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Recrutiment & Employment Confederation

Five key themes to guide us in 2021

Business advice

Neil  Carberry avatar

Written by Neil Carberry Chief executive

It is always dangerous to start a new year with predictions. We learned that all too well last year! The path of the pandemic, how Brexit will play out now it is finally here, and changes like IR35, Right to Work checks and Government Covid support - there is so much for the REC to be supporting recruiters on - and none of it is predictable.  Having said that, I think it is important to set a direction of travel. One thing is for sure: we've got your back on what comes our industry's way. We are thinking about the longer-term too: here are five key themes for the recruitment market this year, aimed at helping you prepare for what lies ahead.

1. A client-focused market is still one with a strategy for candidate care

As unemployment levels rise (and they inevitably will - predictions of 7.5% are not overstated), that will not be a panacea for addressing traditional candidate shortages. Labour markets will remain tight in some areas - driven by immigration changes and ongoing shortage of supply.  Keeping your client and candidate retention strategies in alignment will be a necessary focus for 2021. REC data is a source to inform those strategies as each report is updated monthly.

2. Harness the power of the technology you have and make investments to support your purpose

Technology can drive up productivity and improve connectivity. But we all know of tech projects that have not delivered on the intention. If you want some expert advice on recruitment tech, I'd highly recommend this session at REC2020. We'll be doing more work like this on buying and putting tech to work during this year.

Now is also the time to explore AI with a clear eye on how any investments align with the standards expected from brilliant recruitment.  The Centre for Data Ethics and Innovation asked us to contribute to their report on bias in algorithmic decision making - and have focused their recommendations on ensuring government consider the application of the Equality Act. If we want the productivity gains of automation and AI, we still need to demonstrate it is fair.  Which leads me neatly onto my next theme…

3. Ethics and supply chain transparency are more important than ever - especially to clients 

The introduction of the Key Information Document in April 2020 didn't get much attention due to lockdown - but government agencies are gearing up for more focus on compliance, so be ahead of the curve.  As is my duty, I will point you towards taking your REC compliance test as early as you can - but with good cause - the test covers the KID.  Enforcing the KID is just one area of focus under this agenda. In December, I was invited to give evidence on behalf of the industry to a Parliamentary group looking at a fair deal for contractors and freelancers. Transparency in the supply chain will become more important for clients and enforcers, and your brand positioning will matter more than ever.     

4. Practise what we preach: authenticity between the internal and external brand matters

How you treat your staff will be scrutinised just as much internally as it will be externally in the coming year.  If you think your staff have little choice in the current economic climate - you'd be wrong.  Recruitment start-ups rocket in recessions. Diversity & Inclusion has, rightly, been raised up the agenda and so now is the time to really consider how you look and act as a business.  Revisiting your employee value proposition should be done as part of your commercial strategy for the year ahead, not as an add-on.  There are countless examples of consumers making purchase decisions based on who they feel represents them and who shares their values. This type of decision-making will apply increasingly to service providers, like recruiters.

5. We need to win the battle to sell service based on value, not price

I've shared this quote from one of our recruitment leaders before but it bears repeating - the trouble with a race to the bottom, is that when you win, you are at the bottom.  It is going to be so tempting in an aggressively competitive market, to think that price will make the difference.  But quality is the order of the day.  Don't restrict your opportunities - now is the time to think about where you both focus and diversify as appropriate to build back better.  Brexit is the closing of a door but for some, it will also be the opening of another. We'll brief you on the latest goings-on so you have the regulatory updates as soon as they are available - you'll add most value if you can be a trusted sounding board for your clients and a consultant in the truest sense.

We'd love to hear your predictions for the year ahead and where you'd like us to be leading the charge once again.  Get in touch at

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