links below if you haven’t had a chance to watch these yet:

Episode 1 – “Standing Out From The Crowd – Eunice Clements-Tweedie, Global Head of Talent Acquisition at Lego. 

Episode 2 – “What Makes a Good HRBP” – Danielle Harmer, CPO at Aviva.

Episode 3 – “The Furlough Scheme” – Amanda Lennon, Experienced HR Director and Employment Lawyer.

Our next insight will focus on the reward and payroll sectors.

Simon Hunt
Managing Director

Tel: 0207 220 7030 | Mob: 07739804159

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