Oakleaf Partnership Market Insight – Optimism and Job Numbers on the Rise in Financial & Professional Services – April 2021

An Overview of the Broader HR Market

Following on from Richard Colgan’s article on LinkedIn last week, it is fantastic to read of yet more business and consumer confidence returning!

The stock markets globally seem buoyant. The UK has just experienced its strongest quarter in stock market floats in 14yrs according to EY.  The latest highs in the US showed renewed confidence that economic recovery is gaining pace (US manufacturing is at its highest level in 37 years!). According to a recent YouGov survey consumer confidence is at its highest level since the summer of 2018. The majority of households now believe their finances will improve this year and importantly people are feeling much more secure in their jobs! BDO recently published that job market optimism is at a 3 month high and Deloitte surveyed finance functions who were at their most optimistic in 14 years with a 150% increase in hiring expectation from the end of last year. There is realism that the current end of the furlough scheme in the autumn may lead to an increase in redundancies just as there is a real sense that new and additional opportunities will continue to be created as the economy reopens.

(Source: Vacancysoft)

So as we see further COVID restrictions eased this week we should relish the optimism it brings. This is certainly true in regard to Oakleaf’s outlook. As a whole we are seeing consistent improvements across all our teams and this week both Sarah Alexander and Lauren Hewlett share their insights from the professions and finance worlds respectively.

As we reference optimism I am delighted to say that we also have some great opportunities that have arisen at Oakleaf within these teams. Sarah is looking for a consultant to join her professional services team to help manage the the continued increase in the number of mandates that we are supporting our customers with and it is a fantastic opportunity for someone with 2-3yrs recruitment experience to join a very busy and developing team. In the financial services team we have an outstanding opportunity in what is one of Oakleaf’s longest standing seats. We are delighted that Jessica Phelan is moving on internally to join Jamie Newton in building out our reward offering into the US. This does mean we are looking for an experienced recruitment professional with a proven track record to work with Alan Hewett in our senior permanent financial services market. This is one of Oakleaf’s highest performing desks and offers a tremendous opportunity for the right person. We would welcome referrals so if anyone has any ideas in regard to consultants they deal with from outside the profession please do let us know.

Full details of current opportunities at Oakleaf, please visit our careers page here.


Financial Services

It feels as if time has flown by since our last FS market update in January and it also feels strange to reflect ‘one year on’ from when the pandemic started and we saw the immediate effects it had on recruitment. I can confidently say that the HR recruitment market within the financial services sector is improving and feeling a lot more optimistic. We are seeing a consistent rise in new live vacancies as the weeks go on and we hope to see this continue as we move into a new financial year. Last week we registered our highest number of new vacancies since the start of the pandemic. This was mirrored in our tracking system of live HR roles across the financial services sector, which was also the highest it has been since March 2020.

                                                                                                                             (Source: Vacancysoft)

The number of new roles registered by Oakleaf last week was up 300% from the average number of new roles registered over the last 11 months. This is hopefully an indicator into what to expect going forward and we will continue to review and assess. In the permanent job market, we have seen less replacement hires and more newly created roles and headcounts which is a very positive sign that businesses are gaining confidence to move forward with hiring plans. The interim market has also shifted in a positive way and there has been an increase in demand for senior HR specialists to manage restructuring, change, integration, M&A and agile transformation.

A regained confidence amongst candidates

Given the market is indicating that we are likely to see a robust bounce back in 2021, it comes as no shock to report that we are also seeing the effects of this from a candidate perspective. My team and I are seeing a rise in new talent to market which has not necessarily been the case over the last year. There is a regained confidence in candidates to reboot their searches and seek a change. Once again, our candidates are actively interviewing and in some cases are in multiple job interview processes. We are also noticing the return of the passive job seeker, curious candidates who are ‘dipping their toes’ into the market and are open to new opportunities due to the more obvious presence of live vacancy advertisements in the HR market.

The importance of a quicker hiring process

The urgency of the hiring manager will be integral to the success of the job market returning to a pre- COVID sense of normality. Complacency in the current market means losing out on talent and the opportunity to maintain a positive brand amongst competitors. During the last 9 months we have witnessed a client driven market where direct sourcing has increased, and the unfortunate impact of COVID-19 has resulted in an increase in unemployment. This has in essence meant that clients have had access to readily available candidates who were willing to be flexible on their expectations and desires. This is slowly but surely changing, and we are seeing candidates interviewing heavily and receiving more than one offer from potential employers.

From a process point of view, it has become the “norm” over the last 12 months to see a two-to-three-week gap between a first and second stage interviews. Understandably, clients have reported a sense of cautiousness to hire which has affected pace of process and urgency. We are however seeing the negative impacts of this such as poor candidate experiences, a lack of feedback, speed of communication and concerns of trust and reasons to hire. As we move into a more positive job market, we urge hiring managers to push forward with hiring plans with confidence, ensuring there is a partnership with trusted advisors who truly understand the business culture and who are well positioned to secure the best talent in the market. It is key for businesses to put the candidate experience at the forefront of it’s hiring agenda, ensuring clear feedback is given and a sense of momentum is adhered to throughout the interview process.

Based on numerous conversations we have had with our Senior Talent Director/ Heads of HR networks across the sector, the financial services HR recruitment market will return to a competitive state by the end of the Summer. This will be a candidate lead market where HR professionals will once again have the choice of what businesses they want to be a part of for the economic bounce back we hope to witness in 2021/22. Exciting isn’t it? We think so!

Professional Services

The three months since my last update have rolled around very quickly! Whilst I think it’s definitely not just me that found this lockdown the toughest yet, the fact that the green shoots of recovery seem to have fully blossomed gave a welcome sense of moving forward, finally. Whilst the outside world stood still, professional services organisations big and small started to galvanise and plan with cautious optimism for the financial year head.

                                                                                                                            (Source: Vacancysoft)

Quarter on quarter growth

Yet again, we doubled the number of new mandates registered versus the previous quarter and have finished the financial year on the same number of open roles as at the beginning of March 2020. To have essentially regained all of that ground in exactly 12 months is a huge achievement that I am proud of my team for delivering, but also reflects the confidence of firms in our space that the coming year will be a positive one.

Firms have felt the benefit of their quick decision making a year ago with cash flow and, in the main, jobs protected giving them a solid base upon which to plan the next 12 months now they have a little breathing space. The backlog of work putting pressure on existing team structures across the HR remit, plus the desire to accelerate new people strategies across talent, engagement, wellbeing and diversity are both driving sign off for new hires both interim and permanent.

Quarter highlights:

  • A huge leap in job numbers came through in February and the number of overall opportunities have been solidly consistent since, which is exceptional.
  • The market is extremely heavily focused on permanent hiring which is a complete 180 degree turn from December / January. Firms are rebuilding, reorganising and re-hiring which is creating movement in the candidate market, with strong talent both starting to look for new opportunities more actively and when they do, finding themselves in multiple processes.
  • Recruitment processes were until very recently, quite sluggish and role requirements very specific. Increasing the efficiency of interview processes, especially at the junior end, is now very necessary to secure the best candidates.
  • The interim market is gearing up for a big re-set both in terms of opportunities available and in terms of contractors beginning to recreate the flow of assignments that they were previously used to. A lot of contracts were cut short in 2020 due to the pandemic and with few new ones becoming available, the candidate base has had to seek alternative options. The best of the talent have capitalised on the early recovery, primarily taking up fixed term contract roles. The IR35 effect has also drastically changed the landscape within HR, with far fewer senior interim roles offered on a day rate.
  • There is a steady flow of junior talent coming to market but they tend to only be on the market for a short time as they are typically able to consider either permanent or contract options and will accept a good financial offer from any firm that provides a solid first career step, rather than waiting for a specific brand or role profile.
  • We are continuing to see recruitment, talent acquisition and early careers roles come to market, albeit capped at junior to mid-manager level.
  • We anticipate an upward trend in specialist wellbeing hires, whether they be based in reward or broader HR teams. Watch this space!

We are now starting to look slightly further ahead than previously we dared. Oakleaf, and my team, is growing and hiring. Our clients are doing the same. Long may it continue…

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